THE 10 km ride from Chamaria Village to Rohtak is one that Deepak Hooda is very well versed with. In years to come it would provide him with plenty of memorable moments as he returned home with man of the tournament trophies and accompanying riches. But it is that one journey back in 2009 along the same route with his sister, nephew and niece in tow that Hooda recollects most vividly. Even if they still only evoke emotions of trauma.
His brother-in-law had been imprisoned after being conned in a land-fraud case. Subsequently, Hooda’s sister was left to face the abuse of her in-laws, leaving her with no choice but to return to Chamaria.
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With the sudden influx of residents at home, 15-year-old Hooda’s life too was thrown into a tailspin. Till then he’d lived a carefree life. His mother had passed away just as soon as he had learnt to walk, leaving him alone to till the family’s two-acre wheat fields with his father.
But what they earned wasn’t enough to feed five mouths. An additional income was a must. Kabaddi was the only way out. And the raider had to overcome both his reluctance to play the sport as well as his inherent indolence. He pretty much had no choice but to. And it wasn’t really just about playing kabaddi, it was more about winning prizes, especially in cash.
“What we used to earn from farming was enough for us to purchase fertilizers and tend to the crops. With the extra cash prizes, we could afford to pay for the kids’ school fees and uniforms, and also manage to save,” Hooda reflects.
Soon the extra money was accompanied with ‘best raider’ awards fetching him roughly `5,000 each time. His skill on the kabaddi mud-court would eventually earn him a hefty `12.6 lakh price tag for the Telugu Titans in the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL). But until the call up from the marquee event, there was no ambition toward fulfilling a career in the sport.
His father Ram Nivas, even while on his death-bed, refused to call his son back from an ongoing tournament in Gurgaon. The final was lost, but Hooda did return home with another cash prize. The joy was short-lived as he was bereaved the very next morning. At 18, Hooda became the sole-breadwinner.
His journey into PKL though began with a stint with Air-India, which was facilitated by Ajay Thakur.
“He called Jasmer Singh, who won the Asian Games gold in 2010, to enquire about me. Jasmer. probably spoke positively because soon Ajay got in touch with me to offer me a contract,” Hooda explains. Next, the Titans came calling.
An ambition was finally recognised. Learning alongside the heavyweights of the national team steadily instilled a determination towards donning India colours. Yet, before he can look forward to that journey, he is looking for redemption in the PKL. He did notch 87 raid points for the Telegu Titans and finished 13th in the raiders top scoring charts last time. But, through his own admission, that was low in comparison to what he’s been known for both on the mud-courts in Haryana and while playing for the air-men. “I just got nervous at the wrong time. That was my first big event,” he says.
There is a sense of confidence, amidst relief, now that he has managed to financially support his family. It is a weight that he no longer carries on his shoulder when he steps on to the glitzy PKL stage. Instead, for Hooda, the second season of PKL is all about pulling his weight for the Titans, and show that he can forge a bright future for his team. Just like he has done for his family.