How Prapanjan overcame the rough terrain

K Prapanjan, a gifted raider, was one of the architects of Bengal Warriors' title-winning campaign in the Pro Kabaddi League VII.

Intimidated by the big stage, afraid of rubbing shoulders with the best in the business and constantly worried about his future, K Prapanjan was trapped in the old realities of the middle-class world when he began his Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) journey in 2015.

For a man from Sankagiri village in Salem in Tamil Nadu, the enormous size and the glitzy nature of one of India's most popular sporting leagues were too tough to handle. "I knew to play kabaddi and I loved the game. But I realised that's not enough to make a name for myself. My biggest enemy was fear," Prapanjan confesses.

Communication, one of the basic needs for survival, didn't come easily for the raider. "The only language I knew was Tamil. In the PKL, teams are filled with players from across the country and even from different parts of the world. I was too hesitant to talk to my own team-mates," he recollects. 

Back then, Prapanjan wished he had the resources and the right guidance to stay strong in a sport that can be dangerous when its gruelling side shows up. "Players from North India were well built. Half the battle was lost by looking at how strong they were. My bones were very weak. It was like a child's bone and I often suffered fractures," he claims. 

The likes of Rishank Devadiga, Anup Kumar, Ajay Thakur and Manjeet Chillar ruled the league as Prapanjan, sitting mostly on the bench for two seasons for U Mumba (2015-16), tried hard to overcome his inner demons. "Enough is enough," Prapanjan told himself before the start of the fourth edition in 2016.

"I thought for days together and understood that to succeed I should stop hating my inhibitions and start working towards getting better. I showed interest in learning new languages. I took this up as a challenge. I felt better interacting with other players. Whenever I got a chance, I spent time with the trainers in U Mumba and focused on my fitness and strength. The results took time to arrive but I wasn't going to stop," he explains. 

A changed Prapanjan slowly began feeling at home. Exhibiting consistent improvement while playing for Telugu Titans, Tamil Thalaivas and Gujarat Fortunegiants, the 26-year-old was nearing his best phase. He had done enough to create a buzz before the auctions of the seventh edition in March this year.

In what came as a surprise to many, Bengal Warriors picked up the gifted raider for a whopping Rs 55 lakh. He was the second-highest buy of his team. Players failing to live up to their demands is a common phenomenon in franchise-based leagues. Did he feel the pressure of Rs 55 lakh? 

"When you have faced bigger problems in life, these are nothing compared to them," he says. Those who are aware of Prapanjan's backstory won't dispute his statement. Son of a lorry driver Kumaravel and a home-maker mother Uma, Prapanjan grew up in a family where kabaddi was everything.

"I knew nothing apart from kabaddi. My father was my first coach. I played small tournaments organised in my village to earn money. The winning team would get a cash prize of Rs 10000 and the players would get Rs 500 to Rs 1000 each."

At a time when kabaddi was a 'small' sport compared to giants like cricket, badminton and hockey, it's natural for parents to put their children in the path of education. Not many from humble background could pursue their ambitions.

But in Prapanjan's life, his father was a hero. "Appa (father) gave everything to me. He believed I could make it big. For my sake, he did multiple small businesses. He put my career ahead of everything else, including his health. During one of my district tournaments, he suffered severe chest pain but he hid it from me thinking I might miss the matches. Even recently, while I played the PKL final, he was ailing from a leg fracture but I knew about it only when I came home after we emerged champions," reveals Prapanjan, who is employed by Customs in Bengaluru.

"My duty was to my make my father proud," he says. And he did. Prapanjan was one of the architects of Bengal Warriors' triumph. A master of toe touches, he rattled the opponents with his tremendous speed. He was outstanding in crucial raids, often giving his side bonus points. He battled injury in the all-important final. In the end, his roller-coaster journey deserved a big prize like the PKL title. 

Today, he has bought his dream home. He is excited about his youngster sister's marriage. His father proudly visits his numerous award-ceremonies. All is well in Prapanjan's family.

"I am glad I have done all these. More importantly, whenever I read stories about people making it big from humble backgrounds, I would tell myself that I should be one of the best example of such stories. If not the best, I will be happy if I inspire players to choose kabaddi in small towns," he beams. 

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