“Shuru se itna kuch dekh rakha hoon, aasaan ho jaata hai jhelna.” Krishan Pathak is talking about the day he was orphaned. That day, life as he knew it, changed forever. After listening to his story, the cliched question, that most boys at the Junior World Cup face — about how they would be handling the pressure while standing under the bar becomes irrelevant.
Three months after he celebrated his 19th birthday — and just two days before he would leave for his debut international tournament — Krishna’s father passed away. He suffered a heart attack in his sleep. It was painful, but Pathak says it wasn’t the hardest moment in his life. “I have seen so many setbacks in life that one goes numb after a point. So when my father died, it was just another blow,” he says.
Pathak was 12 when his mother passed away. And then saw his family fall apart. He’s never had a house he can call home, having spent early years at his uncle Chandra Bahadur Pathak’s place in Kapurthala, Punjab and the last nine years at a sports hostel in Jalandhar.
Tragically, post-World Cup, Pathak sees an uncertain future. An orphan, he has no one waiting for at home. Actually, he isn’t sure if he has a place which he can call home. His two elder sisters continue to stay in Nepal while his elder brother — 20 years senior to him — moved to Malaysia after landing the job of a security guard. The brother hasn’t kept in touch with the siblings since the day he flew away.
“It’s not been, how do I put it, very family-like so to say. Everyone got busy in their own lives. Whenever I felt lonely, I went to my uncle’s place or called up my dad, who used visit me at the hostel,” Krishan says, adding that his uncle and his father contributed to meet his expenses.
His uncle, father’s brother, used to stay in Kapurthala. But now shuffles between the two countries, and ends up spending majority time in Nepal. “Upar wala dekh raha hai. Upar wala sab deta hain,” he says. Pathak wipes his moist red eyes, and smiles a big, warm smile. “Right now, though, it is not the time to dwell on these things.”
Hockey has been Pathak’s comfort corner and also his first priority. He missed his father Tek Bahadur Pathak’s funeral since he was picked to be part of the India junior team’s tour of England. “My first reaction (after learning about his father’s death) was to rush home. But the last rites were to be performed in the evening the following day and my village in Nepal is a remote hilly area, so I wouldn’t have been able to reach in time for the funeral,” he says.
“I spoke to my uncle, who reminded me of all the sacrifices I had made to reach this far. Mushkil se team mein naam aaya tha. This was my big break. This is what my father would have wanted me to do.”
For a moment, Krishan contemplated leaving everything and returning to Nepal. “My sisters were there and I had a place to stay,” he says. “Then I thought Sachin (Tendulkar) and Virat (Kohli) too had faced similar problems (demise of their respective fathers during a match/tournament). They didn’t quit. So why should I?”
It was something that would have made his father proud. Tek Bahadur wasn’t a quitter but someone who opted for a life of struggle to make things easier for his family. When Tek Bahadur migrated to India from Lubhdi, a tiny village in Nepal, with his wife, in the 90s in search of a steady job, he never thought that his son would one day represent the alien land. The family made Kapurthala his base, staying at his brother Chandra Bahadur’s house.
Tek Bahadur got a job of a crane driver for a government agency. It didn’t pay him much, barely enough to keep the family of six afloat. But it was steady income nevertheless. Krishan, his fourth child, was born in 1997 in Kapurthala.
“He used to drive those big cranes which are used at construction sites. Papa’s job was such that he had to constantly move from one place to another depending on his assignments. My mother accompanied him most of the times, so I grew up at my uncle’s place in Kapurthala,” Krishan says.
Like most kids from the region, Krishan joined the famous Surjit Singh hockey academy in Jalandhar when he was 12. He moved out of his Chandra Bahadur’s place soon after, preferring the academy hostel instead. It wasn’t even two months since he had moved to the hostel when the warden summoned him early in the morning. “You need to call home; something’s come up,” Krishan recalls the warden telling him.
His father was the bearer of bad news. His mother, he told Krishan, had passed away after suffering a heart attack in her sleep. “I didn’t know how to react. I don’t remember much actually what happened back then,” he says. “In fact, I don’t have many memories with my mother since I spent very little time with her.”
The hockey field became his refuge. Surjit Singh academy has produced dozens of international players over the years. Krishan showed early promise as a goalkeeper and as years passed by, he flourished in that role. He was selected for Punjab’s junior team for the national championships, where he staked his claim for a position in the junior national team.
“Mentally he is very strong. His reflexes and anticipation are good, which is essential for a goalkeeper,” junior team’s chief coach Harendra Singh says.
These were the qualities that had caught the coach’s attention when he first saw 2015. While rest of the playing group was together for the last three years, Pathak joined the Junior World Cupper in 2015.
And after a year at the camp, Pathak was rewarded with a place in the squad for a tour to England in July.
It was all finally falling into place for him, and the teenager was counting down days to board the plane to the UK — his first flight ever. On a rainy morning — two days before the departure — Pathak returned to his room at the Bangalore SAI campus after a light workout session when his phone buzzed. “It was my sister. She called me to inform that my father had passed away after suffering a heart attack in his sleep, just like my mother,” Pathak recalls.
The talented goal-guard now waits for December 18 with equal measure of excitement and trepidation. It’s the day when the junior World Cup final will be played. And Krishan hopes his team will be alive in the competition till the last day. At least till then, he doesn’t have to worry about a place to stay. “Last 10 years of my life, I’ve spent at Surjit Singh academy hostel and SAI Bangalore hostel. Where do I go now?” he wonders.
Coach Harendra has offered Krishan shelter at his place in Delhi until they find a job for him. But Krishan isn’t worrying about it yet. He is just desperate to make an impact in the World Cup to make peace with the fact that missing his father’s funeral was worth something. “I miss dad on some days,” he says. One thing gives him some solace, though. “Mere dad ki jab death hui, tab unhe itna pata tha ki mera India selection hogaya hai…mera naam team mein aa gaya hai,” he says. “That’s the last conversation I had with him.”