From Mumbai's slums to PKL winner: Mother's struggles drives Mohite's ambition - Hindustan Times

From Mumbai's slums to PKL winner: Mother's struggles drives Mohite's ambition

ByRutvick Mehta, Mumbai
Mar 07, 2024 09:03 PM IST

The star raider led Puneri Paltan to their first Pro Kabaddi League title in the 10th season

Not a day goes by without Pankaj Mohite taking the time out to talk to his mother over the phone. Not even when the star raider was busy leading Puneri Paltan to their first Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) title in the 10th season, his nine-point show proving the difference in the 28-25 win over Haryana Steelers in the final on Friday night.

Pankaj Mohite(PKL) PREMIUM
Pankaj Mohite(PKL)

Having lost his father as a teen, the 24-year-old's mother has been his strongest source of motivation, and her struggles his biggest driving force. Using kabaddi as the engine, Mohite has opened the doors to a better life for his family, which involves plucking them out of living in a tiny room of a Mumbai slum and elevating them to a 2BHK flat in central Mumbai.

“If anyone had told me 10 years ago that I’ll get myself here, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Mohite. “But the situation was such that I had to do something.”

Growing up in the slums of Ganesh Nagar with four elder sisters and his parents all stacked in a “10x10 room”, Mohite was enrolled in a government school because his father couldn’t afford to put him in a private one. It didn't cost to watch kabaddi, with a couple of small-time clubs in his area using a speck of unoccupied space for their practice sessions.

“I used to watch them in the evenings. One day I got to the floor and began playing it. I enjoyed it a lot. My school also had a team, which I got into. That’s how my interest in kabaddi grew,” he said.

So did his progress in age-group tournaments in the city. The sudden death of his father in 2012 to a heart attack, however, shook him completely. The sole breadwinner of the family no more, the youngest member felt the need to fill the void. Especially after seeing his mother take up odd jobs to bring food to the table.

“She would clean houses, offices. I didn't like seeing that. I was young, but in my mind, it hit me. My only objective in life was to get my mother out of those dark days,” Mohite said.

His sisters advised him to keep kabaddi aside, complete his graduation and find a job. For Mohite, though, the sport was his only beacon of hope. It helped that he was good at it, and that he kept at it.

“My sisters told me there’s no use playing kabaddi. They’d say: study, get a job, set ho jayega (you’ll be settled). In my mind, I wanted to do something better and bigger. I liked playing it, and continued playing it," he said.

The little shots of encouragement kept coming. Mohite made the junior team of Mumbai, then of the state. Excelling at the university level playing for his college (MD College in Parel), he got into the Dena Bank team. The stipend from that was nowhere close to what he currently gets, but there was at least money coming in through the sport. A year later, he moved to Air India, which proved a springboard to his Puneri Paltan stint.

Making his PKL debut in 2019, Mohite has become a key cog in the Paltan wheel through his four seasons with them. In the 22 matches this season, the raider earned 110 points and played a starring role in the semi-finals and final. He has also earned enough financially to purchase a flat in Chembur four months ago, which his mother and sisters can now call home.

“My job was to work hard and focus on the game. I did that," he said. “And I have a lot more to do. I have to get my sisters married. I want to play for the country. Karna toh bahut kuch hai — step by step.”

All along, the daily conversations with his mother remain a constant. “She keeps telling me, ‘tu mann laga ke khel’,” Mohite said.

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