Hunger for success is a common trait but for young left-arm spinner Papu Ray, success was non-negotiable as it ensured that he didn’t go off to sleep hungry. The 23-year-old has been selected to represent the India C squad led by Ajinkya Rahane for the Deodhar Trophy but it has been heart wrenching journey for the Kolkata-boy, who was lost his parents even before he could pronounce “Mummy Papa”.
As Papu gets ready for his first brush with big time cricket after good Vijay Hazare Trophy for his adopted state Odisha, he recollected his back-breaking journey where each and every wicket meant, he would get to eat proper lunch and dinner. “Bhaiya log bulate the aur bolte the ball dalega toh khana khilaoonga. Aur har wicket ka 10 rupaiya dete the. (Seniors in my locality used to summon me to bowl and gave me Rs 10 per wicket),” Papu recalled his days of hardship during an interaction with PTI.
Son of Bihari couple, who migrated to Bengal for greener pastures, Papu lost his parents Jamdar Ray and Parvati Devi when he was an infant. His father, a truck driver had a heart attack while mother passed away after prolonged illness. His parents hailed from Khajuri village, about 41 kilometres away from Chhapra in Saran district of Bihar, and had come to Kolkata in search of work and that’s the only thing he knows about them.
“Unko (parents) kabhi dekha nahin… Kabhi gaon gaya nahin, khali suna hai (Never seen them nor have I been anytime to my native. I’ve only heard about them),” Papu, who now lives in a rented accommodation in Kolkata’s Picnic Garden said.
“Wish they were here today to see me playing for India C. I could not sleep whole night yesterday and kept crying. I think my years and years of hardwork is finally paying off now,” Papu said as his voice choked with emotion.
Once his parents passed away, it was his uncle and aunt, who took care of him but once his uncle, a daily labourer also passed away, the 15-year-old found it difficult to even arrange one meal a day. But cricket was his calling and also his saviour. He had initially started off as a pacer but it was Howrah Union Cricket Academy coach Sujit Saha, who advised him to take up left-arm spin bowling. He was the highest wicket-taker in CAB’s second division league in 2011, when he got 50 wickets in nine matches for Dalhousie.
However with Iresh Saxena playing for Bengal at that point of time and later Pragyan Ojha coming in, Papu didn’t find a place in the Bengal team. Club cricket in Kolkata is only lucrative for a select band of cricketers playing for the big clubs and Papu’s next destination was neighbouring state of Odisha.
In search of food and shelter, his next stop became Jajpur, about 100 kilometres northeast of Bhubaneshwar. “My friends (Muzaqir Ali Khan and Asif Iqbal Khan) whom I met here told me they would provide me food and shelter. So Odisha became my home,” he doesn’t forget to mention those, who stood by him during those dark days.
It was in 2015 that he first got a “break” in the form of entry into the Odisha U-23 team. “There was a U-23 state team trial in Cuttack and my friends told me you will be picked if selector Suresh Kumar sir watches you bowl. It was only during the third match Suresh sir came and I was selected,” Papu said.
Within three years, Papu made his senior team debut in List A cricket getting 14 wickets from eight group league games for Odisha. So Bengal’s loss was Odisha’s gain.
In fact, his List A debut on September 20 against Andhra, he dismissed India Test player Hanuma Vihari and former national U-19 captain Ricky Bhui off successive deliveries. “I missed the hattrick but grew in confidence from then on and the teammates supported me fully,” Papu, who played all eight matches for Odisha, said.
As he gets ready to wear a representative India jersey, his only hope is to get at least one chance in the playing XI. “Hopefully, I will get a chance and I will give my best. It will be a great learning experience,” he signed off.