It is heartening to see scores of rural youngsters turning into formidable contestants and medal winners at the ongoing Asian Games in Jakarta. Without basic sports infrastructure, facilities and training, these gritty youngsters from the hinterland have kept India’s tricolour flying. Their struggle for economic sustenance and insensitive administration notwithstanding, both men and women have brought laurels to India. These youngsters’ families may not have had enough to eat or celebrate back home. Many families may not have even witnessed their kids put up stellar performance, as they cannot even afford a TV. But, that has not come in the way of the performances of the young athletes at Jakarta.
Neena Varkil, a daily wage labourer’s daughter from floods ravaged Kerala bagged a silver medal in long jump under trying circumstances. Dharun Ayyasamy grinned happily sporting the nation’s tricolour at the podium after taking silver in the 400 metres hurdle event in national record time. For a moment, Ayyasamy forgot the impoverishment back home, his mother being the lone breadwinner in the family. With no father and raised by a single parent, Ayyasamy’s only dream could be landing a decent job, taking care of his mother.
Who would have imagined that Saurabh Chaudhary, a 16-year old lad from Kalina village and son of a sugarcane farmer, would win a gold medal in the 10 m air pistol shooting event? Having trained at the rudimentary Benoli shooting range nearby, this was his debut event in the seniors’ category. By comparison, Sanjeev Rajput is a seasoned campaigner and won a silver medal in shooting. But, his immediate concern when he lands in Delhi could be to look for a decent job.
PU Chitra, the frail looking diminutive 23-year old girl did India proud with a bronze medal in 1,500 metres track race. Working her way up to the top by dint of unflappable spirit and hard work, this athlete from Mundur in Palakkad district of Kerala is one of the top medal prospects for India in middle distance. Her family of daily wager parents may not have fully understood her standing in the world of sports, as their priority would obviously be to survive. Chitra, for the record, is post graduate student in history at Christ College, Irinjalkuda.
One standout story of grit and glory must surely be Swapna Barman’s – the supremely talented athlete from Jalpaiguri who overcame the pain barrier and extreme poverty to win the Asian Games gold in heptathlon. What this meant for her parents was evident in emotional pictures as her impoverished parents – her father is a rickshaw puller and her mother works at a tea garden – watched her medal winning performance. For India, this Asian Games is a tribute to the searing ambition of athletes who overcame disability to bring laurels for their country.