Puneri Paltan have been a force to reckon with this season in VIVO Pro Kabaddi. Captained by star raider Deepak Hooda, Pune have displayed both maturity and ruthlessness in their approach and are one of the top contenders to reach the play-offs. Hooda recently sat down with prokabaddi.com for a candid and emotional chat about his childhood, his kabaddi journey and how his humble beginnings shaped him up. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

Tell us how your tryst with kabaddi started.

My mother passed away when I was four years old and my father was not in a good medical condition. When I was in 12th standard, he also passed away. My family conditions were not that good from the very beginning. My sister also started staying with us because of some problems. We used to work on the farm. After my father’s death, I had to quit my studies as I couldn’t afford the expenses and I also had to take responsibility for my sister and her kids at the same time. One of my friends used to play kabaddi and he asked me to join as playing could get you a job. This is how I started playing kabaddi thinking that if I got a job it would be great for me and my family.

How did you enter VIVO Pro Kabaddi?

I went to the Rohtak Stadium for my practice but after the coach retired, I was worried about where to practise. I started teaching in a private school and it helped my family a lot. I used to wake up at 3 in the morning to practise, then reach school by 7 am to teach and after coming back I worked on the farm. My sister’s children used to study in Rohtak so I had to take care of their school and the family too.

My friends Satpal Narwal and Mahipal Narwal told me to come and practise at their club. The coach there started teaching me the game and how to raid. At that time, I had taken a second-hand bike because I had to travel around 27 kilometres to reach the club. I used to practise in the morning, then go to school to teach and then again go for practice in the evening. Sometimes, I used to reach home late at night, which was scary because of the thieves on the roads.

I played in local tournaments and got some money for participating. Even after getting injured, I used to go and play the next day because of the money. Once Ajay Thakur [Tamil Thalaivas captain] asked Jasvir Gulia if there was anyone who wanted to play for Air India. He was a well-known player in Haryana and he recommended my name. So I went there and got selected for the team. We were playing the All-India tournament which took place in Maharashtra. I still remember that I played really well there and we were the number one team in that tournament. Since then I have been playing for Air India.

I played my first senior national in Patna against Maharashtra as a part of the Jharkhand team. After playing there, I got selected for the Asian Games. In the first season of Pro Kabaddi, I was the second highest buy and from there my career has taken a different path. I feel sad that my parents are not with me now. But I feel lucky that I have represented India in the Asian Games and the World Cup as well. I am happy that I chose kabaddi as my career.

How do you feel about captaining Puneri Paltan?

It feels great because there were some great players in the team like Manjeet Chhillar and Ajay Thakur. I think that it’s my luck that I was retained in the side and now I am the captain as well. So I focus on doing well whenever I step onto the mat. I will try my best to fulfill the responsibility given to me and try to take the team to the final and win.

Do you think Ajay Thakur has helped you reach here?

Yes, he has and he is a very good friend as well. We go to each other’s house and we also used to share the same room when we were playing on the same team. I am grateful to him that he gave me the opportunity to play. He has always guided and motivated me to do well.

Do you have any memorable moment from your kabaddi journey?

I was in Bangalore for the Asian Games and the auction [VIVO Pro Kabaddi Season 1] had started. We were keenly watching how much the players were getting. I was in Group B, so thinking it will take a long time for my name to come, I went down for practice. Later, I got a call from my friends informing me that I got a bid of Rs 12.6 lakh. I told them not to joke because I knew the highest bid was Rs 12.8 lakh. After that, I got calls from other friends and the Indian team as well. I believed it only after I got a call from our AKFI secretary. He told me that some media personals wanted to speak to me about my bid. So, that was the memorable moment.

Do you have any messages for Pune fans?

We love the way you support us, and keep on supporting us in the same way. We will not disappoint you at any time. We have played semi-finals in the last two seasons but this season we will play the final and win the trophy.