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How kabaddi gave Ranjit Naik and his family a much-needed lifeline

During his teenage years, Ranjit Venkatramana Naik would often wake up to find his house was flooded. Located in a low-lying area in the coastal Karnataka town of Bhatkal, the house made of mud, bricks and asbestos sheets was not enough to keep the rainwater out.

His father Bhaskar Narayan, a daily wage labourer, and mother Sushila, a homemaker, could barely manage to feed their three children, let alone fix the house. “It became extremely difficult, especially during the monsoons. It was like this for the last 6-7 years,” said Naik, who is now 21.

To make matters worse, Naik’s parents had taken a loan for his elder sister Raksha’s education which they were finding it tough to repay. Though Naik was studying in a government school where education was free, he was finding it strenuous to arrange funds for any extra expense.

To find a way around all the hardships, Naik, then in 10th grade, fell upon his favourite sport and lifelong passion – kabaddi. Raksha, 25, was a national level kabaddi player who had represented Karnataka. Inspired by her, Naik, who had until then only played the contact team sport recreationally, started playing local tournaments.

Naik soon realised that kabaddi was a way out of poverty for not just him but also his family which is when he started taking the sport more seriously. Naik’s interest coincided with the growth of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), which started in 2014. He would watch PKL matches, pick up tricks of the trade and implement them in the rural tournaments, helping him find success in the arena.

Winning these events brought in prize money for Naik, who used it to fund not just his own expenses but also his family’s. “Because of the financial issues, I started playing these tournaments where I won and earned some prize money,” said Naik.

Realising his strength and skill in the sport, Naik’s family decided, in 2018, to send him 150km away to Alva’s College in Moodabidri, which is close to Mangaluru, where his sister had also studied. “The college was sports driven. They support a lot of sports. I took admission there and took the sport more seriously. For three years I trained hard at a local club. The money that I earned in tournaments was used to fund my college education,” said Naik.

The training bore fruit as Naik participated in the 2020 Junior Nationals in Haryana for Karnataka. But his family’s sacrifices, his resilience and his fire to succeed reached its zenith when Pro Kabaddi’s most successful team, three-time champions Patna Pirates picked him in September for Rs.8.78 lakh for the ninth season of the league. He finally made his PKL debut against Dabang Delhi at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad on November 19.

“I wasn’t able to believe it when I signed the contract and got into PKL. That’s how excited I was. My family didn’t believe me when I told them. They thought I was joking until they saw my pictures on social media. Only then did they realise that I had been selected. My family is very happy and excited to see me on TV. I get a call after every game,” said Naik.

The situation has improved in the Naik household too. Bhaskar Narayan now drives a truck. Raksha is employed in a private company while his other sister, Rakshita, works as a beautician. “After I got into Pro Kabaddi people started respecting my parents. Local MLAs and corporators also visited my house to give a token of appreciation to my parents,” said Naik, who plays as a raider.

With the money that he’s now earning, Naik has two motives – to get his sisters married and to build a “good house” for the family.

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