There was a time, Aslam Inamdar remembers, when he and his mother would find shelter from a flooded home by sitting on top of cooking utensils. The roof of their ‘mitti ka ghar’ was no match for the menacing monsoon rains that would often fall in on the occupants. The protocol was to scoop the falling water out the front door, getting wet themselves in the process. But in that monsoon of 2014, it was important for Inamdar to stay dry.
“We couldn’t afford to get a new plaster for my foot if the one already on got wet,” he said.
At a match in the sub-junior nationals earlier that year, he suffered from multiple fractures – both the tibia and fibula on his right leg had broken in that ghastly injury. Surgery was the only way to mend the broken bones, but the family couldn’t afford it – they didn’t have a house with a proper roof. Once the rain started, he’d have to wait patiently, and painfully, for his kabaddi friends to come over and carry him to a shed nearby.
“Doctors said it’s a Rs 1 lakh surgery, at least,” he told Scroll.in. “I had to wait for three months before a government scheme allowed me to get the operation at a cheaper rate.”
Those days of sitting atop metal utensils seem long over for the 23-year-old. Today he sits atop a different perch.
In his first season as a Pro Kabaddi League player, he scored the most raid points for the Puneri Paltan, with 159 raid points earned in 22 matches during the league phase. And his contribution played an important role in the Paltan making it to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. They will take on UP Yoddha on Monday for a semi-final spot.
Inamdar is quick, daring, strong, and he uses that once-broken leg fearlessly to dive under or leap over charging defenders, often kicking-out for touch points. He has been a key player for the Paltan, and along with fellow debutant Mohit Goyat, is a part of a formidable raiding duo.
This year Inamdar has finally made a breakthrough in the franchise’s hierarchy. He’s spent three years in their youth team – Yuva Paltan – but has now taken the PKL by storm.
“The funny thing was some people from my village had told me to try and get a few games at least,” said the native from Taklibhan, a village in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, alluding to the practice of teams generally easing younger players into the squad. “But my brother was sure I’d make it. He said once I get on the mat, I’m the kind of guy who won’t let go.”
Elder brother, Wasim, five-years Aslam’s senior, knows of the youngster’s tenacity.
Inamdar, the youngest of five, recalled first watching the sport when he followed Wasim to an Under-19 local match he was playing.
“I saw him getting picked up and thrown down. Later I asked him if it hurt, but he simply told me not to bother myself with the sport,” he said.
Wasim was keen on his youngest sibling pursuing academics since that was expected to be the only way the family could solve the financial strain that had bothered them for years.
“Things were already grave when my father died in 2011,” Inamdar said. “My mother got a job washing utensils at other peoples’ homes. And my brother worked his way through college by also working as a gardener in the university campus.”
Watching the family working odd jobs all the time led Inamdar to sneak out and get a job washing glasses at a tea stall when he was around 10. He laughs as he describes the ‘promotion’ he got when he moved to working at a juice stall for better pay.
“I didn’t really know that the family was going through a financial struggle. I was too young to understand. It’s just that everyone was doing some odd job or the other to earn. I thought this was the way of life. I didn’t know this was necessary to make ends meet,” he said.
And then he saw his brother playing kabaddi.
“Wasim was against it, so whenever he wasn’t on the ground, I’d go and play. I’d see him in the distance and run the other way, jump over the wall and head home. But he would eventually get to know when the seniors told him how good a player I was,” he added.
Once Wasim got a job in the police department, young Aslam would start playing for the village team. He would catch the attention of coaches and play at the sub-junior nationals, then junior nationals, winning player of the tournament awards that came with cash awards ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 500. Later he’d try out for the Air India team that had the likes of Ajay Thakur, Deepak Hooda and his Puneri Paltan teammate Rahul Chaudhari in the ranks. Only he didn’t make the cut, at first.
“I wasn’t in the team, but I kept going back to train with them and I kept getting better,” he said.
Then the Paltan’s youth academy came calling. And soon the riches of the PKL itself.
Life now is much better now than the harsh times when he’d try to dodge rain and falling mud off the roof of his family’s rented home. He’s spent almost three months now living in the luxuries of a posh Bangalore hotel where he’s been plying his trade in a bio-secure bubble. But by no means has he forgotten where he came from.
“Woh mitti ka ghar gir gaya kai saal pehle,” he said, proudly adding, “but that was after we moved out to a better place nearby. Pakka ghar hai ab. Bahut struggle kar ke idhar aaye.”
And he is here, a big raider in the big league.