When Ranjit Singh took up volleyball as his preferred sport at the Jalandhar sports hostel, his only aim was to join the Indian Army like his brother. Neither him nor his family ever thought of top level competition or playing for India. Even the financial help they looked forward to was the salary he would be getting from his “department”.

But in less than six years, Ranjit has not only played for India but also captained the national team. Financially, he can now boast of becoming the costliest player at the Pro Volleyball League auction.

Ranjit, a setter, who had never imagined of being paid to play the game was bought for Rs 13 lakh by the Ahmedabad Defenders for the first season of PVL, which will be played from February 2, 2019.

“I am surprised but not shocked. After being the captain and playing as a setter, I expected to be one of the expensive players but not the most. Paisa kisko acha nahi lagta (Who doesn’t like making money),” Ranjit says.

The money aside, the former India captain is happy that the players finally have a professional league that they always wanted. “We have been hearing about the league for the last seven years and finally the younger players have an option of playing in it. For us it is another platform to get more competition as we hardly play any tournaments,” he says.

The sub-inspector with Punjab Police has not played a competitive match for India since September, the month his father passed away. He recalls the tough days and the thought about leaving the sport to stay at home with his mother, who now stays alone in Lalpur.

“I used to be with ONGC in Dehradun but my father always insisted that I join Punjab Police. His reason was that I would be in Punjab and closer to home. So I joined Punjab Police in May. He passed away in September. Maybe he was just calling me to spend some time,” Ranjit says.

The days following his father’s death were the most difficult for Ranjit. He chose to stay home to be with his mother and decided to skip the national camp in October. But it was his mother who asked Ranjit to return to the game.

“She told me that life goes on and the game has given us a lot so I should return,” he says.

Initial struggles

The Tarn Taran native, however, remembers the first time he earned something through the game. The money wasn’t even close to what he will get to play in PVL. But he remembers it was a great feeling.

“There were tournaments in the villages that we used to participate. I came from a really poor home so I wanted it. Sometimes we used to win the tournaments and get paid like Rs 500 or 1000 so that used to be great,” he says.

Even playing in those tournaments did not make him serious about the game. It was only after his brother’s selection in the army that make him think of making a career in volleyball.

It was not a smooth sailing though. Not only buying the kit was a problem for Ranjit, enrolling in a decent academy was out of question. So his brother took him to the Jalandhar sports hostel, about 100 km away from his home.

“There were two reasons to go there. I got to play volleyball and got unlimited food three times a day. The only bad thing was that I could not go back home. There was no money for the bus fare and my brother would keep telling me that he will take me home next month,” he recalls.

After repeated requests, Ranjit’s brother finally took him out of the hostel. But instead of taking him to Tarn Taran, he took him to Visakhapatnam.

“He took me to trials of youth camp and I did not know that it was for India. I played and got selected for the national camp in 2008,” he says.

The journey since then has been nothing short of a dream run. “In 2012, I graduated to the senior level. It was a great feeling to represent India. In 2014 Asian Games, I captained the Indian team and a year later we won the silver at the Asian Cup.”

Now with a chance to rub shoulders with some of the international stars including Beijing Olympic gold medallist David Lee of USA, in PVL, Ranjit hopes the culture of volleyball can be seen by everyone.

“The craze of volleyball is everywhere. The only thing missing in the first season of the league is a team from north India,” he says.

But that isn’t stopping him from giving his 100 percent for Ahmedabad. “This isn’t a fraud league. The first positioned team will play the Asia Clubs Cup and if it reaches the final there, it plays the World Clubs Cup,” he says.