Sports runs in their blood here

Rurka Kalan has produced many footballers, athletes

Sports runs in their blood here

Until Shahrukh Khan starring Bollywood flick “Chak De” hit the big screen, perhaps, not many knew the commendable feat of India’s women hockey team in the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

That our “amateurish” Chak De girls had the ability to “do it” and win the Gold medal after beating the “invincible” English women’s hockey team was a moment of supreme glory, and it doesn’t matter even if many celebrated this moment of conquest years later with the same zeal at the end of the movie.

By then, even many of the non-sports enthusiast had known who Mir Ranjan Negi was, beyond just the face characterised by Shahrukh Khan. More than the story of triumph, it was the journey of lesser-known girls-- some struggling in a life of penury and stereotype and male chauvinism-- from faraway states, dying to realise a dream.
One back-of-the beyond village in Punjab is scripting and celebrating a similar journey of passion and success, of hope and grit. Welcome to Rurka Kalan, a village in Jalandhar district of Punjab, where sports illustrates the village’s character, and dictates much of its narrative as well.

The village has silently produced several dozens of national and international sportspersons, especi­ally in football and athletics. Their fame may not be tagged with a celebrity status, like many of our cricketing heroes, nor they may be so fortunate to sell themselves for a fortune at an IPL auction of sorts, but celebrated clubs like Mohun Bagan will vouch for someone like Anwar Ali. This 6’ 2”- tall international footballer is a product of the Youth Football Club of Rurka Kalan and is currently the defender for Mumbai FC. He was awarded the most promising defender during Durand Cup some time back. Before the 2011 Asian Cup, Ali signed with fellow I-League club Mohun Bagan.

Not many know about Amritpal Singh, an ace footballer, who today plays for a renowned club in America and mastered his skills to dribble and
defend at Rurka Kalan. The village has produced international players like Surjit Singh Sandhu, Narinder Kumar Kaushal, Narinder Kumar Gill, Kulwant Singh and Baljinder Singh.

Not just football, academies in this village have cropped up a harvest of athletes who have earned acclaim at the national level in discus throw and javelin events. The football club won the Street Child World Cup Soccer Tournament held in Durban South Africa in March 2010. It was runners-up in the All India Manchester United Premier Cup (Under-16) held in Gurgaon 2011 and organised by All India Football Federation. In 2010, six of its players played for Punjab in national inter-school championship. One of its players, Karandeep was selected for the National Football Academy run by All India Football Federation. He was among 19 best players selected across India.

A nursery of footballers is getting prepared for the change of baton each day. Nearly 250 boys and girls are trained vigorously at the village club every morning. Budding footballers are coached by trainers from England and Spain. Village headman
Kulwant Singh says the names are endless, but what is important is that this village has lived with a culture of sports. Besides the illustrious football club and the complex, the village has a hostel for 24 players, a computer laboratory, a multi-purpose gymnasium and well-manicured grounds.

The creditable part is that the village doesn’t look for any government funding. The village’s many NRIs, who have shown distance is a myth, butr a journey that creates love.

Village Sarpanch Kulwant Singh sees the face of his nephews, Mandeep and Aksh, in every youth of the village. He lost both of his loved ones in an accident in America. Kulwant says he wound up everything and returned to Rurka Kalan. He opened an unmatched gymnasium with the best of fitness equipment at his own cost.

The village and some others like Rurka Kalan are changing the discourse of politics in Punjab and weaning away youth from drugs in this drug-ridden border state. Punjab is witnessing various avenues for youth primarily in sports to productively channelise their energy. More and more youth, especially in Punjab rural belt, are increasingly getting hooked to the sport, including Kabaddi, which is being promoted by the state government in a big way.

Many small nurseries for budding Kabaddi players are being set up to promote a culture of sports among youth. Punjab youth have been grappling with drug for long. The State Disaster Management Plan states that some 73.5 per cent of the state’s youth aged between 16 and 35  are affected by drugs. Sports avenues, police crackdown and success in dismantling several supply lines have started yielding results.

The village has 48 freedom fighters, many who pitch in to build stronger minds, to bring in what is most needed-- an attitude to win. In fact, the village has a history it flaunts with pride. Village elders Mela Singh and Mohan Singh say theirs was the first village that ran a parallel administrative set up by announcing its own king in 1921 during the time Mahatma Gandhi launched the non-cooperation movement to dethrone the British.

Bachint Singh, also known as the King of Rurka Kalan, declared the village an independent state in 1929, in defiance of the British Raj. He formed a panchayat with the help of the village electorate and became sarpanch of the village. The regular armed forces and police were prohibited from entering the village until Bachint Singh was arrested after about two years. The tradition of defying the odds still goes on, albeit for sports.

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