Eighteen years ago, a train journey from Siliguri to Patna that Bharat Chhetri reluctantly undertook, fashioned his destiny. That trip also gave India its current hockey skipper.
Way back in 1994, Bharat enjoyed football, often getting rebuked by parents for spending endless hours on the field at the cost of his studies. So, the next thing they did was to pack his bag and send him with a relative to Patna. "It broke my heart," recalls Bharat.
He cried, but his parents showed no mercy. "I thought my tears would make them reconsider their decision, but it didn't work."
Since his relative in Patna was associated with hockey, he unwillingly picked up the game, as it was the only outdoor activity in the neighbourhood. But, he was quick to earn a name on the hockey turf, scoring goals in local tournaments and putting to good use his football skills.
It was by chance that one day, he found himself standing under the bar. In 1995, during a local tournament, when the goalkeeper did not turn up, Bharat was asked to pad up. To everyone's surprise, he did a good job. The rest is history.
Today, he is considered the finest 'keeper in the country. Bharat credits it to his formative years. "Those years helped me build a strong foundation." The unbearable Patna heat and the years spent playing football in the high altitudes in Siliguri steeled him to withstand tough training sessions.
"Many a time," recalls Bharat, "I couldn't sleep due to the sweltering heat in Patna." It even forced him to run away from the city, but his parents sent him back, saying, "Bear it."
With no alternative left, he gave it his all to climb the ladder of success on the turf. In 1996, he joined the Army Boys Company in Danapur, and the following year he was picked up by the Centre for Excellence at Bangalore. Three years later, he joined the junior national camp.
Currently, the 30-year-old skipper is based in Bangalore, employed with a bank. Even now, he is 'denied' permission by the senior Chhetri to visit home.
"Do something for the country, then come home," is the reply the India skipper gets when he calls home.