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‘Mother calls up to ask if I have eaten food’

Manjinder belongs to Marrar village in Gurdaspur district and, as he puts it, “In Marrar, (hockey) is an everyday thing. It’s like a daily activity, just like brushing your teeth.”

Written by Shahid Judge |
Updated: December 27, 2015 11:57:17 am

Manjinder Singh, 22
Moved from a Punjab village to join the Western Railway team

Manjinder Singh’s worries about coming to Mumbai were what the food would be like, who were the people he would meet, and how he would fit into the big city.

He never feared being homesick — the 22-year-old has spent most of his childhood away from home, playing hockey at some of the top academies in Punjab. Manjinder belongs to Marrar village in Gurdaspur district and, as he puts it, “In Marrar, (hockey) is an everyday thing. It’s like a daily activity, just like brushing your teeth.”

At 16, he attended the famous Surjeet Academy in Jalandhar. From there, he was picked up by the Punjab and Sindh Academy, which serves as a feeder centre for the Punjab and Sindh Bank team, and soon after, won a gold medal at an all-India university tournament. He got the call for trials for a place in the Western Railway team while playing at the Nehru Cup semi-final last year. Towards the end of January 2015, Manjinder moved to Mumbai.

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In all his years away from home, this was his first time living outside Punjab. So Manjinder came carrying these:

Photographs of Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Gobind Singh

The Guru Nanak Dev photograph is actually a pocket calendar for the year 2006. “It’s going to be 10 years now, and I’ve always carried it along with me wherever I go,” he says. “It just makes me feel a little secure when I’m away from home.” He bought the photograph of Guru Gobind Singh from near Churchgate station in Mumbai.


When he is not playing, he is on duty for Western Railway as ticket collector at Grant Road station. The job requires a pair of good formals. His parents gifted the two turbans to go with them.


Though he owns several towels, one stands out. Manjinder recalls telling his family about the humidity in Mumbai, and how he often showered several times a day. He found this new towel next to his suitcase when he last visited home.

Old jerseys

Despite Western Railway providing him a kit, he often wears his Punjab and Sindh Academy and Bank jerseys during training. “It’s a reminder about where I come from and who made me the player I am today. Wearing the jersey and caring for it is my way of showing respect,” he asserts.

Photographs of his parents

These are on his mobile phone, and he looks at them everyday. Glancing at the pictures just now, Manjinder remembers something. “When I was at the academy, mother would keep calling to ask if I’ve eaten food and am taking care of myself. She still does that.”

His father’s words too stay with him. “He would scold me if I didn’t wake up at 5 am. He’d say, ‘If you can’t wake up early to train, you might as well stop dreaming of playing professionally’. It became a part of my body clock. I wake up at 5 on my own now.”


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