Parents in India are always worried about their children’s future. While most of them are obsessed with the idea of their children studying at the best medical and engineering schools, others pipeline their kids into law and management courses. But football? And that too as a professional in India? Um…unusual to say the least.
But when Sunil Chhetri was growing up in Delhi, his parents did not indulge themselves in securing a berth in the IIT for their son. They did not think of forcing little Sunil out of his love for football and of binding him to a 10-5 job schedule. They did not think, like so many other parents, of choosing the future for their son rather than letting their son choose it.
And the entire nation now ought to be relieved that the Chhetri duo didn’t follow the crowd. When the young Sunil scored a scintillating hat-trick against Tajikistan in the AFC Challenge Cup’08 final in Delhi, people marked him as the Golden Boy and singled him out as the Savior of Indian football, tidily forgetting that this Messiah too has parents. Very, very supportive parents.
Not that Sunil’s parents want any credit for that. Speaking to his father, Mr. KB Chhetri, one comprehends the marked humility in the man. A retired army personnel, Mr. Chhetri is a soft spoken, nostalgic gentleman through and through, a father who always wanted his son to live the dream that he himself had fostered as a boy.
Born in the football mad Kolkata, Sunil’s dad studied in Darjeeling and was therefore thoroughly raised as a football man. He admits to Goal.com that he did dream of making it as a footballer himself but states that he has no regret now since his son has realized that dream.
“Football is in my blood. When Sunil joined Mohun Bagan, I fulfilled my dream.”
Understandably, Chhetri Senior never even remotely tempered his son’s burning passion for the sport. He used to attend his son’s matches in schools and even shared the bench as he was a consistent figure of inspiration, support and motivation for little Sunil.
Taking a walk down the memory lane. Mr. Chhetri reveals the moments of the past that helped shape Sunil the footballer. His voice trembles with nostalgic pleasure when he quotes an instance when Sunil was still a toddler.
“When Sunil could barely stand on his feet, I once gave him a big balloon. Instead of catching the balloon, he started to kick it. Every time that I would give him the balloon, instead of using his hands, he would kick it.”
Yet there must have been a suspicion of doubt persistently lingering at the back of Mr. Chhetri’s mind. The host of what ifs must certainly have galloped into his mind on those quiet moments when big decisions had to be taken; when Sunil had a poor match; when people around him expressed doubts; when he found himself as the only father in the neighbourhood who was backing his son for a career in football.
Harbouring such legible doubts is not uncommon, facing them is. Now of course Mr. Chhetri he can now look back on all those days that he had dedicated tirelessly to the development of his child in the uncertain world of football with satisfaction, can proudly proclaim that it was a gamble worth taking.
The Motherly Support
What about Mrs. KB Chhetri? How did she support him? As it turns out, Sunil’s mother, Sushila, is originally from Nepal and is a sportsperson herself, having been involved in track & field and volleyball.
Perhaps more crucially, she was also a member of the Nepal women’s football team in her youth. Mr. Chhetri reveals, ”Actually she is more into the game. Football is her passion.”
There’s no suspicion then that Mrs. Chhetri too supported her son in his formative years. And she, as well as Mr.Chhetri, still supports him albeit in a different way even though he is now a very well established star.
Mr. Chhetri never misses a match that Sunil features in, either for the national team or for his club. Just as he used to attend his son’s matches during the time when he was at school, now that little Sunil is featuring in big matches in bigger venues, his father goes to his matches now too.
Football in India is developing not only because of the legions of Manchester United or Real Madrid fans or because of the clubs taking a keen interest in developing the youth or because of the dreamy-eyed football kit donning kids who want to be the next Cristiano Ronaldo or Ronaldinho.
Football in India is developing also because of people like Mr. and Mrs. Chhetri, who support their child and stroke his burning desire, who in spite of the odds stacked so heavily against them willingly pour their all for their child to fulfill his ambition.
India does salute the Chhetri parents. Because without them we wouldn’t have had a certain Sunil Chhetri scoring that sumptuous hat-trick and leading India to the Promised Land.