Great friendships in the world of sports are a common sight. Be it VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid in cricket or Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in tennis, the sporting world is laced with examples of teammates or even opponents sharing a good rapport on and off the playing field.
One such friendship is that of Tamil Thalaivas’ Ajay Thakur and Manjeet Chhillar. The two have a great camaraderie and can be seen sharing their fair share of smiles and serious moments when they take the mat together. They have shared the dressing room in five of the six seasons of VIVO Pro Kabaddi, which has only served to strengthen their bond. But their friendship goes way back to the time when Thakur was just a rookie, cutting his teeth in the world of kabaddi.
The transition from wrestling to kabaddi had proven difficult for the Himachal native early on but, owing to his incredible reach, he eventually managed to develop his game and earned a call-up for the national camp.
But that was just the beginning of Thakur’s trials. Upon joining the camp, he felt isolated as most of the players belonged to Haryana and, having played together in multiple tournaments, had a close-knit group which made him feel like an outsider. One incident during this testing period truly stood out for Thakur.
“We were all travelling for a tournament when I had a disagreement with a fellow kabaddi player and everyone took his side,” recollected Thakur in an exclusive interview with prokabaddi.com.
Obviously, the already isolated Thakur felt extremely hurt and dejected by the entire affair. At such a time, there was one player who came to the young raider’s aid and helped him feel less like an outsider.
“Manjeet (Chhillar) immediately came to my rescue and had my back at that time. He scolded the other player and asked him not to be rude to me,” said Thakur with a smile.
A respected figure among the Haryana players, Chhillar ensured that Thakur felt at home after that.
“He told everyone to be nice to me and ensured I never felt alone. Be it accompanying me for meals or just hanging out, Manjeet would always make sure he was there with me,” remembered Thakur.
It was this moment that formed the foundations of Thakur and Chhillar’s friendship.
Without Chhillar’s support, Thakur may not have had the confidence to perform well in the camp and become the world-renowned player that he is today. In fact, he might not have survived very long in that camp with the growing feeling of isolation he was feeling. Chhillar’s contribution to Thakur’s life has been immense as Thakur himself acknowledges.
“We go out together, play multiple tournaments together, and have played in 4 seasons of Pro Kabaddi together before this. We are very close and I share everything with him,” said Thakur of his bond with Chhillar.
There isn’t a lot that this duo hasn’t achieved in the sport. They have been World Champions, Asian Games Gold medallists, Kabaddi Masters Dubai title winners and unparalleled achievers over the course of their career. But it is worth pondering how different their lives would have been, what path they would have taken, where their careers in the sport would be if they hadn’t found each other at that one national camp and pushed each other since then to be among India’s greatest kabaddi players.