Farming a thousand smiles, the Amarjit chronicles

Farming a thousand smiles, the Amarjit chronicles

Amarjit Singh Kiyam

Amarjit Singh Kiyam smiles, the kind that reflects in one's eyes, as he says, "I can see smiling faces in the house. There is nothing better than that."

He worked hard for those smiles too. 

Yes, he captained the national team in the U-17 World Cup in India in 2017, making him the first one to do so in any FIFA World Cup. Yes, he was chosen after a democratic vote within the team in which he earned a place in everyone's list except one, his. "My name will be there in history," he says, with a smile. 

Yes, he looks the part of the midfield lynchpin for India in years to come, especially considering his performances in the coveted Blue jersey and coach Igor Stimac's stamp of approval. 

But despite the whirlwind rise to fame, the 19-year-old has clearly kept his wits about him. He remains the same unassuming lad from Manipur; who dreamt big, kept his head down and worked hard for a better future. His nature, drilled into him from the hard years of his nurture.

Born in a family where money was in short supply, it's easy to see that Amarjit's work ethic comes from his parents. His father, a part-time farmer and part-time carpenter, worked hard to put food on the table even as his mother sold fish to help the family. 

"My uncle had land where my father used to farm. The profits, if there were any, were split in half. So running the house was difficult. So he would do carpentry as well. My mother used to sell fish just to ensure we make ends meet," he says. 

He remembers his mother's daily routine. She would take the bus from Thoubal to Imphal, a near 45 minute ride, to get the fish at 3:30 am everyday and sell it door-to-door. He recalls having to stitch his tattered pair of boots and stitching them again, this time with a cover, to make sure it lasted through the year.

"I knew I had to do something in football to make it," he says. "My family worked hard to make sure I got the chance." 

The first step was to get into the Chandigarh Football and Hockey Academy to ensure he was never a burden on his family. In 2010 a young Amarjit, who played and gave trials with boys nearly twice his age under the suggestion of his first coach and uncle, and his cousin Jeakson Singh - himself a World Cupper and India’s only goal-scorer in the event, made the grade. 

"That was a turning point," he says. "My parents borrowed money to send me for trials in Chandigarh. It was run by the government and they would take care of training, schooling, food... everything. All you had to spend on, was your train ticket to get there."

With one worry off his shoulder, Amarjit got down to work. Coaches describe him as a quiet lad off the field, focused on making it in football. There was a single mindedness to his pursuit. But he was open and jovial on the field, always ready with a helping hand inside the white lines of the football field. He would go on to make the grade for the core group for the national team, following eye-catching performances in Subroto Cup and against the U-16 national team, and go on to represent the country, just like his brother Umakanta Singh did before him. 

Once there, his leadership and desire for success would make him Luis Norton de Matos' eyes and ears on the field and become one of India's first group of World Cuppers and feel the pressure of over a billion hopes on his slender 17-year-old shoulders.

"To tell you the truth, I don’t think I performed that well in the World Cup. I couldn’t perform how a leader should have perform. What I expected from myself, I couldn’t give that. There was so much expectation. I was young and the exposure was so much, playing in front of 65,000 people for the first time and photo-shoots and all that," he says.

India would wrap up their campaign with three losses. But the Ls don’t attest for the hearts they won. 

Nevertheless, that was the Amarjit then, the Amarjit of the present is mature beyond his teenage suggests. The 2019 avatar wants to leave a legacy behind him. He knows the foundation and his place in history is already there, all he has to do is build on it. 

"It felt good to be that person. It was a learning experience I want to learn because you cannot just concentrate on football because after I leave the sport, I want to do well in life. Learning is very important," he says.

He is currently doing his 12th grade in a CBSE school in Manipur while balancing his football career. There are plans to go for college education. Of course, there is football as well. 

Amarjit is on his way back to make his debut in the Indian Super League after sustaining a double fracture in his hand which put him on the shelf for four months with a season captaining the Indian Arrows in the I-League and handful of caps for India behind him. 

Pressure and injury; he's already dealt with two of sportsmen's biggest perils. Hurdles and odds that often defeat a player. But for him, what he's playing for is bigger than himself and these just odds to overcome.

"To live you need money and love. Love was never in short supply in my family. What was lacking was money. Now that's changed. Everyone is comfortable at home. To see the smile on my parents face, it only drives me to work even harder and to keep their smiles," he says.

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