Dipesh Kumar Sinha's volleyball career started for the same reason as that of most players who play the sport in India: his height.
Even as a school kid, he towered over his teammates, leading his school coaches to pick him up in the volleyball and the basketball teams.
But Sinha's career stands out for one reason. It began in the Naxal hotbed of Dantewada, which brought along challenges unheard of even in a blue-collar sport like volleyball, which is teeming with stories of struggle and resilience.
Growing up in the shadow of the Naxal strife was hard, but was made harder by the fact that Sinha's parents were both in the police force which made them vulnerable to attacks. This brought along its own set of challenges — Sinha would travel to his school in a secure van flanked by a police vehicle, there was to be no roaming around the city in spare time, and sports could only be played for an hour a day or at school. It was a protected childhood, but one where the opportunities to enjoy sport were severely restricted.
"It wasn't the most carefree of childhoods. We had to stay in secure environments all the time. No one could venture out of the house after 8 pm. There was a CRPF camp very close to our house, so guns were never too far. Neither was the threat of us coming under attack, particularly because of our police background. In fact, my father has been in situations at least twice where he has exchanged gunfire with Naxals. We lived under a perpetual cloud of fear. Anxiety gripped our house each time my father or mother left home to go their jobs. Thankfully, both my parents have now been posted out from there and now live in Raipur," Sinha told Firstpost.
Under such circumstances, Sinha's childhood was anything but normal.
There were other reasons Sinha played volleyball: in school, he was never the brightest when it came to studies and when he grew slightly older, he realised that playing the sport could fetch a job.
"My parents agreed to let me go by myself as a 16-year-old to stay at an academy in Bhilai so that I could learn volleyball. The coach there had seen me play at a competition and thought I had potential," he added.
However, Sinha's true breakthrough came when he was spotted by renowned volleyball coach GE Sridharan, who asked him to train under him at Coimbatore after first seeing him play at the 2009 Nationals.
"That was my big break. In one year, I went on to play for India," said the blocker, who recently represented India at the Asian Games, where they crashed out in the group stage.
As Sinha starts a new chapter with Pro Volleyball League, where he will turn out of Mumbai-based franchise U Mumba Volley, he hopes that the exposure the sport will get by being on television sets could kick-start a craze for volleyball even in towns like Dantewada, which are perpetually in the shadow of conflict.
"Barely anyone played the sport in Dantewada back when I was young. But when I went to the town recently, I saw that a lot of kids were playing the sport in school. In fact, four schools in the area have even made the sport compulsory," said Sinha.
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Updated Date: Jan 10, 2019 10:15:31 IST