Kulgam’s Jessi, who lived and died on the Volleyball court

  • Publish Date: Sep 10 2018 3:19AM
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  • Updated Date: Sep 10 2018 3:21AM
Kulgam’s Jessi, who lived and died on the Volleyball courtGK Photo

A beaming picture of Showkat Ahmad Dar, sitting cross-legged with a volleyball resting in his right palm, is pasted on the gate of his hometown ground at Bogund in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district. The ground, locally known as nebar-bagh (out-garden), would never see Showkat absent no matter what. Such was his devotion to the game of volleyball that he would leave the court only on the occasions of lunch and tea. Sometimes, he would skip his meals––a dedication to the game that even moved the spectators. In pursuit of his dream––a dream that he both lived and died for––Showkat rose to higher standards of excellence, pushing all odds that came his way. 

Showkat was no ordinary player. A strong physique, chiseled face with a height of about six feet and three inches, Showkat’s big hands would practically reach anywhere in the context of the game. He was referred to as Maxim Mikhaylov of Kashmir. Popularly known as Jessi, Showkat would run three steps diagonally forward, lifting his body to a height of three feet in the air and smash the ball hard with crowd cheering “Jessi maar!” “He was an unstoppable smasher, who would hit the ball two and a half feet above the net, making the option of block literally impossible and all the opposition team could do was watch the ball come down like a huge mass,’’ remarked Rayees Ahmed Dar, a longtime opposite player of Jessi.

From the sixth standard, Showkat took great interest in volleyball. He straightaway impressed physical teacher of Maroofia Public English Medium School SrandooKulgam, who happily selected him for inter-school competition. From there on Jessi earned his place for inter-district, state-level, and national level competitions. In March 2018, Jessi was selected for Indian Volleyball team selection trials. Earning a selection trial for international championship just at the age of 19 was no small feat. “Showkat was an extremely talented player, and didn’t play under-16, instead he was directly promoted to play under-20 given his height and skills,” said MuneerAlam Mir, the Volleyball Coach of Kashmir University. In 2016, Jammu and Kashmir team defeated Tripura in 64th Senior National Volleyball Championship with Jessi showing a class performance in that match. Jessi had huge respect towards senior players and, importantly, coaches. “He always kept his head down during our conversations and has never ever looked into my eyes,” Jessi’s coach recalled. “Jessi was a cool player, who always entered the court with a winning attitude, and never teased any player of opposition team,” a senior player mentioned. “Before beginning the match, Jessi would thrice touch his open hands to the surface of the court,” Zubair Ahmed Ganie said, who was part of champions of JK Police Volleyball tournament 2016.  Jessi had a hallmark of celebrating victory by lifting his left arm in air.

On 5th of August 2018, Showkat left his home for a volleyball match against Punjab Club at HarnagAnantnag.  Before leaving for Harnag, Jessi had a light lunch with couple of spoons of curd. Given to a call for a shutdown Jessi waited for about hour and a half, finally getting lift by a motorcyclist. During the match, Showkat single-handedly gave a tough competition to Punjab team. In the pen-ultimate set, Showkat smashed the winning shot and the crowd went ecstatic lifting Jessi on their shoulders. According to many spectators, while Jessi was celebrating the victory of a set that brought both teams on equal score, he felt an ache in his chest. With no medical facilities available on the court, Jessi collapsed and died on the way to hospital. There was no C.P.R technique applied to Jessi, while he was indicating pain in his heart, perhaps, this could have saved his life. It seems that no one in the ground was known to this emergency procedure. 

An avid listener of Punjabi singer, Jassi Gill, Showkat got the title Jessi from him. He had a fascination for Asics brand, and in most matches, Jessi was seen wearing shorts of the same brand. “Showkat had little interest towards material things be it a car, property, house,” mentioned his elder brother, Aijaz Dar. He had no interest in family issues and always kept himself busy with sports. After returning in the evening, Showkat would again busy himself by playing volleyball with kids in a rectangle shaped lawn of their home. Before going to sleep, Showkat would play volleyball against the walls of his room. “Though we accompanied Jessi on many places where he was playing, but we never watched him playing, because we thought doing so would make him nervous,” his brother mentioned.

Despite being an ace volleyball player, Showkat never felt proud of his position and always happily greeted people and especially shared love with children. In any corner of the valley, where Showkat went for a volleyball match, huge crowds would follow up to watch Jessi’s powerful smashes. Apart from being an ace volleyball player, Jessi was kind at heart. Jessi’s friend recounted one of the incidents. Last year in December, he and Jessi went for a dinner in Jammu. According to him, Jessi had just one hundred and thirty-seven rupees in his pocket. Before entering the hotel, a lady having couple of children asked for money. Jessi graciously gave a hundred rupee note to her. The friend asked, “Jessi what are you doing? And how would we eat now?” “Where would that lady go, she had nothing, we can at least lend from hotel owner and pay him tomorrow,” Jessi replied to him.

Ghulam Mohammad Dar, Showkat’s father, sitting lonely in the second storey of an old house where Jessi used to sleep, recalls how he accompanied his son who was 13 then, to Jammu for a volleyball match. Though deeply painful about the separation of his young child, Dar is contented with the output that his son returned to him in terms of how common people expressed several good qualities of Showkat. Taking a deep breath, Dar said, “It was a sacred mission, and we fully supported him in this endeavor.” “The only barrier that came in this mission was Allah’s decision of taking Showkat back to him and his death again reinforced that no matter how much young you are you could be taken back anytime,” Dar said with moist eyes.

Unflinching support from family and vital guidance by coaches made Jessi a star who brought laurels to himself, his family and the place to which he belonged. A proud son of the soil, who died on the volleyball court, for the cause that he was deeply passionate about, and we must salute him. The Volleyball Federation of India issued condolence letter on the death of this young star. Terming Jessi’s death as a major setback for the federation, the letter read that VFI had lost a great volleyball player from Kashmir Valley. Surprisingly, no reward has been granted to the family of Jessi. The unavailability of medical and other facilities again stands reminder to the fact of how sports authorities take least concern about the safety of sportsmen.

A strange silence has gripped the entire village. Jessi’s fans and other volleyball players don’t believe that their hero and a player that they looked up to has departed from this world. The nebar-bagh looks deserted, mourning the death of a star who religiously visited it. Since then, no one has mustered the courage to come inside the premises of this ground and bring back the action.


(Muneeb Yousuf is a Ph.D. Candidate at MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi)