Whatever aggression Puneri Paltan skipper Wazir Singh tried to put across the court was shrugged off by Mohit Chhillar. The 22-year-old had, after all, been groomed by the likes of Pro Kabaddi League’s poster boys — Manjeet Chhillar and India captain Rakesh Kumar. But long before the two seniors would come into the youngster’s life, he had already pledged allegiance to kabaddi. Hailing from Nizampura village near New Delhi, there was no option but to participate in the indigenous sport.
Since the game is the only one that’s ever played in the village, a debut for any youngster is likened to a commemorative ‘rite of passage’. “People there are so fond of the game that sometimes you feel that to be considered a respectable person, you need to play kabaddi regularly,” explains Mohit.
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With such an established ideology, no wonder then that the area is considered a nurturing ground of many India internationals, the most prominent being Rakesh and Manjeet.
Mohit’s father also played kabaddi before taking up a government job. But it was from his paternal uncle Sanjay, who played the game at the international level, that Mohit learnt about the sport. Accompanying him to the popular local club, the Chhillar Club, the then seven-year-old was smitten. “Lot of children of around 6-7 years come there to watch players train. Watching them, the atmosphere all around, and listening to the way people talk about the sport, there is an urge to play. It’s a passion that just takes shape,” he mentions.
By 14, Mohit was playing at the village club, and soon made his way into the junior nationals, and from there to the seniors. In the seniors, though, he found a spot for himself in the Rajasthan team instead of the Delhi side. “They had a full squad anyway and there was a lot of competition. But Navneet Gautam knew about me and asked me to play for Rajasthan,” he recalls.
Last year, in just his second national, Mohit won his first ever senior gold. “You can call that another rite of passage. Becoming a kabaddi player in the village is one thing, winning gold medals at the senior level enhances your respectability. It’s a common saying in the village that the greater the achievements, the greater the person,” he says.
His performances in the Pro Kabaddi League too have been highly noted. The defender played a key role in the U Mumba team winning all four of their home games, particularly in the franchise’s last game against Puneri Paltan, on Tuesday. The duel between Wazir and Mohit was quite compelling to watch. On the night, though, Mohit managed to orchestrate two ‘super’ tackles on the star raider, thereby picking up the best defender’s award.
Being a Chhillar, there’s a misconception that Mohit and Manjeet are brothers. “We’re actually not related. But the fact that we both play kabaddi, and that we come from the same village creates a bond. That’s why he was often coaching me when I was a junior. It’s watching players like him and Rakesh that inspired me,” Mohit says.
The body-block is one manoeuvre that the pair has in common. In terms of experience and accolades though, Manjeet outshines the youngster. Yet, in the measure of respect, Mohit is no stranger in the village.