Born to Kharga and Sushila Chhetri in Secunderabad (Telangana) on August 3, 1984, Sunil Chhetri was the child who was about to make all their dreams come true.
Sunil's father, Kharga Chhetri was an officer in the Electronics and Mechanical Engineers Corps and played for the Indian Army’s soccer team. While his mother Sushila Chhetri and her twin sisters played for the Nepal women’s national soccer team.
“As a kid, Sunil was like all the other kids in his childhood days, but he was just obsessed with playing football. He was a very punctual and disciplined child with peaceful nature, ” Chhetri's beloved father told Prag News.
Chhetri's dad, Kharga, was a keen football lover since his childhood days, he had played football for his Army unit and also for Indian Army soccer team, while he was active as an EME officer and not only football he played hockey too for the army unit when he was 44 or 45-years-old.
Too Kharga Chhetri, his son is not only his sun but his moon and star, who made his all unrealistic dreams come true.
“While growing up, I had many dreams as a student, as so-so good boy of the parents, as an aspirant sport lover, but almost every dream of mine remained dream only. When I look back, at this stage of my life, I find all those unrealised dreams of mine have been made come true by my son, Shri Sunil Chhetri,” Kharga told Prag News.
“A dad is a person who wants to catch you before you fall, but he instead picks you up and lets you try again”, and just like that Chhetri's first inspiration in his life and football, his father is, who always motivated and supported him whenever he needed that.
The 33-year-old, Sunil Chhetri once even shared a video clip on Twitter on Father's day. “Today, I fight every day of my life, wherever I go wherever I am, I follow his simple mantra, It is my dad’s unstoppable attitude towards my life that motivates me to keep chasing my dreams each day with great hunger.”
This purely shows that how much our Indian football legend owe his dad for his upbringing, and also that they have a friendly and a lovely relation between them, which certainly becomes one of the best dad and son duo.
Vishal Sharma caught up with our Indian football team skipper, Chhetri's dad, Kharga Chhetri in an exclusive free-wheeling chat, where he took us back to Sunil's childhood days and discussed much more.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Vishal Sharma: First of all, I would like to thank you that you gave India a gift like legendary Sunil Chhetri. So, how have you been so far?
Kharga Chhetri: I am doing absolutely fine, We acknowledge the fact with reverence that Sunil has stood the taste of time, to steer out the road of his success. We are indeed, very fortunate, the almighty has always blessed him to play the sport with full enjoyment, and without any serious sports injury.
VS: How did Sunil became interested in football? Share the experience from when he began his journey? How and when did you come to know that Sunil wants to become a professional footballer?
Kharga: Well that's a good question! My family belongs to Darjeeling (West Bengal) and playing with football is something which we believe, it’s inborn in the children. And Sunil was no different. He had one interesting anecdote, when he just started standing on his feet beyond crawl, we used to give him colourful balloons. He never took those balloons in his hands rather asked from us to put down on his feet.
He used to kick and fall down on ground immediately sometimes inflicting injuries to himself. While growing up from toddler to school admission and beyond, his passion for football continued increasing, and I am sure, he developed his greatest skills during those years when he attended primary and secondary schools.
Football and education were integral parts where Sunil kept scaling higher and higher, and it was a very healthy upbringing, we thought, particularly in a middle-class family of Army backgrounds. But frankly speaking, we never thought our son would make a career out of it. Sports was never beyond an extra-curricular activity in Sunil’s school academics.
VS: How he was as a kid in his childhood, days and what did he likes to do most?
Kharga: Sunil was a normal kid. But he was so obsessed with the playing football, he never kept his homework pending to be done at home. He would usually complete his entire homework hurriedly in school only and by the time he reached home for lunch, he had his school diary ready for us to see and the corresponding homework done. He believed, without that kind of preparedness, we would never have allowed him to play football in the afternoon.
VS: Share some moments of his childhood days, what was he most interested in doing growing up, his hobbies, also have you played football with him?
Kharga: Now I must admit the fact that Sunil had his passion for football taken easily further, simply because we both parents were football lovers and during his early days, we used to give him full fledged company in the pitch despite hot sun overhead, in the afternoon, summer or winter, till his football playing friends would be busy in completing home assignments in their respective homes. As you know, I was in the Army and used to travel far on transfer leaving behind family, and in my absence, his mom played the part of a father in the pitch.
VS: What was the feeling when you saw him playing for the India for the first time?
