Mumbai-based Sony Hargiri (18) was exposed to harsh realities of life since her childhood. Her family – including her mother, two sisters and her grandmother - survived in a tiny hovel on the footpath, very close to the Grant Road station. They lived under perpetual fear of being evicted, or getting displaced by the monsoons.
But things have changed for the better today. Sony is the hope of this marginalised community - struggling with poverty and neglect of authorities – to be placed in Indian Women’s U-23 Cricket team.
First brush with cricket
Poverty was the norm while Sony was growing up. Sometimes, due to unbearable heat, the girls would sleep outside the hovel on a straw mat, and perverts would look for every opportunity to molest them. Sony's grandmother –petite yet strong-willed - would stay up all night to guard the girls.
“Even during hardships, my grandmother never gave up. She had lost her husband, and her son abandoned her. But she ensured my mother received proper education until Class 10. That’s why my mother is able to work today,” Sony tells MAKERS India.
Sony's mother and grandmother pulled out all stops to help the children receive the best education and got them admitted to an English medium school in South Mumbai. But the school didn’t have the requisite infrastructure, and with no personal attention given to students, Sony lost all interest in academics.
Cricket takes over
It was around then that cricket caught Sony’s attention. She was only 12 when she started to play ‘gully cricket’ with the boys in the by lanes of Grant Road.
“I didn’t enjoy indoor games, so I tried to explore other sports. That’s when I started to play cricket and I would practice all day,” she recounts.
Sony was the only girl in that group, but that didn’t bother her. Initially, she had to wait longer to get a chance to bat; soon after, the boys realised her strengths and made her a part of the team.
One fine day in 2016, an older gentleman - Vidya Paradkar (he has over 30 years of coaching experience), spotted Sony playing, and impressed, he offered to train Sony. She was over the moon, ready to work hard for a better life. Even though the routine was rigorous, Sony was all set to turn her dreams into reality.
As her game went from strength to strength, her coach wanted Sony to try for the U-16 team. Although Sony made it to the final list from the 400 girls who came for the selection, that was when her cricket dreams crashed.
A window of opportunity
To participate in the finals, Sony had to submit a document with proof of residence. But all Sony had was an Aadhar card, which the authorities said was not enough. Sony moved from pillar to post to find a solution, but eventually she had to accept the reality and move on.
In January 2018, Sony's sister’s friend told her about Salaam Baalak Trust, a partner with the global NGO Save the Children. The social organisation ran a day centre not too far from their house. Armed with curiosity and zeal to transform their lives, Sony and her sisters visited the centre.
The staff at Salaam Baalak Trust helped Sony restore her confidence, and explained to her the importance of education. She had expected to fail her Class 10, but after being tutored by them in Maths and other subjects, Sony passed her exams.
“Apart from helping me with academics, they taught me how to speak English, focused on fitness and nutrition, and several other life skills,” Sony says.
She passed 10th grade and got admission into the commerce stream in a local junior college. “I was never interested in studies; but after this, I realised I want to do well. My goal is to join Khalsa college, they have a girl’s cricket team,” she says, as she awaits her HSC results.
A new reality
Today, Sony and her family reside in a chawl, and find it much better than living on the streets. She also feels when she participates in the U-23 selections (U-19 has been cancelled due to Covid), she will finally have proof of residence.
Previously, Sony would work in people’s homes, but today she is self-sufficient. She got an opportunity to intern with an investment company, and after this crisis ends, it is most likely that she can join them in a full-time position.
While her life has changed for the better, her love affair with cricket continues.
“I have been going for regular cricket coaching; that’s something I am very passionate about. Currently, practice is on hold due to the Coronavirus pandemic; but I try and practice at home. Cricket is everything for me,” she says, while sharing that Indian women’s cricket team member Smriti Mandhana is her role model.
Sony’s inspiring story has been covered in the book ‘We are the Champions, co-authored by best-selling author Rashmi Bansal and Save the Children’s General Manager (Media and Communication) Devendra Tak. Life has given Sony a chance to play her ‘second innings’ and she wants to make the most of it!
(Edited by Athira Nair)