Assam's Tilok Kutum, who quit sports in 2016 due to money issues, wins bronze at Nat'l Games 

Panjim: A bronze medal in Pencak Silat, a class of related Indonesian martial arts, at the 37th National Games in Goa has come as a fresh ray of hope for Assam youngster Tilok Kutum, forced to quit the sport he took up in 2016 due to an acute financial crisis.

Hailing from the world’s largest river island in Majuli, Tilok made a comeback to the sport in 2019 after being coaxed by his coach Lakhyajit Doley, and instantly made his presence felt in the -49 kg category by winning gold in the state championships before the Covid-19 lockdown forced him to take the backseat once again and wait for his next opportunity — that came in Goa, where the sport made its debut at the 37th National Games.

“Life gives a second chance to everyone. This bronze medal has pushed me to never quit again,” an elated Tilok said. “Yes, a gold would have been amazing, but this bronze has given me hope that I can change the colour in the next edition.”

Tilok’s foray into sports began with kickboxing in 2013, before switching over to Pencak Silat, three years later. He made an instant impression by pocketing a silver in the 2016 National Championships, before bettering it with a gold next year. In 2018, he settled for a bronze to miss the Jakarta Asian Games selection by a whisker.

The setback forced him to rethink his choice and eventually switch to boxing — a recognised Olympic discipline. In boxing too, he came up with impressive performances to find himself in the summer camp for the Khelo India Youth Games summer camp, but as fate would have it, he missed the bus again, this time as his mother was hospitalised and there was none to take care of her.

With his sporting career hitting regular roadblocks, and the financial burden of the family getting heavier with each passing day, Tilok eventually made up his mind to quit sports forever. 

“It was getting difficult, my sports career was heading nowhere, I left one sport, and joined another and then the financial burden on the family was getting unbearable. So I decided to leave everything, including my state, and moved to Chennai,” he said.

“In Chennai, I managed to get a job as a security guard at one of the showrooms of an automobile giant, and it was going smoothly for a year. One of my elder brothers also works there as a labourer, so it turned out to be familiar territory for me. But even then, somewhere inside, the athlete inside refused to die, and my coach would repeatedly call me back,” he continued.

“After a year, I returned to Majuli and rejoined training. Whatever meagre savings I could make in Chennai, I used to get back into training for Pencak Silat. My coach also helped me a lot in terms of motivating me to get back to my best. After my comeback, I won a bronze in the National Championships in Nashik earlier this year, before heading to Goa,” he added.

Tilok’s father is a mason by profession, and during his time off from competition, the youngster doubles up as a helper.

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Now with a National Games medal in hand, Tilok hopes that the days of desperation are nearing an end as he expects a job from the state government back home. 

“I’m hoping that the medal fetches me a job back in Assam, it will reduce a lot of financial burden on the family. I want my ageing father to rest now…” he said before signing off.

Also Read | Popy Hazarika, who pursued sports to overcome father’s loss, wins gold at National Games

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