Kabaddi is often perceived as a sport of muscular north Indian men, but thanks to the VIVO Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), the traditional rural sport has now spread its wings to unexplored pastures, most recently in Assam, from where young raider Abdul Arif is one of the 131 hopefuls who will be up for auctions slated for Monday and Tuesday.
Hailing from Rangaloo village, 26 km south of the Nagaon district headquarters in middle Assam, this 19-year-old, third among six siblings, said he harboured dreams of becoming a kabaddi player after the resounding success of the PKL in its four seasons so far.
Born in a poor farmer's family, Abdul seriously took to the game during his formative years in school, when he was selected to particpate in a junior inter-district tournament in neighbouring Morigaon in 2013.
"Coming from a poor family, there was pressure on me to start earning as soon as I finished my school. But kabaddi somehow fascinated me during those days and then I started watching the PKL, which helped me learn the tricks of the trade," Abdul told IANS, at the end of the final training camp in Mumbai ahead of the PKL auctions.
Despite all the hardships, there was no looking back for the youngster, who holds the likes of India's 2016 World Cup heroes Anup Kumar, Rahul Trivedi and Sandeep Narwal as his idols.
In the same year, Abdul was selected for the senior inter-district tournament, where he guided Nagaon to the runners-up title.
Abdul was then sent to Sonepat in Haryana for training after which he played the East zone seniors in Kolkata before playing the senior nationals in Bengaluru in 2015. Abdul then guided his district to back-to-back inter-district titles in 2016 and 2017 after which he was spotted by the Star Sports talent hunt panel.
"There were 10 boys and 12 girls from Assam in the initial Pro Kabaddi trials which were held in Kolkata this March after which I was the only one to get selected. Thereafter, the second trials were held at Gandhinagar in Gujarat in April," he said.
"The camp was held for six days where out of 120 boys, 50 got selected for the final camp in Mumbai. The facilities were top class in all the camps. The participants were evaluated on the basis multiple parameters be it fitness, match playing situation, physical evaluation and psychological situations.
Abdul now wants to realise his dreams of being a part of either the Telugu Titans or Patna Pirates for the fifth season of the PKL even though he has no qualms of being picked by any of the other sides.
"I will give my 100 percent whichever team picks me in the auction. Telegu Titans and Patna Pirates are the teams which are my favourites as a spectator and it will definitely be a dream come true for me if I am picked by any of the two sides," he said.
Satisfied with the facilities provided during the training camp, Abdul said: "The training venue is a state-of-the-art facility in Navi Mumbai. The facility hosts all necessary infrastructure ideally required for a kabaddi training camp including a swimming pool, gymnasium, complete fitness ground with running tracks and an indoor hall with space for two to three full kabaddi mats."
Asked if he was offered any job from the state government, Abdul said that he has knocked on all possible doors, but had to return empty-handed each time.
"In other states, once you start representing your state team, there are offers from either the government or the public sector companies, but in Assam, Kabaddi is still in its infant stages. I am hopeful to get noticed if I get picked for this year's PKL," he signed off.
(Tridib Baparnash can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)