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THE BRAVEHEARTS

manti sardar

5.30 am: Rush from her tea-stall home to the Central Howrah Basketball Coaching Centre for practice.

7.30 am: Run back to father's tea-stall opposite the coaching centre to serve water and tea to her fellow players, coach and other morning customers.

9 am: Off to Betore Adivasi Samaj School nearby.

4.30 pm: Back to the basketball court for another two hours, followed by late evenings spent preparing her lessons.

All in a day's work for 10-year-old Manti Sardar, who has already represented her district Howrah in various tournaments and has just been selected for the sub-junior state basketball team as well.

Little Manti quietly juggles her budding basketball career, her studies and her role in her father's tea stall.

Subhendu Sardar runs what is popularly known as Jamai Tea Stall (because Manti's mother is a 'local girl') in front of the Howrah Improvement Trust Doomurjala Stadium.

The tea-stall doubles as home for the Sardars, comprising a small bed, a mat and a couple of stools. Manti's books, playing shoes and a basketball are stacked in one corner. Mother Sarda works as a domestic help in a couple of houses in the locality.

The special talent of the tiny tea-stall girl came to light two years ago. 'I would go across to the basketball court and watch the other girls play. I longed to wear one of those jerseys and put the ball in the basket,' recounts the Class V student.

One day, coach Aloke Banerjee decided to toss the ball to the dedicated spectator. Manti did not need a second chance. 'Manti has proved that in any sport, one requires complete dedication and hard work. She has come thus far despite her father's financial status and the various responsibilities on her shoulders. It is because of her dedication that she has represented the district and would soon be representing the state,' says Banerjee.

But it's just a matter of time before reality bites. 'During the cricket season I make a good Rs 50-60 in a day, but during the rest of the year nobody comes to the ground and the sale is very low,' admits Subhendu Sardar.

'We cannot afford the train fares and other things but we also cannot compromise on her career. We have to borrow money from others to send her to the tournaments,' adds Sarda.

And where does Manti believe basketball can take her' 'First I want to qualify for the junior level and then represent the country abroad,' says the 'Sania Mirza fan', with the quiet determination that has taken her from tea-stall to tournaments.

MANOJ TIWARY

Where: Telkal Ghat Railway Quarters, near Howrah Station.

Age: 21 years.

The odds: Manoj's father, Shyam Shankar Tiwary, works as a fitter in the railways. His monthly salary of Rs 4,500 could not cover the costs of the family of five, forget about funding Manoj's cricket training. Manoj was passionate about cricket but the family did not have the means to admit him in a club for formal training. But his elder brother ultimately gave in, took a loan, and admitted him to a para club.

The achievement: Besides representing Bengal in major tournaments, Manoj Tiwary captained the India Under-19 against England in a One-Day series and was vice-captain in the Test series last summer. India won both.

The dream: 'Like any other cricketer I want to represent the country, but just not for a single tournament or a few matches. I will work hard to get a permanent place,' says Manoj, who now holds a job with CESC and idolises Andrew Flintoff.

The mentor: 'His game has not only turned around his life but also his family. We were neck-deep in loans and our father's income was not enough to support the family and our education. Now we are so happy,' says elder brother Raj Kumar Tiwary.

ANUP KUMAR BARICK

Where: Ashutosh Mukherjee Road, Salkia.

Age: 15 years.

The odds: Anup's father, Ravinder Kumar Barick, the only earning member in the family, is a taxi-driver. The priority was to educate his two sons rather than fund Anup's cricket coaching. But when the youngster refused to give up, father Ravinder started driving his taxi four hours extra to raise funds for his training.

The achievement: Anup's golden moment on the cricket ground came in 2004 when he was chosen to represent the U-15 Bengal team. He made the most of the opportunity by scoring 152 runs and taking 16 wickets in six matches. His all-round performance earned him a training berth at NCA, Bangalore, in 2005. Now he is practising hard in his para ground to make it to the Bengal U-17.

The dream: 'I never thought my interest in cricket will bring me so far. The game has completely changed my life' Despite all obstacles I cannot even think of giving up on the game unless I wear the navy blue cap.'

The mentor: 'His mother was dead against his playing cricket but he persisted. After school he would return home late after playing matches on all the grounds on his way home. Seeing his passion for the game I got him admitted to the para club,' says father Ravinder.

MUKESH PASWAN

Where: In a shanty on Shambhunath Pandit Street.

Age: 15 years.

The odds: Mukesh's mother, a domestic help, is the only earning member of the house. She manages to bring home Rs 1,300 every month for the treatment of Mukesh's bed-ridden father and his ailing elder brother. Mukesh started boxing at the age of 10 at Bhowanipore Boxing Association. His only source of sustenance: dedication and determination towards the sport. His only source of nourishment: a glass of milk and an odd egg occasionally passed on to him by households where his mother works.

The achievement: Mukesh represented Bengal in the 21st Junior National Boxing Championship in Noida last year and won a gold medal.

The dream: 'Till two months back I did not even have a pair of shoes. Then somebody gave me Rs 200 and I bought a pair' But nothing can make me quit boxing,' says Mukesh, who now gets a monthly stipend of Rs 100 from Bengal Amateur Boxing Federation. Also, after Metro published his story on March 25, Monoshock, a gang of bikers, has come forward to help him.

The mentor: 'All the money I earn goes into looking after Mukesh's father and his brother. I really cannot do anything for him, apart from encouraging and blessing him,' laments mother Minu Paswan.

PRIYANKA PRADHAN

Where: Carrie Road on Kona Expressway

Age: 15 years

The odds: Her father is a fishmonger on Carrie Road earning too little to support the family and help her pursue her passion, gymnastics. It was her uncle who initiated her into the sport.

The achievement: Priyanka has been taking part in various meets organised by the School Games Federation of India. Sports Authority of India took Priyanka under its wing three years ago.

The dream: 'I think the struggle is over. Now I just have to work harder to realise my dream of representing the country,' says the young gymnast.

Familyspeak: 'Our home is not big enough even to display her medals, trophies and certificates,' says father Basudeb Pradhan, proud of Priyanka's achievements.

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