Kharga: Sunil had the moment of donning India’s jersey in International football for the first time in June 2004. India U-23 Team played against Pakistan in Pakistan and Sunil, at the age of 19+, was fortunate enough to debut for India in football. You can understand our feelings. We couldn't believe, our sun(son) donned Indian colour in international football. His friends and our entire family celebrated this precious moment. We thanked almighty for this blessing.
VS: How did you feel, when Sunil's name was announced for Padma Shri award? What are your expectations from him regard his sports career?
Kharga: Every award that Sunil gets as recognition for his achievements is really special. But the recent award, the prestigious “Padma Shri” award is definitely in top order. It’s fourth highest civilian award of our country to be conferred on those individuals who have outstanding achievements in their respective fields. So, definitely, we are much elated and extremely happy for our son. As a disciplined sportsperson of the country, we are hopeful, Sunil would continue striving hard for the betterment of sports and people associated with it.
VS: You belong to army and Sushila mam had a sports background in Volleyball. Can you take us through your journey? May be share some experience?
Kharga: Yes it’s true, my Army background, and my wife’s sports background must have played a crucial role in Sunil’s upbringing as a disciplined boy inclined towards sports, mainly football. As you know, we had transferable job, and we used to get posted frequently, every three years or sometimes less than that. But our children get to see various geographical, ethnic and social set-ups, and quite early in life, they get a lesson of natural adaptations. Also, the Cantonment in length and breadth of the country, provide a clean and green environment wherein children can play sports, socialise and can broaden their horizons in every aspect of life.
I think Sunil knew quite early that his mother, not only played football, but she was a very good volleyball player and a track and field athlete too. I came to know very late, as late as he was passing out from school, he plays volleyball with great passion and skill.
VS: What struggles you had while upbringing sunil, in personal life, and his football career? If any?
Kharga: I don’t think we had that kind of struggles in our lives. Whatever material privation a middle-class family struggles for, that’s the reality for one and all. Buying sports gears to their wards remains a problem with every middle-class family, and it was there in our family too, but Sunil was very much understandable in all these and never posed a problem for us.
VS: He once said “I am what I am because of my dad, definitely you play a pivotal role in his life, for what he is today. He is admired and inspired by you a lot. How do you feel about it and what would you like to say about your legendary son?
Kharga: We are a closely knitted family, and Sunil being very humble, disciplined, a hard-working and loyal to family, friends, society and the country as a whole. He is always grateful to all of these, which helped to make him what he is today. Yes he is little extra grateful to his parents, sibling, and wife with whom he shares special bonding always.
VS: Would you like to shareany funny incidence with Sunil, which may also be your most memorable moment with him?
Kharga: Any moment is special for us whenever Sunil is with us. Yes, if I have to tell you one incidence, “it was way back in 1999, he won a hamper of ₹ 1500/- being judged the best player in Milo School Football Tournament. This amount was just sufficient for his choicest sports shoes for which he asked me to take him to the shop near Hauz Khas Delhi. We went there, on the way a student of IXth standard, Sunil looked very happy, as he was getting his hard-earned reward redeemed.
At the shop I told him to pick the shoes of his choice. He went inside in the next gallery and spent about four five minutes there, came out with two pairs of shoes of different sizes.
I thought he changed his mind, and now wanted to have two pairs instead of one. When I saw him telling the sales person that one of the two, the bigger sized pair, was meant for me, his Dad. I was amazed, speechless for some time, and I hugged him caressing his back and shoulders and became so emotional, I almost cried with moist eyes, we left the shop”, Chhetri's father recalls the anecdote.
VS: Anything you would like to say to motivate those parents who still feels(those who study thoroughly become a king and those who only play around get to go nowhere!)?
Kharga: These days, every parent is smart enough to know the nitty-gritty of sports and studies going hand in hand to instill discipline and decision-making art in the minds of students. Nevertheless, I can say this much, from my own experience in life, a student who plays sports with true spirit, can be equally smart in his or her studies as well.
No matter, whether the student takes up sports as career, later in his/her life, one thing is worth mentioning here, they will certainly possess enough of discipline and quick decision-making qualities, those essentially required to lead a good life in the posterior.
VS: Lastly, I would like to ask you that how do you feel today when Sunil Chhetri has become inspiration and role-model to many who admire at every phase of life?
Kharga: While growing up, I had many dreams as a student, as a so-so good boy of the parents, as an aspirant sport lover, but almost every dream remained dream only. When I look back, at this stage of my life, I find all those unrealised dreams of mine plus tenfold of them, have been made come true, by my son, Shri Sunil Chhetri. We are, indeed, very proud of our son. God bless him.