"शॉट मार गोल में! निशाने पे रख! (Shoot on Goal. Keep it on target!)," used to scream a 11-year-old girl from the sidelines. When a striker failed to keep his attempt on target she would even kick the ground in disgust and then repeat those two lines in a heavily-accented Hindi.
Sanjay Pathak, the coach of a small football nursery in Lakshmipur, Siwan, noticed the antics of the girl for quite a few days until one day he finally summoned her and asked, "खेलना है क्या? (Want to play?)." She nodded her head in affirmation but it was not easy for a girl to take the pitch in a remote village in Siwan district of Bihar. It was considered uncouth for girls to play soccer in shorts and boots. Moreover, the guardian's consent was paramount.
After repeated pleading, her mother agreed because she was still a 'बच्ची ' (small girl) but inserted a condition that once she hits puberty she has to give up the sport.
Neither Amrita Kumari nor her coach gave second thoughts about that termination clause that was about to kick-in down the line as they had already set their sights on qualifying for the U-17 team of Bihar that was set to be selected for the upcoming National Championships.
"I started practicing as a right midfielder. I played for the Sarang Commissionary where selectors from the state were present. Although most of the girls were senior to me, I was able to make an impact," recounts Amrita, who went on to play for Bihar U17 at a tender age of 11.
Her performances impressed the national selectors so much that she was called up to the India U14 national camp, immediately after the National Championship. In the camp, her position was changed and she was asked to play at the heart of defence. But that did not deter her from putting in the best.
"She has a very good footballing IQ. She can think ahead of her mates. Therefore, her anticipation as a centre-back is very good. But I feel that she is very versatile and with patience, she can fit in any position adhering to the demands of the team," opined coach Pathak who still trains Amrita whenever she is Siwan.
She continued to rise through ranks and in 2014 she led the India U16 team in the AFC U16 Championship qualifiers in Sri Lanka. But lack of sponsors and financial support has been a constant dampener in her journey so far. Her mother continues to be terminally ill, and her father is a vegetable seller in Gurgaon. Hence being the eldest of six siblings, she has a lot of responsibility on her plate.
"Amrita has to bear all the responsibilities. With no support from any sector, she is fighting all alone. After she played U14 she was paid ₹3400 only by the Bihar Government. Chana (hickpeas), Gur (jaggery), Moong, and Soya is her diet. She has been through the worst and is still struggling," said Pathak recounting her present condition.
But the challenges that life has thrown in front of her have not bogged her down. Instead, she feels that her real-life experiences are great motivators.
When Amrita is not on the move she trains ardently in her native hamlet under the strict eyes of Pathak. She got called up by Kenkre FC to play in the last edition of the Indian Women's League (IWL). After appearing in the top professional league of the country, she is gunning to conquer the final frontier.
"I am confident that one day Amrita will represent the senior national team. She is sincere and works diligently to achieve her goals. With a little more backing, she can go on to play for the India senior team," hopes Pathak.
Fate has not been kind to her, but time and again it has been proven that she has the mettle to challenge providence and write her own destiny. It now remains to be seen if and when can Amrita catapult Siwan to the footballing landscape of India by putting on the national colours.