It was a Sunday but there was not much free time to talk to Anjan Saikia. He is busy making final arrangements for the first match of the volleyball team he coaches on Majuli, the largest river island in the world located in Assam.
Upper Majuli, the Psychic Under-16 boys team that is part of the ongoing Brahmaputra Volleyball League (PVL), is going to face a team from Monomai Tea Estate in Jorhat and everyone in the area is excited.
“The game was supposed to start at 11am, but we started late because the boat carrying the team to Majuli was late. We hope to start with a win. We will see them for a distance game next month, ”said Saikia.
“The league has shown interest in volleyball in our area. A lot of new players are coming out, they are encouraged by their parents. Other villagers are also involved in preparing the ground and ensuring the proper hospitality of the visiting team,” he said.
Although only four of his wards participate in the league, Saikia currently coaches 62 players. The Upper Majuli is sponsored by international badminton players Krishna Hazarika Rao and Azawari Barmer, who have represented the country in several tournaments.
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Psyche and Upper Majuli are not alone. Currently, 50 teams representing rural areas across Assam, 33 of whom are boys and 17 girls, are playing the role of former national volleyball captain Abhijeet Bhattacharya’s thoughtful PVL.
After representing India at various levels for many years and leading the team, Bhattacharya joined the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) and sought ways to somehow return to the game when he visited a village in Delamara near his hometown of Tezpur. 12 years ago.
“In the village, while the boys were sitting and watching, we saw about 15 girls playing volleyball. When asked, they said their volleyball was damaged and had to wait a few months to get a new one. I decided to do something positive and lasting for volleyball, ”he said.
Bhattacharya gave the boys a new ball and net and started organizing matches between teams in the area. He received the parents of the soldiers involved and the village elders. Soon, the competition turned into an expected event, where villagers came to cheer on the teams and cook food for everyone gathered.
With some funding from ONGC and the support of friends, a sports club was built between 2014 and 2018 at Besaria near Tezpur, where players can come and train. Bhattacharya also formed the Rengoni Youth Sports Foundation.
Discussions with some former players led to the launch of the Assam Volleyball Mission 100 in September last year with the aim of providing 100 volleyball to teams in need across Assam. The initiative linked Bhattacharya with 50 small teams across the state.
Soon, a three-week training program was organized in Tezpur under the Indian team coach to improve the skills of the coaches involved in these teams. For the first time, these coaches learned the right techniques to improve the fitness and volleyball skills of players.
The next step is to create 100 players who can represent the state and the country and play the game professionally. But all plans followed the country with the Govt-19 epidemic.
“To keep players motivated, I created a module to train them online. It started with young players from three tea estates. It soon became the Brahmaputra Volleyball League with the aim of becoming one of the best volleyball teams in Assam, ”said Bhattacharya.
While normal teams have six players per side, it was decided to keep the team size to four players, with players playing from one village to another – a home and a distant form. The host village was asked to develop the play area and arrange food and accommodate visiting groups.
The word spread to find sponsors who would spend at least Rs 15,000 per team to provide teams’ kits, uniforms and travel expenses. It brought in people like former Indian national badminton champion Aparna Bhopal who accepted the teams.
“I learned about it from two friends who sponsor the teams. I’m so excited it was done in the basement. My team lost its first two games, but the joy of the kids playing is worth it,” said Bobott, who sponsors the pub.
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“The idea of the league made us join immediately. I, along with school and university friends, are involved in five teams. We are very positive that this initiative will change the scene of volleyball in Assam,” said Devaprada Chakraborty, Joint Secretary, Mumbai Assam Association.
Soon, a logo was produced, and someone wrote and composed a song for the league. Famous athlete Hima Das unveiled the logo earlier this month and started the tournament on the weekends of the league from December 12 so that players can return to their homes on the same day. The league ends in February next year.
“A volleyball team can start with less than Rs 2,000 – a good ball and net cost. The small action taken by us has been lovingly received by the players and the villagers. Without any involvement of the state government, it has become a movement. This is a good sign for the game,” Bhattacharya said.
Monomoi ended up on a good note on Sunday for Psyche and Upper Majuli as they managed to beat the Tea Estate team in two straight sets.
“This format is a bit challenging as four players have to cover the court instead of six, but we have been enjoying the league. I have been playing volleyball for two years and want to play the game professionally,” said Lagram Das, a 15-year-old captain and 10th grader at Upper Majuli.