RUGBY: Former street kid tastes sweet victory

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Sanjay Patra gets the thumbs up on his signalling from Hawke’s Bay’s referee education officer Greg Davey .ICTURE: WARREN BUCKL

RUGBY: Former street kid tastes sweet victory

14.05.2007

SHANE HURNDELL

Take a look at Sanjay Patra the Indian touch judge at tomorrow’s Park Island-hosted Kelt Capital Magpies rugby trial in Napier.

He’ll be decked out in one of the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Referees Association’s flash AMI-sponsored kits – a sharp contrast to his harsh upbringing on the streets of Calcutta.

"Yes my upbringing was certainly different. I’m glad you’ve got a bit of time to listen … you’ll need it," he told Sport Today after starting his two-week visit to Hawke’s Bay last week.

Patra, 24, was born on an island off Calcutta and was an only child. His father died while his mother was pregnant.

 
 
At the age of five he ran away from home as there wasn’t enough food for him and his Mum to survive.

"I spent the next three years of my life on the streets begging for food and money to survive. I would hang around railway stations and curl up inside sacks to sleep at night," Patra recalled.

"I would be covered in infections and would often go for two months at a time without showering. It was a tough life … I saw two youngsters in a similar situation to me who were murdered," he said.

"I would sneak on to trains and travel around the country. I went to Delhi and didn’t like it and went up north where it was too cold. In Bombay I worked in a mosque cleaning shoes but there was a strike on while I was there and I had no food for three days so I decided to go back to Calcutta," Patra said.

On his return to Calcutta Patra worked for an army man milking 150 cows each day and doing casual farm work. Like many homeless streetkids in Calcutta Patra was suspicious of white men.

"We all thought the only thing white men wanted to do to us was kill us," he recalled.

However Patra overcame that suspicion as an eight-year-old when he met Englishman Tim Grandage.

"Tim had taken several other homeless children off the streets before me. When he took me he showered me for two hours, gave me medicine and new clothes. He offered me food and although I was starving I said no I was full as I thought he might poison me," Patra laughed.

Grandage was involved with the Future Hope organisation which took kids off the streets and gave them a better lifestyle.

"After three years on the streets I wasn’t really into routine and ran away from him 35 times. But each time he would come and pick me up.

"I slowly began to realise studying and playing sport was a much better life than on the streets," Patra said.

Grandage was from an English rugby school and introduced Patra to rugby.

"At first I though what the heck was this when he showed me a rugby ball which was shaped like a coconut. But that ball and the game of rugby was to change my life," said the India halfback who went on to represent his country and under-13, 16, 19 and senior levels.

Patra has been refereeing for four years and is ranked No.3 in India. As a player he has played in Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and India.

He coaches the Jungle Crows club in India and is also a referee development officer. In addition he works for Future Hope taking streetkids off the streets and helping them Grandage style.

Patra was coached by former New Zealand Maori Colts coach Willie Hetaraka for three years.

"Willie was an excellent guy … he taught us the haka and cooked a hangi for us. Hopefully I can catch up with him while I’m in New Zealand," he said.

Patra’s long-term goal is to referee the 2010 Commonwealth Games Sevens in India.

"I told Greg (Hawke’s Bay’s referee education officer Greg Davey) when he was in India last year. He told me to come to New Zealand to learn more about refereeing and he will help me achieve my goal and here I am.

"This is my dream. I’ve watched Kelvin Deaker on television and now I’m going to be his touch judge … in a club game and then in Tuesday’s Magpies trial," he said.

"I can’t wait … it’s so exciting," Patra said.

At the age of 17 Patra returned to his village which has no running water or electricity and saw his mother for the first time in 12 years. He built a house for her.

"All the people in the village thought I had died and they wanted me to stay in the village."

Patra regards his mother as his god and said one day soon she will arrange a marriage for him.

Imagine that. He gets married and then a couple of years later is appointed to the Commonwealth Games Sevens.

Considering what Patra has already been through in his life we here at SportToday won’t be surprised if he’s selected.

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