Suraj Karkera - Attracted to the goalkeeper’s kit

The young goalkeeper’s aim is to win a medal at the Olympics.

Honing his skills: Suraj Karkera during a practice session in Bhubaneswar.   -  THE HINDU

Age: 22.

From: Mumbai.

Education: II year B. Com from Rizvi College through distance learning.

Discipline: Hockey (goalkeeper).

The beginning: Suraj was always one of those who played sports for the love of it, not the lure of bigger, better things. Starting with football with friends, he first saw a game of hockey at his school, Children’s Academy in Malad in 2004. “It was a new thing for us, none of us in school had seen hockey till then. The game was introduced after Marzban ‘Bawa’ Patel asked the school to try out the game and we were the first batch of students to join the school team back then,” Suraj says.

The attraction was for more practical reasons back then. “Anyone playing for the school team in any sport could bunk classes for practice, so it was a good way to get out of the classrooms. But once I tried it out, it was exciting and I never went back,” he laughs.

Bawa reveals that Suraj initially was not a goalkeeper but was attracted to the pads and the paraphernalia that came with the goalkeeper’s kit. “He was not a goalkeeper, we made him into one. His parents were not keen that he pursued the game. I had to take him to tournaments without their knowledge,” Bawa says.

Achievements: The Asia Cup gold last year was the first big title for Suraj in his brief international career so far, followed by the World League bronze at the end of the year. He missed being part of the side that won the Junior World Cup two years back, but, in hindsight, feels it was for the best.

  Aim: The biggest of them all, an Olympic medal. But that’s in the long term. In the near future, it is the Asian Games and the World Cup.

The family: Suraj’s family has never had anything to do with sports. His mother Ashalatha Karkera is a beautician who works in a parlour. His father Harishchandra Karkera works as a site supervisor in a construction company. Neither has ever played any sport and, like all hard-working middle-class families, firmly believe a good education was the only way to succeed.

“It wasn’t easy. My parents initially wanted me to study well and do something, you know, more regular. They were not too happy with my playing hockey. But once they realised I love playing the game, they eventually told me to get serious about it. They said I must give my best if I really wanted to do it, do it properly and not waste time or anything on it just like that. Now I have their full support,” Suraj says.

The closest he has to a sibling is his black labrador Deno. “He is also the only one who gives me unconditional support in anything I do,” Suraj says.

Mentor: Like almost everyone in Mumbai who has played hockey in the last two decades, there is only one name Suraj swears by — Marzban ‘Bawa’ Patel. Bawa, he says, is not just a coach or mentor — he is the backbone of Mumbai hockey, the pillar of support for all the youngsters in the city. “I don’t think anyone else has done as much for hockey in Mumbai as him,” Suraj says.

He still talks to Bawa once a week and while the veteran doesn’t bother too much with the technical stuff, he continues to support Suraj mentally and emotionally, helping him stay focussed and confident.

“He’s always been good, he supports us so much on and off the field, whether it is with kits or anything else. Coming from a simple background, we cannot afford all the professional gear including shoes all the time but he would step in and help us out all the time. It’s good that he finally got the Chhatrapati Shivaji award recently, it was long overdue,” Suraj adds.

He also idolises current national team senior PR Sreejesh. “I think he is the best in the world”, he says. He loves watching Ronaldo score big. But the ultimate “cool dude” remains fellow Mumbaikar Adrian D’Souza. “Adrian was the superhero we all wanted to be like as kids. He was too fast, too good for anyone anywhere in the world. My phone’s wallpaper is of him and Sreejesh together, that’s my ultimate target, to be like the two of them rolled into one! The best thing is, he still messages me every time I get picked in a team, tells me I am good and motivates me. Getting congratulatory messages from your superhero — you can imagine what that feels like!” he gushes.