Abandoned by alcoholic father, Aarti dreams of representing India
Aarti Katariya, who plays for Slamzers Belgaum in the Karnataka Women's Super Division, is focused on an India call-up.
On the surface, the Karnataka Women's Super Division League which is currently ongoing in Bengaluru might seem like an on-field battle between 10 teams vying for a place in the Indian Women's League (IWL), but for many of the girls who are competing in the tournament, it is also a battle against prejudices and stereotypes they have had to live with for years. One such story is that of Aarti Katariya, the Slamzers Belgaum player who has traversed a long road from up north in Hisar, Haryana to have a shot at her footballing dreams.
All of 18, Aarti is the main striker for her side and arguably the best player in the Slamzers outfit. Despite their struggles in the league so far, she is someone who the team looks up to for inspiration due to her spirit and never-say-die attitude. Chasing lost causes and urging others on when things aren't going their way come naturally to her, but the reason for that is slightly different than most others her age.
The eldest of three sisters, Aarti has seen a side of life that many of us in our air-conditioned rooms cannot even begin to fathom. Abandoned by her husband who has a drinking problem, Aarti's mother had no option but to shift back to her parents' home with her three children. Whatever little income her mother could earn from her job as a farm labourer was mostly spent on providing two square meals for everyone at home. It was then that football came to Aarti's rescue. Her school happened to have a big ground where more than 150 girls would come to play football every week. Seeing how liberating the sport seemed to be for others like herself, she took the plunge and there has been no looking back since.
What initially started off as a way to earn a quick buck and support her mother financially became a dream that she now wants to realize on her own terms. The youngster, who is one of five players from Haryana who is playing for Slamzers in the Super Division League this season, also featured in last season's IWL for Kolkata-based side Sreebhumi FC. Having come this far, Aarti now hopes to represent India in the coming years. "I want to play for India and will do everything in my power to make that happen. I'll train harder, improve myself and play much better than what I do now to ensure that I get a chance to be a part of the national team, Aarti says with a sense of conviction that is equal parts inspiring and moving.
About the ongoing tournament, the Cristiano Ronaldo fan feels that even though her team may not have had the best of campaigns so far, it is upto her and the others in the side that they give their hundred per cent in the remaining games and keep improving. "This is my second time in Bengaluru and I will surely come back next year for the fourth season of the Karnataka state women's league if I get the chance," she signs off with a disarming smile that immediately makes you wish her all the best in life and in whatever she does henceforth.