For hockey and home: Xess's pursuit of happiness
The 24-year-old is part of the Indian team playing a five-Test series against Australia but he is aiming for the World Cup
Nilam Sanjeep Xess would often earn the wrath of his parents while growing up. Sent to make their goats graze in the meadows of Kadobahal village in Odisha, Nilam would ignore his work and run away to play hockey with his friends.
His activities angered the family elders, who would ask him to ‘not waste time on hockey’ and help out as the situation was dire. The Xess family lived in a mud house. They had no electricity or water supply. Every rupee earned or spent mattered.
But despite this, each time Nilam broke his hockey stick and would need a new one, his farmer parents – Bipin and Jira – would put their resources together to buy their youngest son a new stick. It was the support, resilience and sacrifices like these that propelled Nilam to the national level and then consequently, international hockey.
“I did not know or understand how bad the financial situation was back then. Simply put, it was very bad. I got to know much later that to buy hockey sticks my parents borrowed money and sold household items. Now we discuss the old and difficult times," said the 24-year-old.
But despite making his debut for India at the South Asian Games in February 2016, Nilam has made only 32 international appearances. The prowess he showed during his junior days – he captained India to the U-18 Asia Cup gold in 2016 — went missing at the senior level and he kept getting dropped regularly from the team.
But Nilam’s story was different than his peers. On-field success was more important for him as it also translated into off-field growth.
Every time the defender played well and qualified for India, he would get call-ups from domestic teams like ONGC to play national-level tournaments. Each time he didn’t make the cut for India, his phone would not ring. “I have been building a proper home for my family. I used the stipend that I would get along with the 2017 Hockey India League (HIL) money (approx. Rs.10 lakh) to build the house,” said Nilam.
Effectively, every time Nilam wouldn’t get a stipend, building work stopped at his home.
But things began to improve last year. After being out of the team for two-and-a-half years, Nilam was called back for the Asian Champions Trophy in Dhaka in December 2021. He also played Pro League games against England in April before taking the field at the Asia Cup in May-June in Jakarta. Nilam wore the blue India jersey again in the ongoing Pro League against New Zealand and Spain recently.
Like earlier, on-field success translated into off-field growth. This time better than ever as Nilam was given a job by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India in February, meaning he could now complete building his house. “It is going to get completed in a few more months. All those who used to scold me for playing hockey back then, tell me how wrong they were. It is because of hockey things have settled down at my home. Now we will have a proper home,” said Nilam.
With the situation getting better both on and off the field, Nilam’s ambitions are also growing. Currently in Adelaide playing a five-Test series against Australia, the defender is aiming for the World Cup. One of the two venues for the quadrennial event – Rourkela – is only 45 minutes by road from his village.
"I want to become a regular in the Indian team. I have been doing extra practice, putting in the extra hours, spending time on tackling and drag-flick, taking feedback from coaches on areas where I can improve to get better. If I can play for India in Rourkela, my family can come to watch me at the stadium. I am hopeful of getting selected in the final 18,” concluded Nilam, who has never played in any major hockey event for India.
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- Indian Hockey Team