In May this year, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, a promising midfielder with the India Under-17 World Cup provisional squad, returned from the team’s exposure trip to Europe with a very functional gift for his mother in Thoubal, a small town in Manipur — a cloth handbag that had caught his eye at a shop in Spain.
With the home team’s opening game still five months away, the 16-year-old wasn’t sure if he would make the final cut. But if he did, he knew his parents would want to travel to New Delhi to watch the World Cup’s opening game — India vs USA — at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on October 6. He also knew that his mother didn’t have a bag that would last the long journey from the Northeast.
A couple of days ago, during the team’s final days of preparation, India’s Portuguese coach Luis Norton de Matos did a snap poll among the team members to pick the captain. Amarjit won. Back in his two-room house in Thoubal, the cloth bag from Spain is being kept ready for the much-anticipated Delhi trip.
Amarjit’s mother, Ashangbi Devi Kiyam, 60, is more used to carrying a plastic bag. Everyday, at 3 am, her husband, Chandra Mani Singh Kiyam, a small-time farmer and part-time carpenter, drops her on his bicycle at the local bus stop. A couple of hours later, she arrives at Imphal’s central market, where she fills her bag with fish, which she then proceeds to sell in the nearby streets. She earns about Rs 250-300 per day, which helps to meet the expenses of the family of five.
“We own a small plot of land, but there is very little harvest. My father takes my mother to the bus stop on his cycle, so that we can save Rs 40 on the to-and-fro journey,” says Umakanta Singh Kiyam, 23, Amarjit’s elder brother. A few years ago, when Amarjit told his family that he wanted to go to Chandigarh to appear for the trials for the Chandigarh Football and Hockey Academy (CFHA), Ashangbi dipped into her meagre savings.
“I wanted him to be fresh for the trials, so I gave him Rs 6,000 from our savings and asked him to book a flight ticket,” she recalls. In 2012, Amarjit helped the CFHA team, which mostly comprises players from Manipur and Punjab, to make it to the Subroto Cup final. However, it was his three goals in CFHA’s 3-0 win over the India U-16 team in 2015 that gave him his big break. Two years later, he is set to lead the Under-17 team at a FIFA event the country is hosting for the first time.
“Now he has been named India captain. When I go to the fish market these days, I tell my friends and customers about it,” says Ashangbi. Amarjit was initiated into serious football by his uncle Deben Singh, a farmer. With Umakanta training at the St Stephen’s Academy in Chandigarh, Amarjit was expected to follow him.
“He was barely in his teens, but even back then he was very sure about his skills. Before leaving for the trials, he checked with me about the sight-seeing spots in Chandigarh, not about what he needs to do on the field. My brother is special, when he dribbles, people stop to watch him,” says Umakanta. “He would always talk about football. Sometimes, before the annual exams, we would remind him to study as well. After he made it to the Indian team, there was no stopping him,” recalls former CFHA coach Harjinder Singh.
In June, Amarjit was home for a week. His sister Omila Devi, a karate and taekwando exponent, says that was the only time their mother took a break from her daily schedule. “He misses the fish that my mother prepares for him,” she says. Since his first flight, funded by his mother’s savings, a few years ago, Amarjit is now a seasoned traveller. In the last one year, the World Cup provisional squad travelled to close to a dozen countries.
But the trip to Spain was special, says Umakanta. “He asked his friends to click his photograph with the Barcelona FC team bus. He showed us the photograph. He couldn’t afford the merchandise, but he got this bag for my mother. He wants her to carry that bag when we go to Delhi,” he says.
Source: Indian Express