Ludhiana: Among the lakhs of people in Odisha who battled Cyclone Fani in Odisha was 15-year-old footballer Jyoti Kumari, who along with her Indian Women's League team SAI-STC Cuttack.
Kumari has played for India in the U-15 SAFF Championships and U-16 AFC qualifiers but none of that mattered as the building she had taken shelter in to hide from the storm shook violently.
Fani, categorised as ‘extremely severe cyclonic storm’, had ploughed through the state on May 3, killing at least 48 people and injuring over 160.
"The building we were in… sir (coach) took four of us to our room but when the cyclone hit, it was so severe that we had to leave. The building was shaking, it was scary.”
"Everything around us was falling apart, there was such a strong gust of wind. It was really bad. It was only late in the night when we were able to eat a bit and sleep,” she said.
Although safety was the paramount concern then, at the back of the mind of the players was that they had to leave for the IWL the next day. “Even the train was late, it came at 9 and we went to Kolkata and then we took a train to Ludhiana from there," Jyoti said.
Team Coach of SAI-STC Cuttack, Shyam Manik Lodh, further explained the ordeal when he had to travel with the team on unconfirmed tickets.
"We had no food, no light during the cyclone. It was even difficult to communicate to the tournament officials to confirm if we are coming for IWL or not. We didn't even have confirmed tickets because most of the trains were getting cancelled."
Jyoti is currently studying in Class XIII and is doing her schooling from her hometown Banaras, Uttar Pradesh. When she started playing football, it was tough going initially but she has found acceptance and appreciation now and she enjoys it.
"When I started playing, people around me asked me not to play but then when I played for India and did a little well, they started appreciating it and now even let their daughters play. My father runs a little departmental shop in Banaras. My sisters also play football a little,” she said.
"I have been playing football for three years and have been playing in Sports Authority of India Cuttack since the past two years. I was selected for SAI from Madhya Pradesh, where I gave trials,” she added.
Just like a lot of modern players, Jyoti is a flexible player but she prefers the right-back position and she has a specific reason for it. "My favourite position is right-back because I like sprinting, I like running."
Jyoti missed out on a spot in the squad for next year's FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, but putting aside the disappointment, she is focusing on IWL and sees this as an opportunity to grow and learn from her seniors.
"It's feels extremely nice to be playing in the Indian Women's League. I'm getting to learn so much from the seniors and my game is also improving by just watching them. Back in Cuttack, the ground is not that good - there is not enough grass and there are pits there. Here the ground is very good and I can play without thinking about injuries."