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Bongaon boy's long raid on kabaddi stardom

11 hours of cycling and travel by train and bus every day just to practice in a club

By Rith Basu

  • Published 3.08.17

Aug. 2: Amaresh Mondal's village is a five-minute walk from the India-Bangladesh border in Bongaon. But to play three hours of kabaddi, he needs to travel 11 hours every day. He often isn't back home until 1.30am. When a new day dawns after a few hours of sleep, it is almost time to set out again.

This is the life Amaresh, 22, has chosen and he wouldn't have it any other way. The reward for his persistence is a place in the new-look Bengal Warriors team for the Pro Kabaddi League, Season 5.

"There are days when I feel extremely tired (because of the travel). When that happens, I stay back at the club and sleep on a concrete slab," Amaresh, also part of the senior Bengal team.

The opportunity to raid the hearts of Bengal Warriors fans - Pro Kabaddi has made the game a television spectacle - is as exciting for Amaresh as being chosen to play alongside stalwarts like captain Surjeet Singh and Deepak Narwal, both of whom he had only seen on TV.

Amaresh, Babu to family, is also looking forward to making a financial contribution to ease the burden on his 82-year-old maternal grandfather Niranjan Hazra, with whom he lives.

"It's such a nice feeling knowing that I will be finally able to give my family something. There have been occasions when I took money from my aunts to get by. They are bidi workers and the only members of the family with regular incomes," he said.

Until Pro Kabaddi happened, Amaresh's primary source of income was playing khep matches of Australian rules football or footie. The Bongaon boy has been part of three Bengal teams that won the national championship in this sport.

In 2015, we had reported on Amaresh missing out on a trip to Australia as a member of the national footie team just because he did not have Rs 3,500 to apply for a tatkal passport. But he has soldiered on, sticking to his punishing everyday regimen that has opened the door to a potentially well-paying career as a kabaddi professional.

Amaresh leaves home at 8.30 every morning to hone his kabaddi skills at Ashok Sangha in Jorabagan. The international border may be a shout away but Bongaon railway station is almost 20km from Tangra Colony, where he lives.

It takes him 80 to 90 minutes to reach the station on his nine-year-old Hero Royal cycle. He then takes a local train to reach Dum Dum station, from where the north Calcutta club is a bus ride away.

The journey lasts five-and-a-half hours each way, but I don't mind the cycling part. It's exercise, after all," Amaresh smiled.

Practice sessions or matches, if any, at the club usually continue till around 7.30pm.

Amaresh had attended the Calcutta trials of Pro Kabaddi League in May, competing with 1,000-odd players to catch the eye. He made the cut for the next round of trials in Gujarat, for which 300 players were chosen from across the country.

He qualified for the final camp in Mumbai that was organised for 130 players and did enough to be picked by the Bengal Warriors.

Coach Jagdish K.K. of the Bengal Warriors believes that Amaresh is ready for the professional grind after years of hard work to become a top player. "He is a workhorse, which is a virtue in kabaddi. It's a tough and serious sport and I am sure he will get a few games."

Amaresh is attending a camp with the Bengal Warriors ahead of the fifth edition of the Pro Kabaddi League and feels that his game has already improved a lot. "I have been training hard on the timing of touches and the angles to try during raids. I hope to make the most of the opportunity I have got," he said.