Dantewada may well be a haven for nature lovers but to the outside world, the mere mention of this remote district of Chattisgarh conjures up hair-raising images of ambushes and bloody conflicts between Naxals and security personnel amidst the mud tracks in the hills, picturesque valleys, and forests.
Life could not have been easy - or, at the very least, normal, for the son of a policeman to have grown up right here, and attend school in a land that many fear to tread on in the best of times.
Deepesh Kumar Sinha spent his childhood in this secluded region but recalls that the CRPF zone where he lived during his school days was relatively secure, and this is where he started making big strides in his game during high school.
"I grew up in Dantewada district in Chattisgarh where I did my schooling too. I used to live in the CRPF area so it was very protected and secure, and all my friends belonged to police families."
"I started playing volleyball when I was around 16 to 17 years old in 12th grade in school. I played in a number of inter-school competitions nationwide."
If growing up in a troubled town was a distinct stumbling block, parental support, in the form of a mother who played basketball at the national level, was possibly the only catalyst that the youngster needed to fuel his dreams.
Moving to Bhilai, which was better equipped with respect to training and facilities was the first step towards realizing his goals. Being spotted by renowned volleyball coach, G E Sridharan gave the blocker a solid foundation, resulting in early recognition on the Asian stage and a place in the Indian national team.
While Deepesh has realized his ambitions partly, the ace blocker who has been picked to captain U Mumba Volley, still has a long way to go, as he revealed to Sportskeeda in an exclusive chat before the start of season one of the RuPay Pro Volleyball League.
Here are the excerpts of the interview :
SK: At what age did you plan to pursue volleyball as a career and what facilities were available to you at the time?
Deepesh: After my 12th grade, I realized that there were not enough facilities in my district for pursuing volleyball and so I moved to Bhilai where they provided complete training and facilities to players for volleyball at the Bhilai Steel Plant.
This was in 2008. Then, I played the junior nationals for the Chattisgarh team in 2009. Post that, I came to be known as a volleyball player and I started training properly in 2009.
SK: How popular was the sport in your area at the time and how much practice or coaching did you manage to get in your school days?
Deepesh: The school I went to gave more importance to studies than sports and so I did not get enough training during my schooling days. But then, when I realized I wanted to play volleyball, I moved to Bhilai and practiced there rigorously.
SK: Were you attracted to other sports as well or were you fixed on taking up volleyball?
Deepesh: Since I had such good height, the only other sport I ever considered was basketball, but then I chose volleyball as a career.
SK: How supportive were your parents in your pursuit of the sport and what was their reaction when they learned that you wanted to become a volleyball player?
Deepesh: My parents have been very supportive in every decision I have made until now. My mother was a national player in basketball and so it was very normal for them to see me choose sports as a career too.
When I played at the Asian Games, they were very happy and supportive. I never had any restrictions imposed on the game I should choose either and my parents supported me wholeheartedly.
SK: Which event would you describe as your big break or something that helped you make it to the top?
Deepesh: In 2012, I knew I wanted to become a professional volleyball player and also won the best blocker award the same year (in the Asian Junior Men's Volleyball Championship) and that was a huge source of motivation for me!
The top four teams from the Asian Games played at the Championship and I performed well there. That made me realize that this is it for me.
SK: Who were the coaches who helped you hone your skills?
Deepesh: Sridharan Sir (G E Sridharan) has an academy in Coimbatore and that is where I learned most of my skills and techniques. He has been coaching the national volleyball team too and I still follow most of his lessons.
SK: What are your favorite and most memorable moments or matches on the court?
Deepesh: The Junior Asian Championships in Iran where we played against Australia is extremely memorable for me as it was a decider for us. We won it in 5 sets and that is a match that has made a long-lasting impression on me and one that will always be memorable.
SK: How do you see your role as captain of your side? Tell us a bit about the composition of the team?
Deepesh: U Mumba Volley is an extremely balanced team - a mix of both experienced and young players. Along with vice-captain, Vinit Kumar and the coach, I aim to captain the team to the best of my ability. I hope we perform extremely well and become the first champions of the RuPay Pro Volleyball League.
SK: What is the aim for U Mumba Volley in the inaugural season and how intense have the training and preparations been?
Deepesh: Since it’s the first season, we are giving our one-hundred percent in training in order to win the league. The coach is giving us a lot of insights, tips and the entire team is being put through intense training sessions. I hope we perform exceptionally well and become the winners.