Tough Love

Rugby is not for the fainthearted. It’s a rough sport, with a high risk of injuries. Majid Maqbool profilas one young Kashmiri who seems just as tough as the sport itself and willing to do all it takes to stay in the game.

When Mustasan Jaleel first started playing rugby at the age of 18 in 2005, he had no idea how popular the sport was on a global level. Back then, rugby was relatively new in Kashmir, but Mustasan’s love for extreme fitness sports attracted him to it. Today, at 24 he is one of the top rugby players of Kashmir. He recently returned from Pune, where he represented Jammu and Kashmir in the National Rugby Sevens Tournament.

“I was part of the first batch that started playing rugby in Kashmir in 2005,” says Mustasan. He says that first group of players had to simultaneously deal with learning the sport, and realizing that there was no infrastructure to develop rugby in Kashmir. Nevertheless, he stayed focused and was passionate about the sport. “We were young, athletic and ambitious. Our love for extreme fitness sports attracted us towards rugby,” says Mustasan about his early years.

Just three years after developing himself into a rugby player, Mustasan had an unexpected hurdle. In 2008, he hurt his ankle—which forced him to stop playing for two years. Once fully healed, he came back with a renewed spirit. Mustasan resumed his training, and started playing rugby at both state and national levels. “It was difficult to start playing again,” he says. “But today I’m stronger, healthier and more aggressive than ever before. I’m thirstier than ever before.”

Today, Mustasan is on a steep training curve. He trains twice a week in New Delhi, and spends four hours every day at the gym. His exercise regimen helped him boost his physique—he has gone from 58 kilos to 105 kilos—the ideal weight for a rugby player. Mustasan says his achievements in rugby were possible because of two people—his coach in Kashmir, Irfan Aziz Bhutto, and his trainer in New Delhi—Abesheik Singh. “Abesheik Sir works with me for four hours every day,” he says. “My physique today is thanks to his hard effort.”

When he is not training for rugby, Mustasan studies law in Amity College, New Delhi. He is about to complete his LLB degree. Mustasan came to Delhi in 2007 to study, but nurtured his love for rugby as well. He was recently selected for the Delhi Lions Club’s team—one of the best rugby clubs in India. “In the future, I want to be part of the Elite Football League of India,” he says. EFLI is the Indian equivalent of the National Football League (NFL).

Mustasan sees a positive future for rugby in Kashmir. “When I started, there were 120 students in my group,” he says. “But today, there are almost 1500 rugby students in Kashmir, and about 25 clubs.” He says that Bakshi Stadium is usually buzzing with rugby activity.

“Boys and girls practice for two hours every day and players get selected for the state team quite often.” Mustasan credits his coach in Kashmir, Irfan Aziz Bhutto, for keeping the sport alive. He believes Kashmir has good rugby talent, which needs to be properly trained and encouraged.

“I want to retire as one of the best rugby players from J&K,” says Mustasan. “But I will never quit the sport. Maybe I will coach others some day, because I always want to be associated with rugby.”

When asked what it takes to become a good rugby player, Mustasan says, “Yearning, a lot of yearning.”
“Being a rugby player is like being a warrior, a gladiator, a Spartan. You have to be very, very strong,” he says about the qualities required for playing this extreme fitness sport. “Madness, if used in a positive way, helps a lot.”

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