- Megha Mohan
- Gender and Identity Correspondent
The Bowlami officer was in the middle of his second shift at the time. Then Aindra Chakraborty from Kolkata, whose hobby is making videos about common people, stopped Powlami and asked some questions.
Powlami starts work from 6 am. He may finish his work around one o’clock in the morning. However, he did not miss the opportunity to converse.
The red t-shirt had the logo “Zomato” ( “Zomato”) printed in white letters. Bowlami, 24, says his job is to deliver food through India’s largest food delivery app. But he says that his passion is all about the game of football.
Boulami has previously played for his country in Under-16 internationals. But, he did not take it further. His family was caught between financial burdens.
So there was a need for Poulami to go to work. After a brief conversation, he said goodbye and left for the next delivery on his two-wheeler.
The next morning, the video went viral and people had many questions. How does a young promising football player spend most of her time without sleeping around the capital of West Bengal delivering food?
They wanted to hear the story of Powlami Adhikari.
People in the low-income area of Shibrampur, where Powlami grew up south of Kolkata’s Hooghly River, call him ‘Baldi’. It means “child of God”, “precious gift”.
Boulami grew up under the care of his aunt after his mother died when he was only two months old. His father, a part-time taxi driver, struggled to support the family.
Distraught Poulami, the aunt finds a way
When he was seven years old, Boulami saw boys playing football in the field near his home. Poulami joined them. Because he was wearing shorts, the boys assumed that Poulami was also a boy.
“But when they found out I was a girl, the boys’ parents complained to the ground officials and the aunt. They asked, ‘How can a girl in shorts play football with boys,'” Poulami tells the BBC.
Poulami was saddened by this. “I wanted to play football so much that I used to cry about it every day at home,” said Poulami.
Poulami’s aunt says she will find a way to support his dream. After that, Powlami came to know about Anita Sarkar, a football coach in their area.
Bowlami, who played for the women’s team in the Kolkata Football Tournament under his guidance, was selected for the Indian under-16 team at the age of 12.
Having built a close circle of friends through this, Boulami had many amazing opportunities that he could never have imagined.
None of his family had ever traveled by plane. But Boulami flew in with her close friends at short notice for a football match. He played his favorite game.
“Putting on the Indian jersey and playing for my country at such a young age was the best moment of my sporting career,” he says.
“When I put on the Indian jersey for the first time, my hair squealed with joy,” says Powlami.
In 2013 she traveled to Sri Lanka, where she participated in the qualifiers for the South Asian Football Confederation Women’s Junior Championship. And in 2016 he traveled to Glasgow to play in the Homeless World Cup. Boulami reports that he was paid $100 per match.
But there were obstacles…
“Because of my family’s economic situation, I can’t even afford the things I need to play football,” he says, adding, “I don’t even get three meals a day.”
2018 saw a major setback. Poulami suffered a leg injury that required multiple surgeries. Also, he needed to rest. He says that although his body has improved enough to play elite level football again, another problem has hindered his return to the sport.
His family needed an income. After his elder sister got married, Poulami had to work to support the family.
So, he put aside his football dream and started doing hard work for his family. When the Corona pandemic was at its peak in 2020, most people started using food delivery services. Taking this opportunity, he started working as a food delivery agent.
In recent days he finishes work at around one o’clock in the morning. This job can be very tiring. Because of that, he couldn’t practice football as much as he needed to. He earns 300 rupees per day. Working in two consecutive shifts, he works up to 15 hours a day.
“If I work eight to 10 hours and have some income, then I can spend three to four hours on football training,” he says.
After the video went viral, he got a job as a football coach. But for that he had to travel 40 km. Have to travel and earn less than Zomato job. She says there is no interest in this country and the world to invest in sports for women.
“If you talk about India, if you compare men’s and women’s football, most people don’t watch or pay attention to women’s football,” says Powlami.
“It’s the same with cricket. I’ve seen people taking leave from work to watch men’s cricket matches. But they don’t care about women’s cricket matches. In general, women are neglected in sports,” he says.
With the right support, Boulami believes he can play football again.
She can’t watch women’s football matches because the TV in her home doesn’t have international channels, but she says she’s a fan of Alex Morgan. Ronaldinho also says he likes it.
“There is no opportunity for young girls to take up sports as a career in India, and it is even more difficult for those who are poor like Powlami,” says Shanti Mullick, a former striker of the Indian women’s national football team. Shanti Mullick is the first woman footballer to win India’s highest award, the Arjuna Award.
“Had Poulami’s circumstances been different, she would have specialized in football. I hope her story will inspire women to grow and invest in football. So, no talent is wasted,” she says.
On 7 January, the All India Football Federation released Vision 2047, an action plan aimed at growing Indian football. Its goal by 2026 is to call for greater investment in women’s football. This includes paying the minimum wage to female players.
Boulami says he is confident that this visionary plan will come to fruition.
“There are many other Polemics around us who are in the same trouble as I am.”
Photographs: Sandeep Roy