Passion, dreams, hardships unite Kho Kho League players

Last week, kho kho, an indigenous sport, got its first taste of the modern world of franchise-based private leagues when the inaugural Ultimate Kho Kho kicked off in Pune, Maharashtra. From the dusty courts, the sport has moved to the mats with high-tech cameras covering all the action at high speed and beaming the images in real time into people’s living rooms via TV and streaming services.

There are physios to help injured players, masseurs to help with recovery and coaches to strategize. In the years to come, the overhaul could change the fortunes of the sport and with it the players who mostly come from families with few means. Here, ET Sport brings you the stories of four such players:

Nikhil B
Age: 21 years old
Hometown: Trivandrum, Kerala
Position: Versatile
Team: Rajasthan Warriors

Bindhu was sent to an orphanage to study because her family did not have enough money to support her. While studying at the orphanage, along with other things, she also learned kho kho. When she got married and had twins, she passed on the basic knowledge of the sport to her children. Although kho kho was not a lucrative career option at the time, she still encouraged them to take up the sport in school.

Today, one of his sons, Nikhil B, is part of the Rajasthan Warriors in the first ever franchise based kho kho league in India. “When my mother took us to school for admission, she saw children playing kho kho. She signed me up there. That’s how I started playing kho kho,” 21-year-old Nikhil said. “Now my parents are very excited to see me perform on TV,” he added.

It was a struggle to raise two children on the meager salary her father earned as a truck driver. “He was the only member of the family who earned time. He earned between 10,000 and 12,000 rupees. It was very difficult,” he said.

It’s still difficult, although his twin brother, Nidhim, has started donating money he earns from odd jobs.

“My brother does odd jobs and helps me with my shoes, trips etc. He works while studying to help me, for my future,” Nikhil said, adding that his brother was preparing for the Commission exams. civil service and tried his luck. also for employment in the army. Nikhil himself wants to pursue physical education and will invest the money in his studies. It may not be much, but it is something.

VISHAL
Age: 22 years old
Hometown: Delhi
Position: Defender
Team: Odisha Juggernauts


Vishal’s family never placed any restrictions on him. All they expected in return was that he not abuse the freedom granted to him. Considering how he grew to become one of the best kho kho players in the country, he lived up to his family’s expectations.

vishal

The 22-year-old from Delhi learned to be responsible early in his life. He was just 12 when he lost his father to tuberculosis in 2012.

The death of the family of seven’s only winning hand threatened to turn their lives upside down. Thanks to the determination of her mother and the hard work of her older sister, they managed to stay afloat. Both worked in small factories to keep food on the table and the roof over their heads. Vishal, barely a teenager, also realized his responsibilities and started to contribute in any way he could.

Despite all the problems, he did not let kho kho out of his life. He has been playing the sport since he barely hit double digits. Sport also helped him to leave a public school for a private school. “Once, when we were winning a race, a trainer from a private school came to meet us. He helped me gain admission into a private school (Saraswati Bal Mandir). From the 6th to the 12th I studied there for free,” Vishal said, adding that it was a big help, especially after his father died. Hard times troubled Vishal’s family again when his mother and sister lost their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic. He was still in college.

Fortunately, he found a job at a local unit of Mother Dairy where he used to load vegetables onto a truck. A few months later, through an acquaintance, he moved to a slightly better paying job as a delivery boy at a local Amazon store.

Last year during the senior nationals, Vishal was told of his selection for the kho kho camp for the UKK. He was then chosen in Category A, for which he will receive Rs 5 lakh. He plans to use this money, along with his family’s savings, to buy a house.

PRITAM CHOUGULE
Age: 29
Hometown: Ichalkaranji, Kolhapur District, Maharashtra
Position: Defender
Team: Chennai Quickguns


Ichalkaranji, a town in the Kolhapur district of Maharashtra, is known as the “Manchester of Maharashtra” for its textile manufacturing units. While Manchester in modern times is known for its great football teams, Ichalkaranji is nowhere on the football map. The city is more into sports like cricket and kho kho. It is therefore no surprise that Pritam Chougule loves both kho kho and cricket (his favorite cricketer is former captain of India men’s cricket team, MS Dhoni).

Prtitam

While cricket is India’s favorite sport and its superstars earn millions, the indigenous kho kho is only beginning to see big investments. “I never thought that our kho kho would have such good days,” Chougule, a defender for Chennai Quickguns, said of the UKK. “It’s like a dream.”

Like many others, Chougule started playing kho kho with friends at school and it gradually became his career of choice. He won four medals, including gold, at the senior nationals, but never made it to the national team. (“It’s my last dream,” he says.)

Chougule, 29, works as a manager in a local textile company and earns around Rs 20,000 per month. He is furloughed to play UKK, for which he will lose part or all of his salary. But he’s not complaining. “…the owner of my business is good. I have a lot of support from him. You don’t get that much time off in a private job,” he said.

Chougule leads a very hectic life, shuttling between his passion and his family responsibilities. He gets up at 5 a.m., trains from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. before going to the office. He will again train at night, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Seeing him working so hard for years, some people suggested he quit the sport. “For the past 3-4 years, there was talk that the UKK was going to happen. So that hope drove me forward. I continued my training. Finally, it happened,” Chougule said.

Chougule, who is in category D, wants to use whatever money he gets to pay off the home loan he took out last year.

RANJAN SHETTY
Age: 32 years old
Position: Striker
Hometown: Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra
Team: Gujarat Giants


In his youth, Ranjan Shetty was athletic and played several sports including kabaddi and kho kho. Around the age of 15, one of his friends, with whom he played kho kho during his free time, suggested that he join his club, the Vihang Kreeda Mandal (VKM).

The same evening, he goes to the VKM to see what is happening there. He immediately liked the atmosphere and joined the club the next day.

ranjan

But kho kho was never a lucrative career in the country and his family wanted him to focus on his studies so he could get a job and share some of the financial burden. He used to help his father in his paan shop in Airoli, but that couldn’t be a long-term option. His growth as a kho kho player did not translate into financial gains. Things got better in 2010 when he was selected in the Maharashtra squad for the senior national championships. The following year, he obtained a government position. “I was only 20 when I was recruited by Western Railways as a junior clerk,” Ranjan said.

At Western Railways, Shetty’s kho kho career blossomed as he won several medals (six golds and two silvers) for the railways at senior national championships and even represented India at the 2016 South Asian Games, where India won gold.

A few years ago, however, he wasn’t sure if he would continue the sport. He had achieved everything domestically and was unsure of another India call-up. He shifted his focus from kho kho to his work, but realized he hadn’t even graduated. He had left his B.Com degree incomplete after getting the job because he had virtually no time between work and kho kho training. “Three years ago I graduated because it was necessary for a promotion,” said Shetty, who is now office superintendent.

The launch of the UKK, however, reignited his passion for kho kho. At 32, Shetty is one of the oldest and most experienced players in the league. He finds the UKK to be a “completely different experience”.

“When we were playing in the nationals, the audience was very limited. Now this tournament is live all over the world. So it’s great that the world is watching us play,” said Shetty, who is in Category A. and will win Rs 5 lakh from the tournament “I don’t have any savings. So I will save this money,” he said.

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