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Hockey

"Dreams turned into reality" - Dilip Tirkey's rise from a small village to Hockey India boss

The Bridge traces the journey of former India captain Dilip Tirkey from Saunamara to playing in Hockey World Cups to hosting one.

Dilip Tirkey Hockey India
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Dilip Tirkey (Source: Times of India)

By

Tazeen Qureshy

Updated: 2023-01-11T11:26:25+05:30

It's a late winter morning and most of the residents of Saunamara village are busy with their routine activities. As the vehicle traverses the empty roads, a particular house on the left gathers attention.

The front gate is enveloped with pink Bougainvillea flowers, which is considered a symbol of welcoming visitors in most parts of the world. The canopy of the flowers gives way to the front porch, opposite to the statue of Jesus in a plain glass cover.

Soon, chairs are lined up on the porch and in the warmth of the winter sun, the chatter begins over a cup of tea.

"I am media shy. I don't know what to say. I usually try to hide whenever any journalist comes," Monika Tirkey gives a heads-up before any question is asked.

"You want to know about Dilip? Fine, I will try to share some anecdotes...," she continues, without waiting for the question.

Dilip Tirkey's house in Saunamara (Photo by: Tazeen Qureshy)


For the next one hour, Monika speaks for most of the time, narrating one incident after the other, slipping in details about the village and her life as well.

It's surreal to listen to these tiny yet important details about Dilip Tirkey, sitting in his ancestral house in Saunamara village in Sundergarh district of Odisha.

The torchbearer of hockey in Odisha, Dilip Tirkey has done what very few sportspersons from the state has achieved. From a former captain of the India team, the most capped Indian player is now the president of the governing body of his sport in the country - Hockey India.

"We still can't believe the success Dilip has achieved so far. He looks like an officer to us now. But whenever he visits the village, he is the same old person - talking to everyone in Sadri (a tribal language)," says Monika, Dilip Tirkey's sister-in-law, who has seen his rise from a player to Hockey India president.

Dilip Tirkey's hockey story has been told and retold several times. For the uninitiated, his interest in hockey sprung from this village, where the sport is a culture and a way of life.

In Saunamara and the tribal belts of Sundergarh district, it is a natural for the young boys to pick up a hockey stick.

But what makes Dilip's story different is his simplicity and his rise in ranks. Every person has a story to narrate about it.

"It was his determination that made him different. If he made a mistake in the match, he would come back and practice it like crazy until he got it right. You could not stop him. None of the other players had the same determination," says Chulu Barla, sarpanch of the village and also Dilip's senior.

His sister-in-law adds, "I have hardly seen him at home. He would wake up at 4am and practice till late. We didn't see him most of the days."

The ground where Dilip Tirkey grew up playing hockey (Photo by: Tazeen Qureshy)


"He loves Arisa pitha (a traditional Odia pancake). Whenever he comes to my home, he will ask for some. He would also pack some and would say that he used to relish the pithas before going for practice," says his 'Kaki' aunt, who lives next door in Saunamara.

As the Hockey World Cup approaches, the village which is roughly 130kms from Rourkela, one of the co-hosts of the big-ticket tournament, is basking in glory due to the local lad.

"I feel like the World Cup is happening in Saunamara only. All my friends and relatives are asking us for tickets. In fact, they are also calling up Dilip's friend in Sundergarh town and asking for tickets. It seems like the World Cup has become some personal family event for us," says Monika.

Dream turned reality for Dilip Tirkey

But what does the local lad who has brought in so much glory for his village have to say?

"Dreams have turned into reality. I had never visualised my journey like this. There was a time, when I would travel thousands of kilometres from Saunamara to play the World Cup, and today the World Cup is happening barely 130kms from my village. It is a matter of pride and honour for us," says Dilip Tirkey in an interaction with The Bridge.

As the preparations are over and the teams are ready to battle it out on the turf, the Hockey India president gives a thought on organising the tournament.

"It is definitely more difficult to organise a World Cup than to play a World Cup. While playing, a lot of things are under your control. It is challenging to organise but we have done a good job with support from the Odisha government," says the former captain of the Indian team, who has participated in three World Cups himself.


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