Hours after reaching India from Malaysia on Monday,17-year-old hockey player Harjeet Singh Puli was at the Kurali bus stand in Mohali,waiting for transport to go to his village Niholika. While he waited,Harjeet looked eagerly around,hoping to spot his father,Rampal Singh.
Rampal is a daily-wage labourer who does odd jobs in the small town near Chandigarh. He is sometimes found at the bus stand,carrying passengers luggage. Harjeet wanted to show his father his biggest achievement yet: the trophy for the most promising player at the Sultan of Johor Cup under-21 hockey tournament held last week in Johor Bahru,Malaysia.
India won the tournament final on Sunday,and the lanky centre half came away leaving a powerful impression with his stickwork.
It is never easy to find my father in Kurali. He goes wherever he finds work,sometimes to construction sites. My elder brother Rajwinder Singh also works as a labourer when hes not playing hockey. My sister plays the game too,representing Chandigarh. My family borrowed money to buy me a kit,and one of our relatives pitched in. This trophy will bring joy to all of them, Harjeet said.
Harjeet started playing hockey in 2004 at Kuralis Gopal Hockey Academy before joining Surjeet Hockey Academy in Jalandhar in 2008. He was soon part of the Punjab junior team which won the junior national title in 2012 and 2013. Harjeet made his junior national debut in last years Sultan of Johor Cup.
I started as a forward but my coach at the Kurali academy advised me to play as a full back. At Surjit Academy,I often dreamt of becoming a full back like (the former India captain and Olympian) Surjit Singhji. But during the junior nationals last year,coaches Avtar Singh and Gurdev Singh advised me to play in the midfield. Manpreet,the junior skipper,also plays there,and has motivated me constantly, Harjeet said.
The move to the midfield paid off spectacularly. He is one of the better centre halves in India currently, Baljit Singh Saini,coach of the national junior side,said.
With his vision and quick thinking,he has the ability to control the game. This is a very important aspect for a centre half. He is a complete package: his passing,trapping,off-the-ball running is really good,better than most players his age. It is not surprising that he was chosen the best player of this tournament, Saini said.
Hockey India has announced an additional cash prize of Rs 1,00,000 for Harjeet,apart from the cash award of the same amount announced for all members of the victorious squad.
Harjeet plans to give some of the money to his father,and spend the rest on hockey sticks and shoes. Most of our sticks break after a few days. The ones I use now were given by seniors. Now I hope to buy my own sticks, he said.
My father does not know about the cash award yet,and he will be delighted. But then,tomorrow he will again be out,searching for work.