From darkness to light: The story of Walmiki brothers

The Walmiki brothers, Yuvraj and Devinder, recall the great hardships they had faced when they were young.

Devinder Walmiki (centre) and Yuvraj Walmiki during a Bengaluru Hockey Super Division Championship 2019 fixture on Friday.   -  G.P. Sampath Kumar

The Walmiki brothers, Yuvraj and Devinder, recall the great hardships they had faced when they were young.

“Very often, I had to skip meals so that Devinder had something to eat. Our family lived in a small shanty in Mumbai, with no electricity, water or even a proper roof,” Yuvraj, the elder of the two, tells Sportstar here on Friday.

Their life forever changed when Yuvraj scored a crucial tie-break goal against Pakistan in the final of the 2011 Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament in China. “My parents had taken a lot of loans to help us pursue our dream of playing hockey. When Yuvraj returned from China, he paid off all the loans — totalling around ₹30 lakh,” Devinder says.

Dream realised

Watching Yuvraj shine strengthened Devinder’s resolve to break into the Indian team. The ultimate dream was realised in 2015, when both Yuvraj and Devinder scored a goal each in a 3-0 win over Poland in the Hockey World League semifinal.

“All the newspapers carried a photo of me lifting and hugging Yuvraj, with a headline ‘Walmiki Brothers do India proud’. That was a truly memorable moment,” Devinder says.

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Along with the highs came the lows as well, when injuries and other issues forced Yuvraj out of the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Devinder, on the other hand, made it to the 2016 Rio Games.

“We have one Olympian in our house, which is something to celebrate,” Yuvraj says.

Out of favour

Devinder too has since fallen out of favour with the national selectors, but like Yuvraj, he hasn’t given up hopes making a grand comeback yet. “We still have international quality; all we need is one chance to prove ourselves,” Yuvraj says.

Regardless of what the future holds, the brothers can take pride in what they have accomplished so far. “When I started playing hockey in 1999, my mother struggled to buy ice to treat my injuries. She would wash my match jersey every single day with her bare hands. When I scored against Pakistan in 2011, she watched the match on our neighbour’s television. Right through school, Devinder and I studied under candle light. Now we have a television, washing machine, air conditioner, lights and fans — things that my parents have never owned in their lives. Even now I get emotional when I think of those days. From darkness to light — that is our journey,” Yuvraj says.