Passion for the sport turned to love and now the half-Pakistani Malaysian girlfriend of India's junior hockey captain is here to get engaged to him and marry him after the Rio Olympics.
Her first meeting with Manpreet Singh (21) was in 2012 after a match against Pakistan in the Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia, and now business law graduate Illi Najwa (20) is in Jalandhar to know skipper's family and learn the basics of Punjabi culture, while the he trains in Delhi.
It was Manpreet who hit on her first, she recalls. "Hockey is my passion since childhood, so in 2012, I went into the ground with friends to click photographs with players. Manpreet, later, asked the liaison officer about me and then approached me with friendship offer. We remained in touch on social networking websites, got into love, decided to marry, and my family had no objection," Illi added.
The family renamed her Seerat after she decided to settle in Punjab after marriage. She is third of the four daughters of cosmopolitan parents. "Language is no bar to me. I can understand Punjabi and Hindi, as my father is a Pakistani who married a Malaysian," she said.
Illi Najwa (second from right, in blue) from Malaysia the with family of India's junior hockey captain Manpreet
Singh at his home in Jalandhar. Pardeep Pandit/HT
In Punjabi salwar kameez, Illi was in the kitchen, collecting tips from Manpreet's family on preparing Punjabi cuisine. "Bhindi (lady's finger) and aaloo parantha are my favourite Punjabi food now. When Manpreet visited Malaysia a few months ago, I prepared chicken and white grams for him in Punjabi style and he loved it," said Illi.
Manpreet's mother, Manjit Kaur, is delighted at her son's choice. "He told me about her after returning from Malaysia. We never felt uneasy with Illi, as she responded very quickly to our wishes. She helps the entire family, and every member is joyous in her company," she said.
"It will be engagement in February and marriage after the 2016 Olympics," said Sarabjeet Kaur, sister-in-law of Manpreet Singh.