Poll-time games fair and foul Simdega lives to play hockey

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  • Published 2.12.14
RAF personnel flagmarch in Mango, Jamshedpur, on Monday, the eve of the second phase of Assembly elections. Picture by Animesh Sengupta

Ranchi, Dec. 1: Simdega, the cradle of state hockey, deserved the ball-and-stick game as one of its poll planks, but none of the 12 MLA candidates in the fray have included developing the national game in their agenda.

Besides Olympian gold medallist Sylvanus Dungdung, the district has produced national and international players such as Michael Kindo, Justine Kerketta, Noel Topno, James Kerketta, Bimal Lakra, Sumarai Tete, Kanti Baa, Masira Surin and Asunta Lakra, among others.

Despite neglect, a new generation of hockey players is growing up in Simdega. Ninth grader Kanchi Khess and her friends of Ursuline Convent Balika Madhya Evam Uccha Vidyalaya in Rengari village, all between 11 and 14 years, go to school only to play their favourite game.

On an uneven football ground, these schoolgirls played a fierce match last week for the grand prize of toffees. Love for the game seems to be in the DNA of this dusty, underdeveloped district.

Achcha lagta hai. (We love it),” Kanchi said when asked why play hockey. “Sabko achcha lagta hai. Desh ke liye khelna hai. (We all love it. Want to play for the country),” the gang behind her shouted.

This heady chak de enthusiasm gives way to sobering realisations. “We don’t have a hockey ground or other facilities. Our school coach doesn’t find time to train them often due to other work,” the girls said.

Manpower crunch in every sphere is a legacy that successive governments in Jharkhand nurtured for 14 years, sports in Simdega being no different.

Like all the other districts in Jharkhand, Simdega lacks a district sports officer, a crucial post to promote games at the ground level.

The district boasts government-funded two residential schools and two day boarding centres, one each for boys and girls, where children study and get coached in hockey and football.

Dungdung, part of Team India field hockey which won gold at the 1980 Olympics, who hails from Simdega’s Thesu Toli, a remote hamlet close to Chhattisgarh borders, said the idea of these schools was good but they didn’t have coaches and playing kits for two years.

Simdega votes today

“Hockey khatam hogaya ab yahan (Hockey is dead here now),” Dungdung said. But, Simdega in his blood, he soon turns optimistic. “Children still play the game with love.”

Still, Dungdung’s initial cynicism is not unwarranted. Once, the sight of young boys and girls triple-riding on cycles, all holding hockey sticks, or roaring fields hosting a keenly contested match was common in Ranchi, Khunti and Simdega.

Now, they are less frequent.

Former women’s hockey Team India captain and resident of Nongara hamlet in Simdega, Asunta Lakra said the apathy of successive governments and local leaders had stopped many players from reaching their potential. “Whoever reaches the state or national level today does so all alone,” Lakra said. “There are many talents in every pocket of Simdega but they need the right grooming. The only silver lining is that hockey is still a way of life for my home district,” she said.

If only the 12 netas in fray, including Vimla Pradhan (BJP), Niel Tirkey (JMM), Menon Ekka (Jharkhand Party) and Benjamin Lakra (Congress) recognised that.