It’s just after sunrise on a foggy winter morning in north India. Most people are snuggled up in quilts, but a group of teenagers with hockey sticks is out on the field. The ragtag bunch chasing a ball in Khera Garhi village, about 20 kilometres from central Delhi, shares a dream — to play in India’s field hockey team.
It’s an unusual dream in a country obsessed with cricket, but one that former national player Rajesh Chauhan hopes to foster among youngsters across India. Chauhan, 37, played for India during the second half of the 1990′s and set up the Jai Bharat Hockey Academy in 2011 to try to restore Indian hockey to its former glory.
India was a men’s hockey superpower in the last century, winning eight Olympic gold medals. Since 1980, the national team’s fortunes have declined.
Chauhan told India Insight that he hopes to discover the next generation of medal winners among his wards at the academy. He breaks off frequently to shout instructions to his students practising on the turf, which is nothing but muddy ground next to a road where trucks trundle past a telecommunications tower.
About 70 students, half of whom stay in a nearby hostel, have come from Delhi and its neighbouring states to hone their hockey skills. Some wake up before sunrise to travel to the academy, putting in several hours of practice before and after school.