I started playing kabaddi in 2009 and used to play for fun. It was in 2013, when I was studying in 12th grade that my father, Ram Vilas passed away which made me the sole breadwinner of our family. Due to that, I had to quit my studies and become a part-time teacher. For the next two years, after finishing my job at the school, I would go to nearby villages to practice kabaddi, which in turn helped me improve my game immensely. I then pursued my graduation as I wanted to be self-reliant and the take responsibility for my family.
My sister was married but came home to live with us because of family problems. She had two little kids with her who were studying in 1st and 3rd grade. I wanted to take their responsibilities and I was good in kabaddi since my childhood and so I decided to make a career out of it. To be frank, I started kabaddi out of compulsion, later as I progressed, my dreams grew bigger and I wanted to play for India.
I played my first national tournament in January 2013 and was a part of the Haryana team that bagged gold at the Senior National level tournament in Patna in the year 2014. I performed well and was able to impress the people present which helped me get a call-up for the Indian team in Asian Games 2014, under the leadership of Rakesh Kumar.
It was then that the Pro Kabaddi League auction happened and I was picked as the second-most expensive player. I joined the Telugu Titans for INR 12.6 lakhs. After playing for Telugu Titans for the first two seasons I joined the Puneri Paltan in 2016 and played for them in the third and fourth seasons. In the third place play-off, I top-scored with nine raid points for the Puneri Paltan, helping them to make a podium finish in the third season. Then I joined Jaipur Pink Panthers for the sixth season of PKL.
I was sitting in the Star Sports office in Mumbai, when I was finally auctioned to the Pink Panthers and I was delighted. I had always heard praises about Abhishek Bachchan’s kabaddi family. He has been such a big motivator of the entire kabaddi fraternity and has contributed immensely to kabaddi. Star Sports, Mashal Sports, Abhishek Bachchan and the federation have done wonders for Indian kabaddi, without a doubt.
I feel honoured to be a part of Jaipur Pink Panthers. The way Abhishek treats and greets players like we are brothers is very amazing. He is a very down-to-earth person and is very big motivator. We are lucky to have him.
The documentary Sons of the Soil is brilliant. I would like to thank Amazon Prime, Abhishek Bachchan and the entire BBC crew for portraying our journey in such a beautiful way. The origin and stories of the players in the documentary is told from the heart. It has captured the true essence of our team, which is beyond wins and losses that an outsider or a fan sees. It depicted what happens in the dressing rooms, showcased the tension of the tournament and the perspective of every player as true as possible.
It also showed all our background and the humble beginnings we had. It also showed Abhishek’s relentless efforts with us. This documentary shows the truth.
I made my debut for the national team at the 2016 South Asian Games, where we won a gold medal. In the same year we took part in the Kabaddi World Cup 2016 Ahmedabad and were crowned World Champions. In the 2017 Asian Kabaddi Championships, we won gold and followed it up with a bronze the 2018 Asian Games.
We also won a gold in Dubai Kabaddi Masters in 2018. In 2019, I led the Indian team for the first time during the South Asian Games as we clinched the gold medal. I was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2020.
Winning the Kabaddi world cup in 2016 is by far the biggest achievement in my career. It is a dream for every Indian athlete to win the honours and be a part of the Indian sporting history and the Arjuna award was nothing short of that.
We showed some highly terrific performance during the 2016 World Cup. Even though we lost our first pool match against Korea,we didn’t let this setback dictate terms. We worked our way hard. In the final, we were trailing, but Ajay Thakur, showcased what champions are made of and almost single handedly led us to the trophy. I remember dancing on one leg that day!
The most challenging part of my career was to moving on without any support and excelling in the game. Reaching this point in life where the kabaddi federation president called me the best player of the generation was not easy by any means.
Injuries also were a part of my challenge. I suffered from a groin injury in 2017, recovering from which was very difficult but somehow I never gave up. I was in the hospital for three months and in such a physically challenging sport, keeping yourself mentally ready is alwaysa tough task.
Kabaddi has grown leaps and bounds in India with the advent of the Pro Kabaddi League. Shifting from soil to mat was a life-changing experience. Yeah, it surely improved our financial conditions but the respect I have earned due to it is beyond my words. Today even IAS and IPS officers take photos with us, and all this respect I have earned is just because of kabaddi.
I have always maintained my fitness and was working out even during the lockdown. I never stayed out of kabaddi; I either trained or played kabaddi in the stadiums of Haryana which opened in the last month. Haryana is a sports hub, we have good stamina, and we didn’t feel any fear while practicing during such uncertain times.
In a bid to give back to the society, I have so far donated over 200 kits in three villages in Rohtak district of Haryana. I plan to distribute in seven villages as well. Most kids who pursue sports here come from poor background and are very talented. It is a small effort from my side to help them with basic kabaddi kits, so that they can actively engage in the sport. I want to pass on my baton to these young kids.
I have started preparing for the national camp. Many of the sports have already started their national camps. I am hoping kabaddi will start soon as well. I hope the Pro Kabaddi League will get its schedule in January and we kick start all the tournaments and I also wish to see kabaddi being included in the 2028 Olympics.