A solitary figure makes his way back home through the paddy fields on the outskirts of Imphal as the day nears the end in the eastern reaches of the Himalayas. The young man dons a jacket and a pair of shorts, which despite being mud-stained, are clearly swankier than the clothes worn by the others he was helping out on the field.
A group of people immediately turn their eyes towards the man who had captained India in the FIFA U-17 World Cup three years back. "Hey, Amarjit! Is your practice over?"
Amarjit Singh Kiyam, who has since made his way through Indian Arrows and now to the senior national team, replies with a smile: "No, my practice was done long back. I was helping my family in the paddy field, farming."
"There's no shame in going back to your roots and help your family in the paddy fields," Amarjit stated. "My family has been farming for generations. But I myself have not paid much attention to farming since I was a kid. I was always too much into football," said Amarjit. "I find peace in the fields."
The midfielder may have come a long way in the world of football over the last three years, but when he is back home with his parents and siblings, Amarjit is still a man who likes to stay connected to his roots.
"Normally, I don't get to be at home for a long time. Even when the season is over, we have been going on some exposure tour or the other with the junior national teams," he averred. "So when I do eventually get to come home for a few weeks, it's generally not the season for cultivation.
"Now I have got the time on my hands to actually go out there and reconnect with my roots. I feel proud. I've learnt the different aspects of farming, and I can tell you it's quite a draining activity," the India U-17 World Cup captain quipped. "But I feel quite refreshed after every few hours on the field."
Apart from reconnecting with his roots, farming is also something that Amarjit believes has helped him give something back to his family.
"Since I'm not always here it's mostly my parents or siblings who are doing all the farm work. Now that I do have the time on my hands, it does feel great to give something back to them," said Amarjit.
"They had given me so much and sacrificed so much to help me become a footballer. The least I can do is help them out on the paddy field. It also gives me the opportunity to bond with my father. It makes them happy to see their son helping out in the farm," he smiled.
"This is my way of showing that I have not forgotten the hardships we have all faced together previously. If we all work with each other, we all can overcome anything."
In the hectic domestic and international season, there is barely any time for a footballer to take up any activity other than the ones that help them improve themselves. However, Amarjit believes that he has found farming to be an activity that has helped him gain a lot of knowledge about the land.
"It's always nice to have some sort of activity as a hobby -- something that helps keep your mind off football for a couple of hours every day. I think farming has done that for me," he said.
"The amount of knowledge about the land and the crop that you acquire while farming is something that I would never have realised before taking up the activity myself. I'm really enjoying this activity."