Small-town eves defy odds to lift siver medal in Melbourne
Shahbad, Haryana, Apr 8: From battling a disapproving society as well as financial constraints, they went on to win a silver medal in women's hockey at the recently held Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
With sheer grit and determination, the quartet of Surinder Kaur, Jasjeet Kaur, Rajwinder Kaur and Rajni Bala is the latest from this sleepy Haryana town to don the national colours.
And it was the solitary goal by Surinder in the semis against the Kiwis, which ensured the Indian eves their silver medal.
''We live and breathe hockey, we do not know where we would have been without hockey,'' Surinder, who has been a member of the Indian team since 1997 when she was just 14 years old said after her return from Melbourne.
Due credit goes to their coach and former Olympian Baldev Singh who put this small town on the hockey map of not only India but the world. ''He is a tough task master and has made us tough,'' Surinder said of her coach.
But the coach is quick to return the compliments.
''These kids are tough, dedicated and hockey is in their blood,'' he said explaining why the game has thrived in this hinterland.
Despite the lack of funds and infrastructure 18 girls have made it to the national squad at one time or the other eversince Bhupinder Kaur was selected to represent the country in 1990.
Elegant Sandeep Kaur, whose rasping short corner shots were feared by opponents, even went on to captain India and under her the country won quite a few international tournaments.
Surinder success story has sweat and blood withen all parents worked as daily wage labourers in the agricultural fields but thanks to their hard working daughter they have started contract farming and even have opened a dairy to supplement their income. ''Today people respect us and it is all because Surinder of whom we are very proud,'' Sukhdev Singh, her father said while recalling the days when he would ferry his little daughter on a bicycle to the SNNP Girls Senior Secodary School for her daily practice as well as to attend school.
According to Rajni Bala, they are at the school ground at 0530 hours and put in three hours of practice under the watchful eyes of Baldev whom they consider as their 'guru'. Hockey runs in the viens of these girls and it has also become a source of livelihood as most of them come from families that are economically not sound.
Rajni's father is a rickshaw puller and her brother works as a waiter in a local hotel. Rajni alongwith her other three Haryana compatriots have already been approached by the Indian Railways with lucrative offers.
''Though we would not like to leave Haryana but there are no employment opportunities here,'' Rajni said.
Jasjeet and her cousin Rajwinder both of whom lost their fathers at a very early age defied various odds to pick-up the hockey stick and their source of inspiration was their grandfather who always encouraged them.
''I used to watch Rajwinder playing hockey until one day coach Baldev came to me and asked me to pick-up the stick and enter the field,'' recalls Jasjeet who went onto lead India to victory in the Junior World Cup at Chile last year.
Due to little or no employment opportunities, in the last few years Haryana lost its top hockey players including Harjinder, Ramneek, Ritu Rani, Arti Sharma,Karanjit,Kanupriya Sharma and Gagandeep, all of whom hail from here or the neighbouring villages.
Presently, Baldev is busy coaching 40 young girls all having a humble family background at the SNNP Girls school campus and who knows how many amongst these are destined to don the national colours and bring fame to this town.