Rabi Mallik travels to the Homeless World Cup with a bagful of dreams
Rabi Mallick has a glint in his eyes that sets him apart from the rest; the glint resides there because, despite everything, he has not forgotten to dream.
"I still want to play for a big maidan club like East Bengal or Mohun Bagan, that is my dream," he says, when asked about his ultimate goal. " have watched the big matches from the galleries and just once want to experience the exhilarating atmosphere of a derby as a player," he adds.
Rabi is 30, a journeyman footballer who once played for Peerless in the Calcutta Football League before losing his way and completely falling off the radar. He grew up in extreme poverty in Malda, a North Bengal district where his father was a civic worker.
"I used to practice with whatever I could get, plastic bottles, cups, packets, we could not afford a ball," Mallick recounts. But the center forward had talent and sometimes that force breaks all barriers. Growing up through the ranks of local and district tournaments, he finally reached the coveted destination of all Bengal footballers, the Kolkata maidan.
However, things did not go to plan and the rising star quickly became a reject, a castaway full of frustration and anger who almost quit the game after returning to Malda. The big bad world of professional football had claimed another of his victims. Not quite.
Down in the doldrums, Mallick discovered a new lease of life through Slum Soccer, an initiative that tries to uplift the marginalized through the world's favorite game.
After trials, Mallick made it to the Bengal squad as the captain for a national futsal tournament and rediscovered his zeal and touch.
His team came third but more importantly, the striker had made the cut for the team traveling to represent India at the Homeless World Cup to be held in Mexico in November.
" I am the only one from West Bengal in the squad and we are being trained by Scottish coach Andy Hook. It is a great experience and we are having a conditioning camp to prepare for the tournament," Rabi adds.
The Homeless World Cup is a unique week-long tournament that combines social empowerment with the sport, their ultimate goal is to end the scourge of homelessness.
500 players from 47 nations will be competing in this mega event that will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Mexico Olympics through various exhibitions, screenings and performances.
AIFF match commissioner Aparup Chakraborty, whose Slum Soccer initiative rediscovered Rabi from the pits, feels that his livelihood can be given a new lease of life through this unique initiative.
"He is one of just eight persons who made it to the final squad and it is a great moment for him. However, age might be a factor that comes in the way of his dreams of playing for a top side. We are trying our best to bring these neglected talents back into the mainstream, we are also trying to form an academy where Rabi could become a coach, he signs off by saying."
For now, Rabi's focus will be on bringing laurels to the nation in this unique World Cup, other dreams can wait.