A famous dialogue from Mirzapur, the popular Amazon Prime web series – “Shuru majboori mein kiye thhe, ab mazza aa raha hai" (I began as a compulsion, but then I started enjoying it)” – resonates with India women hockey goalkeeper Khushboo Khan.
"I am from a poor family, and I have seen a financial crunch as long as I can remember," Khushboo says.
But things changed in 2015.
"I was introduced to hockey when I attended a summer camp in Bhopal's Lal Parade ground. I started playing it because I didn’t have to invest anything. I was provided with everything – the hockey stick, the ball – everything. I held onto it, and it brought me recognition. Hockey gave me a definite purpose, a sense of worthiness, and a chance at changing my life, the life of my family."Khushboo Khan
But, despite the recognition, little changed in the life of the 19-year-old. Around a month ago, she was in the midst of Ireland's idyllic views. Now, back home in Bhopal, she is at her home, a crudely built shanty situated less than 2 km from Raj Bhavan, the official residence of the governor in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhopal.
Returning with a knee injury from the tournament in Ireland, Khushboo has struggled to step out of her house with a narrow entrance to the heightened road inside the campus of Rajya Pashu Chikitsalaya (State Animal Hospital) in Bhopal.
As she crutched out to meet this reporter, Bhopal’s first female international hockey player carried with her a sense of hope that this interview might get her voice heard by those in the top ranks of the government who could help her and the family. Her voice which is appealing for a pucca house.
Khushboo's Handshake With Hockey
Khushboo had interest in cricket but it wasn’t viable for her. So, when she got to a summer camp in 2015 and was introduced to hockey, her interest was piqued.
Over the years, Khushboo says, she learnt that hockey is indeed the "game of India," a game which allows even the poorest of the poor to perform and shine.
“Anyone can play hockey. What I felt is that most of the poor people choose hockey as a career because it has a legacy of bringing out the best from the most unattended class of the society – for example, a family like ours,” she says.
Daughter of an auto-driver, Khushboo lives with her parents and two brothers in a cramped place where moving without hitting something is impossible. She also has two elder sisters, both married and living with their in-laws.
Her father, Shabbir Khan, says ever since she played her first match for India, they have devoted their child to the nation.
“She is not just my daughter now, she is the daughter of the country, India. And I feel very proud, in fact both of us, her mother too. She kept on going, she walked to the ground to practise, even when I didn’t have money to get her bicycle repaired. She is a fighter and we feel very lucky to be called her parents.”Shabbir Khan
Her mother, Mumtaz Bano, who used to work as house help, up until a few years ago, looked towards the sky to thank the almighty. With tears rolling down her cheek, she says:
"You know, I can't express the hardships we have lived through in words. Seeing the family's condition, Khushboo decided to start playing. Initially it was boxing, then cricket, then finally she found her calling in hockey. It feels good to see my daughter's name associated with the country. She is making all of us proud."
'Want My Family To Live The Way I Do Away From Home'
Khushboo, while looking at her parents – mother engaged in household chores – says that she enjoys an elevated life when she plays for India. Accommodations equipped with all the facilities, everything top-notch – from food to clothes – and she wishes to provide the same for her family.
A senior member of Bhopal's hockey academy, on condition of anonymity, tells The Quint that there are no provisions for allotting junior players a house or giving monetary benefits. But the government could always help out considering the cases of children with unsustainable economic conditions.
However, Khushboo is determined to get her family a life of which they have only seen a glimpse through the photos in Khushboo's mobile.
"Who doesn't want their family to live in a well-built house with all the facilities. A place where we don't have to sleep on top of one another in a cramped up space. The way I live in camps, I want my family to live like that," Khushboo says, looking at her father shifting the iron cot as the drizzling began.
"I am telling you all this so that if it is read by someone in the government, and considering my condition, if they could help me, I will be able to focus even more on my game. I really want to make my nation proud and that's a bit difficult when in the middle of everything a thought of how your family is sleeping, whether they are sleeping at all haunts you."Khushboo Khan