He looks like any other Punjabi lad—six feet and three inches tall, beard and gelled hair, and a pronounced Punjabi accent. But, as you chat longer with Saqlain Tariq, the typical Kashmiri way of speaking comes in. Meet the 21-year-old spiker from Poonch district, who is one of the upcoming stars of Indian volleyball.
Saqlain’s talent was spotted early—he was selected to lead the Indian team in the 10th Youth Asian Championship 2018 in Colombo. He is also part of the senior men’s Indian team which took part in the Asian Games in Jakarta last year. He is the first player from Kashmir to be part of the Indian team. Saqlain is also the lone player from his state to be picked to play in the upcoming Pro Volleyball League. He was bought by U Mumba Volley team for a base price of Rs 1.10 lakh.
Son of a physical education teacher and volleyball coach Mohammed Tariq in Poonch, Saqlain eats, sleeps and breathes volleyball. “Our entire family played volleyball. Kashmir is crazy about volleyball. The only thing is lack of infrastructure,” he tells THE WEEK.
His father is living his unrealised dream of playing volleyball at the international level through his son. Saqlain started playing in the school team when he was in the sixth standard. Tariq decided to send Saqlain outside the state when he was in the eighth standard. “I improved well in the eighth standard. My father thought if I continue to remain in the state I will not be able to go further in the sport. So, I moved to Punjab.”
Another reason why his father sent him and his elder brother to pursue a career in sports outside Kashmir was to ensure they didn’t get affected by drugs and militancy. “Right now, in the Valley, there is a thriving sports culture. People are sending their kids into sports. It’s a good thing. It keeps the youth away from other stuff. Please stay away from drugs,” he urges.
Saqlain says how the Real Kashmir Football Club is gathering its own legion of fans both in the Valley and outside. He also says how cricketer Parvez Rasool has shown to budding cricketers in the state that they can also dare to dream. “I follow RKFC on social media. I see their fans growing by the day. They are extremely popular in the state. Rasool, too, is very popular.”
He calls this just the “beginning” of better things to come.
“My family, mohalla, district is waiting for February 2, when the Pro Volleyball League starts. This is our chance to showcase our abilities. Playing against foreign players will benefit the Indian team in the long run. Look at Iran. They were down a few years back but now they have a strong league. A lot of Indian players would go there to play but now they don’t need foreign players.”