Kangujam Chinglensana Singh first arrived in Delhi six years ago to appear for selection trials to the PNB hockey academy,then housed in one corner of the National Stadium. Last week,he successfully completed his graduation from the secondary turf to the main one when he lined up with the India team players against South Africa in the Test series.
Chinglensana is from Manipur,a state that has produced women hockey players of repute. There are four women from Manipur who are currently part of the national team. But there has been a drought of sorts when it comes to the men from this North-Eastern state representing the country.
It has been a decade since Brojen Singh,also from Manipur,played for India. Thoiba Singh was the last big name to have emerged from this state,but that was in the late 80s.
But with Chinglensana,and Khandranghan Kothajit Singh,making it to the top grade,Manipur men are back in the India hockey fold.
On Tuesday,as the national anthem played aloud,Chinglensana,21,was living out the dream of wearing the blue India jersey. It was a dream that first took flight when Brojen,his idol,gave him his first hockey stick and a pair of running shoes.
Skewed sex ratio
Two days later,19-year-old Kothajit,made his international debut. The two players from Manipur have impressed the team management enough to stake a claim for spots in the team during the on-going Test series against South Africa.
Women from Manipur are tougher and faster than their counterparts from the north,while the men beat us hands down, says Kothajit in a lighter vein,while trying to explain this imbalance in sex ratio when it comes to the national side.
The present womens national team has four players from Manipur.
Chinglensana and Kothajit grew up together in Imphal. Both left their state to train in the sport. While Kothajit polished his skills at the Sports Authority of India centre in Lucknow from 2006,Chinglensana landed at the PNB academy.
For Kothajit,born into a family of hockey players,the sport was a natural attraction. My family is into hockey. My parents played for Manipur,two of my brothers play for Army XI and one is with ONGC. Our house is right next to the stadium in Imphal. I never thought of any other sport, he says.
Kothajit received a scholarship from Indian Oil Corporation.
Chinglensana,the only son of a widow,idolises Brojen,who he says has been his guide. Brojen not only helped me with the sticks and shoes,but has also constantly told me how to play,advised me on my skills and even suggested that I give trials for the PNB academy. He has been my guide all through, says the youngster currently employed with Western Railways.
Football by far remains the more popular sport in Manipur and it doesnt help that hockey in the state doesnt have enough idols to look up to.
I always wanted to play hockey. When I was advised to try out at the SAI centre Lucknow,I knew it was my chance, says Kothajit.
Both agree Manipur has fallen off the countrys graph but not for lack of talent. There is a turf but there is no guidance,proper training or tournaments. Moving out is the only option but not too many do that.
While India coach Michael Nobbs is impressed enough with their speed and skills to consider them as long-term prospects,for now,the friends from the remote village of Basihkhong in eastern Imphal are living their dream.