By word of mouth, from generation to generation, the tale of how Christian missionaries introduced hockey to Sundargarh in the mid 19th century has been told countless times.
The legend here is that the missionaries, in order to create a bond among the 1500 tribal villages in the district, introduced both the sport and the Khasi Cup inter-village tournaments. They probably never believed that one day, those very intrinsic hunting skills — keen eyesight, stamina and patience — would create for India, a legacy of world class players.
Michael Kindo and Peter Tirkey are household names here. And one Dilip Tirkey, years ago, quietly crept into the legendary Pargat Singh’s shoes so that India never really felt a vacuum in its central defence.
In fact, India’s 2004 Athens Olympics hockey team had three players from the district — Dilip, defender William Xalco and midfielder Ignace Tirkey. Ignace’s brother Prabodh, who was in the junior team then, is a regular in the senior ranks and the district’s love for hockey has kept growing, fighting the overwhelming presence of cash-rich cricket.
Hockey, the villagers feel, has never let them down. Ask anyone you meet on the dusty, rocky roads of Saunamara — a village of less than 100 families that boasts of three internationals including Dilip, Subhodra Pradhan, part of the gold-medal winning 2004 Asia Cup team, and Vikas Topo — and they would tell you that the developmental work in their village has happened because of hockey.
“Electricity came to our village because of Dilip Tirkey,” says 50-year-old Pious Tirkey, who lives a couple of huts away from the former India skipper’s one-storeyed house. “The roads inside the village were made after Dilip became India captain. We are hoping that the district collector’s office sanctions the water supply soon,” he adds, while others around nod in approval.
When you take a right turn off the highway to enter the village, you spot the foundation of a hockey stadium. Around Rs 12 lakh have already been spent, but work is on hold. It needs funds that are yet to be sanctioned.
Dilip told Hindustan Times from Bhubaneshwar: “Once the stadium comes up, the environment for hockey in the village will increase manifold. Quite a crowd from nearby villages builds up for the Khasi Cup matches. The stadium would help them all to get a better view. Besides, if the children are stopped from playing at the school ground, they would be able to continue playing hockey.”
But with electricity and television entering households, the villagers will soon discover cricket. Will the craze of hockey last? Dilip just smiles quietly.