Farmer’s son overcomes all odds to lead Ahmednagar to victory in Yuva Kabaddi Series
In an exclusive interview with The Bridge, Yuva Kabaddi Series star Ajit Pawar talked extensively about his journey.
The first season of the Pro Kabaddi League took place in 2014. Ajit Pawar, an enthusiastic fourteen-year-old back then, was not able to watch the matches because his modest home on the farms did not have a television.
He felt a bit left out when his friends discussed the exploits of legends such as Anup Kumar and Kashiling Adke during their Kabaddi practice sessions in the evening.
This did not dampen the spirits of Pawar though, as he kept his full focus on becoming better at the game of Kabaddi.
Fast forward to 2023 and he led a young Ahmednagar District Periyar Panthers to the coveted title of Yuva Kabaddi Series after battling against other districts of Maharashtra for a month.
In an exclusive interview with The Bridge, Ajit Pawar spoke about his struggle and how he managed to rise through the ranks.
Hailing from the small village of Nipani Vadgaon in Ahmednagar district, Pawar is the middle child. He has an elder and younger brother and was born into a humble farming family. Both his parents toil in the fields to run the household.
Pawar first started playing Kabaddi casually as a Class 4 student, during the sports break in school. As he moved on to secondary school, his interest in the sport grew after he observed some boys playing breathtaking Kabaddi in the college just opposite his school.
“When I decided to take Kabaddi seriously, I did not have a proper kit. I somehow managed to buy shorts worth Rs. 30 from the bazaar and coupled it with my usual T-shirt”, Pawar told The Bridge.
Gradually, the practice sessions became more regular and he started participating in inter-school tournaments where his team usually lost. Instead of dissuading him, these early exits inspired Pawar to practice with renewed vigor.
The situation at home, however, was far from ideal. His parents disapproved of their son’s zealous passion for the sport and advised him to focus on his studies or help them more in farming instead.
Nevertheless, Pawar was focused on what he wanted. "Everyone in my family had done farming for generations. I had 2 brothers, one of whom is now working in the village panchayat. I wanted to excel in Kabaddi and make a name for myself in the outside world," Pawar said.
On the suggestion of his village friends, Ajit Pawar joined the renowned Azad Krida Mandal in Taklibhan, roughly 11 kilometers away from Nipani Vadgaon. This club is famed for grooming youngsters and creating some of the best Kabaddi players.
At the Azad Krida Mandal, he was exposed to local tournaments with prize money. These ‘open to all’ events scared Pawar a bit initially, as he had only competed in age group events on previous occasions. His confidence increased as he participated in more such tournaments.
He was also incessantly attempting to find a place in the Ahmednagar district team by attending trials. Success evaded him but he did not give up. Just when things had started to look up, the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
Did he take a step back and relax? Not at all. On the contrary, Pawar increased the duration of his practice sessions and worked his fingers to the bone.
Recounting some incidents, Pawar smiled and said-“I and my friends practiced in our college in the nearby Ashok Nagar village during the lockdown. The situation was so tense that the watchman removed us when the police came, and we used to run away in all directions.”
Not only did he hone his Kabaddi skills, but Pawar also helped with daily chores. From bringing water to his house to taking care of the cattle, he did everything.
As the number of cases started dropping, the world slowly started returning to normalcy. After a long hiatus, sporting events began.
The penance that Ajit Pawar had undergone during testing times bore fruit as he was selected for the district team. Not only was he a mere participant in the state-level tournament, he was a member of the Ahmednagar team which went on to win the coveted title after several decades!
Pawar’s solid defensive performances did not go unnoticed. He received offers from several companies to play for them. He finally accepted one from a reputed Indian conglomerate and now plays for them.
An integral part of the district team, he got the opportunity to lead a batch of youngsters in the recently concluded Yuva Kabaddi Series. Having a talented squad at his disposal, Pawar ably mentored them while making sure that his performances remain top-notch. Not only did they win the tournament, they did so in style; maintaining a near-perfect record.
Pawar is slowly getting accustomed to playing regularly on mats. He feels that playing in the mud is less injurious than playing on a mat.
"Mat kabaddi is advantageous to raiders, as their speed increases. On the other hand, the movements of the cover players, a position in which I play, get slower on a mat," he added.
Despite these differences, there is not a second of hesitation in Pawar’s mind when he bulldozes opposing raiders out of bounds on the mat.
His plans are straightforward. He feels that a lot is remaining to be achieved and that practicing harder is the only option.
“I want to play in the Pro Kabaddi League. But before that, I have to make it to the state team and compete in the nationals. Then I want to play for my country,” Ajit Pawar concluded, with hunger and determination in his eyes.