"Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast."
Amir Khusrau’s couplet roughly translates to – If there is a paradise on earth, it is here. By ‘here,’ he is referring to the heavenly Jammu & Kashmir, India’s very own ‘paradise’, which has suffered a few blows in the past, but continues to inspire hope and harbour dreams.
The year 2013 marked a rare occasion of a dream turning into reality for the valley. Parvez Rasool, the cricketer from Jammu & Kashmir, became the first player from the state to make it to the Indian Premier League.
Nine years later, the aborning talents in the valley found another figure to look up to, as Lucky Sharma became the first-ever player from Jammu & Kashmir to get a Pro Kabaddi League contract, joining Jaipur Pink Panthers.
Lucky’s Stroke Of Luck
Hailing from a humble background, Lucky’s upbringing did not do much justice to his name, except that the sport he picked could be considered a stroke of luck. His father, who worked as a driver, took young Lucky to the local ground regularly.
The scenario did not particularly share a resemblance with Richard Williams jotting down a strategic plan for his two gifted daughters, Venus and Serena, to become tennis greats. It was merely a process of keeping the child active and encouraging him to mingle with other kids.
In that ground at a small village called Pouni Chak, situated about 12 kilometres west of Jammu, the kid had two options - cricket or kabaddi. The majority of kids of his age preferred what was the most lucrative option, but cricket needed a certain level of financial backing.
“You need money to play cricket. Bat mehnga hai, gloves mehnge hai, humare paas utne paise hote nahin thhey (bats are expensive and so are the gloves, we did not have as much money)," he recollects during an interview with The Quint.
What might seem like a planned career move was hence nothing more than a decision taken out of compulsion. Yet, it turned out to be the turning point in this career, with the player now scripting history.
The Army Chapter
“Jo passion na de paise wo passion nahin sikhata hai.” In his song 3:59 AM, Indian rapper Divine elaborates on the love-hate relationship between passion and money in India's financial middle-class. An unwritten law states that is not a sin to follow one’s passion, but it should never come at an expense of an earning profession.
In this aspect, Lucky was not an exception. He was just another Indian kid coming from a middle-class family, who, at the end of the day, needed to earn a living. In a 2015 battle between dreams and monetary responsibilities, the latter emerged victorious, and Lucky joined the Indian Army, at the age of 18.
What followed was a year of rigorous training. "I joined the army when I was 18. I needed to earn so that I could support my family. The first year was all about army training, I had stopped playing kabaddi completely.”
The dream had almost slipped into oblivion, a place from where revival is not possible more often than not, but then came another stroke of luck – an inter-services kabaddi tournament.
“I had to wait for two years to play in an inter-services tournament, and from there, made it to the services team and then ultimately to Jaipur Pink Panthers,” Lucky informs us with great pride, and very rightfully so.
The PKL Dream(s) Ft. Abhishek Bachchan
Among the seven players from his state whose names went into the auction, only Lucky could bag a contract, of Rs 10 lakh. But on D-day, when his name went under the hammer, the butterflies in his stomach were overbearing to an extent that he could not even watch.
“I was at home with a few of my friends, but I did not inform my family about the auction. You always have the doubts, koi lega ya nahin lega (whether someone will pick you or not). I could not even watch it as I started praying when my name came up. As soon as it was confirmed that I will play for Jaipur, I ran to my parents and informed everyone that I have been bought by a PKL team."
Bagging a PKL contract in itself was a significant accomplishment for him, but what made the moment a bit more memorable was the team that bought Lucky – Jaipur Pink Panthers. The inaugural champions of the competition are currently on a decline, but for the Army man, it was an opportunity to realise two dreams in one opportunity.
For the few thousand inhabitants of Lucky’s small village, celebrities could only be viewed through a digital screen.
Yet, here was Lucky, blurring the lines that separate the possible from the impossible, as he had just met Abhishek Bachchan – the Bollywood actor who is also the owner of the team.
“I was over the moon when Jaipur Pink Panthers bought me. Abhishek Bachchan itne bade superstar hai, unse milna kaafi badi baat hai. Abhi kal hi mulaqaat hua hai ji. (Abhishek Bachchan is a superstar, it is a big thing for me to meet him. I met him just yesterday),” he tells us, with elation evident as a beaming smile glows on his face.
Chequered Flag Is Still Some Laps Away
The right-corner is now a resident of the seventh heaven. He is a figure of inspiration back home, a player whose name has been etched into the books of kabaddi history, and someone who can now claim he has interacted with a superstar.
Yet, he knows well the chequered flag is far away in his race, and he still has a few goals to attain and dreams to realize.
“There is an abundance of talent from where I come from, it is just that we lack infrastructure. We don’t have gyms, not even proper mats. There are neither any SAI hostels, nor a proper coaching set-up,” the man from Pouni Chak says.
He was sold for INR 10 lakhs at the PKL 2022 auction, and while it is only the base price of a player in this competition, the figure is mightily significant for Lucky as it will help him support his local ground.
“I want to use it (his PKL amount) to improve my local ground. We might lack facilities, but we don’t lack potential. Back in my village, I tell the young players ‘don’t let the lack of infrastructure affect your performance. Keep on working hard, and certainly, there will be one moment, one chance, which will get you fame and take you to PKL,” he informed.
Lucky had to be patient in his wait to make his PKL debut, but the emerging talents in his village were not as forbearing, as they were eager to see their local beau ideal on the television screens.
On being asked about the reactions he is getting from back home from the youngsters, he informed us “I was guiding the youngsters even before making it to PKL. Now that I am with Jaipur, they are even more excited. I am getting hundreds of calls every single day from the kids from my locality. They want to know when they will watch me play.”
The debut might have come a tad late, but the lad from the valley knows well that all good things take time, and in his case in particular, nothing has come easy.
Now that the opportunity has finally arrived, Lucky wants to be at his very best so that he not only gets a contract next year, but he gets a better amount which will only help him in his mission to bring high-quality infrastructure to his village. And ultimately, the player who once represented the nation in the Army, harbours dreams of a different sort of representation – through the Indian national kabaddi team.