Cut to 2021, and Nisha is headed for the Tokyo Olympics. She harbours the dream of standing on the podium, arms interlinked with her India hockey teammates and making the country and her parents proud. The defender, who turned 26 last week, is set to make her Games debut.
The soft-spoken Nisha, a product of Commonwealth Games gold medallist Pritam Rani Siwach‘s academy in Sonepet, Haryana, has fought many a personal battle – besides the usual demon of self-doubt that plagues players at the highest levels – to get to where she is.
Her father, Sohrab Ahamad, was a tailor before a stroke in 2015 left him paralysed and forced him to quit. Her mother, Mahroon, worked in a foam manufacturing factory for a few years before Nisha landed a job with the Railways.
At one point, social barriers forced Nisha to quit the game. However, her coach Siwach convinced her parents to allow her to chase her dreams. Thankfully, the break was brief.
“Life wasn’t easy,” Nisha said. “I was always very passionate about sport, but we led a hand-to-mouth existence and my parents could not afford to invest in my sporting career. I took up hockey because we didn’t have to spend on equipment.”
A PILLAR OF STRENGTH
After initial reluctance about the choice of her daughter’s career, Mahroon turned a pillar of strength. “The ground was about 30 minutes away and I had to leave home by 4.30 am. I was scared to travel alone. My father would drop me on his bicycle and my mother would be up and about at 4 am to start her daily chores which began with waking me up and making breakfast,” said Nisha, the third among four siblings. In time, Nisha became a regular member of the Haryana team and later the Railways unit. The earnings made life at home a lot more comfortable.
In 2018, Nisha was picked for the Indian camp but the decision to leave home wasn’t an easy one.
“My father depends on us for all his needs. He was in and out of hospital. I wondered if my family would manage. My mother’s brother stepped in to help us and my family asked me not to worry,” she explained.
On the international scene, Nisha was a late bloomer, having missed out on the junior India team. She made her international debut in 2019 at the FIH Finals Series in Hiroshima and has since earned nine India caps.
Like the rest of the world, the pandemic wasn’t easy on Nisha, who spent the better part of the past year-and-a-half at the national camp in SAI, South Centre here.
“These have been tough times. I was constantly worried about my family, especially my father. The circumstances have made me more determined to do well,” said Nisha, whose family celebrated her Olympic team selection by distributing sweets to the neighbourhood.
But Nisha realises that the moment of truth is ahead of her. “We have all worked very hard for the Olympics and have stayed focused. We want to make all those sacrifices count,” she said.