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Sandesh Jhingan: Meet the poet behind the footballer

Sandesh Jhingan may be all muscle, power, and aggression when he’s bolstering the Kerala Blasters back line, but there’s an introspective, soulful side to him off the pitch that’s less well known. 

It may come as a surprise to you that when he’s not playing football, Sandesh spends much of his time writing poetry and short fiction centred on themes like love, memory, and mortality, unless you follow him on Instagram – in which case perhaps you’ve read a snippet or two of his work there.

A portrait of Sandesh made by a friend of his.

Intrigued by this lesser-known facet of his personality, I was curious to find out more about his literary influences and ambitions – after all, it’s not every day you meet a footballer who also writes poetry.  

Drawn to music and books ever since he can remember, he explained that even as a child, he used to write his own song lyrics and short stories.

But because he also played competitive football from a very young age, he would hide his writing for fear that his teammates, who were used to him operating in what he likes to call “beast mode” on the pitch, would think that he was “soft” or “girly” if they found out he enjoyed “reading and writing poems”. 

Sandesh in “beast mode”

But over the years, as he grew in to the self-confidence and self-awareness that comes with adulthood, and thanks to much encouragement from his former teammate and close friend, Manandeep Singh, who also enjoys reading and writing, Sandesh slowly became more open about his interest in books and more willing to share his own writing.

Among his all-time favourite books are The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and the poetry of Rumi, so it is fitting that the themes he is most drawn to writing about are love, mortality, and memory, and among his greatest emotional inspirations are his mother and the ocean. 

Sandesh says he is happiest by the ocean

From stories about the inevitability of aging and nostalgia for youth to verses about the complexities of marriage, and the futility of war, he draws from his personal experiences, his impressions of the past, as well as both his hopes, and his misgivings about the future in his poetry.

Take, for example, a poem he wrote recently when moved by the image of an old man staring at the sea:

An image of an old man staring at the sea that Sandesh was moved by

Sandesh explained that his own life too is governed by an acute awareness of how finite and irrevocable our time here is. “You are older now than you were yesterday, and you will never get this moment back, so you have to make the most of it. On the pitch, off the pitch, always – so you have no regrets,” he says.

So how does Sandesh Jhingan ‘the poet’ influence Sandesh Jhingan ‘the footballer’? 

“People underestimate how mentally and emotionally demanding professional sport is – but consider the mental and emotional resilience you need to stay unaffected by both defeat and victory, by fame or the lack of it, and most of all, by frequent injury – injury is as painful psychologically as it is physically,” he explains.

For Sandesh, reading and writing at once provide both solace and strength, and help maintain a “sense of balance and equilibrium where neither the positive nor the negative carry you away.”

As captain, he finds this approach has stood him in good stead. 

“I love being the Kerala Blasters captain. And I believe we all really do try to give our best. If the team has done its absolute best, that’s more important than the result, more important than any praise or criticism we may face. The inner knowledge that you gave it all you had is what’s vital. It’s when we don’t do our best that we are disappointed,” he explains.

And what is Sandesh – both as footballer and as poet – most looking forward to in the future?

First of all, he’s determined for the Blasters to secure a spot in the Hero Indian Super League playoffs, even though the odds seem tricky at this point. 

For Sandesh, the first step to success is to dream big. “If you don’t believe you can do it, it’s unlikely to happen. So the first thing you have to do is really truly believe – and I truly believe we can.”

He’s also very excited about the Asian Cup next year and has big hopes for the progress of the national team.

And on the poetry front too, he aspires to take things to the next level: “I may not have an education past the 10th Standard but I’m going to write a book,” he says, with his trademark resolve and conviction. 

We’ll all be looking forward to it.

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