Divya Kakran, Manika Batra and Manu Bhakar represent the idea of new India. If they are scripting the stories of future India, these stories have got strong background plots based on the women of substance like Saina Nehwal and Mary Kom
The story goes back to the decade of 1940’s. And the centre of the story is Australia. There were a few little holiday villages between Labrador and Coolangatta. In these circumstances, these seaside towns became desired destinations for the thousands of Australian and US armed servicemen who came for recreational leave during the Second World War. At that time they were collectively referred to as “The Town of South Coast”. As the prices started to rise along with its popularity, a well-known Courier Mail columnist joked, “the area was no longer the South Coast but the Gold Coast”. The name was used to describe the real estate boom- the area being the best place to buy and sell land in the post-World War 2 real estate boom. The local historians have differing views. Many people prefer to think the name represented the golden sand, sunshine and the healthy living for which the area was famous.
We are in April, 2018. Gold has a deep rooted significance in Indian history, evoking emotions from millions of hearts. More than an investment, it’s a culturally significant metal which has found a place in Indian hearts and homes alike. In the just concluded, Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2018 in Gold Coast, a new Indian story was scripted. It was the sign of the medal boom in India, in the coming years. More than this, the Games represented the stories of India written on the golden sands and sunshine of the Gold coast in Australia. What are these stories like?
The colour of the Divya Kakran’s medal in Gold coast was not gold. Rather it was bronze. However, in terms of rag to riches tale, her bronze is bigger than many narratives projected in the Bollywood blockbusters as Gold. Hers is a story about a father pushing his daughter into male dominated sports because of economic compulsion. Since, her pre-teen days, Divya would fight boys at every village dangal across North India while her father would sell langots on the sidelines.
The two would return home with a thick wad of notes. On most days the daughter’s contribution would be bigger. Over the years, Divya moved from mud to mat and today she is the bronze medalist in CWG. Meanwhile, her father remains the langot salesman. Perhaps, her medal in the Gold Coast would add glitter to their dingy two rooms’ house at Gokulpur, in east Delhi. Life has tested her at every step. And, she has come out with answers, more often than not. After her first major silver medal at Asian Championship, she had to stop wrestling. With a stone detected in her kidney, she had to pay regular visits to the hospital. For three months, she went to AIIMS, feeling depressed. She was hoping to go to World Championships in Paris, but had to miss the trials. When she returned to training, she was struggling. The pain would aggravate, forcing her to step away. With her bronze medal winning performance, she has stepped in, the global sporting landscape.
There are also those who got gold for the country in the Gold coast. Amongst them is Manu Bhakar, who is still not eligible for driving license. Before she adopted shooting as her favored sports, she had medals in Boxing, Thang ta— a Manipuri martial arts and tennis at the national and international level. At the age of 14 years, a month after taking up shooting, she asked her father to get her a pistol. Ram Kishen Bhakar, a chief engineer in the Merchant Navy, wondered if the investment of Rs 1.5 Lakh would be really worth it. Remembering those times Ram Kishen Bhakar, her father says now, “She has always been a gifted child who excelled in all sports, especially combat sports. Gradually, she lost interest and two years ago, I prodded her to try her hand at shooting at her school. The shooting range at the Universal Senior Secondary School soon became her favourite playground. Within a few weeks, I was told that my daughter was shooting like a pro. I was hesitant to buy her a gun of her own as I was not sure if she would continue the sport. But seeing her interest and talent, I had to give in. I gifted her pistol-10m air pistol. It’s the same pistol she has been using in international events”. Haryana is the state full of sporting talent. The take off for the teenage girl from the Gorriya village in Haryana’s Jhajjar district, was not smooth though. She needed license for her .22 bore pistol in 2017. Manu had to compete in the 2017 Asian Youth Games which were scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka. The bureaucrats from the state took an inordinately long time to clear her request for the license. They had to travel daily to Jhajjar, which is some 45 Km from the village, for more than 2 months. The officials kept deferring the dates. The police department and city magistrate were co-operating, but ADC at that time did not pay any heed. Subsequently, Manu’s father approached the state Education Minister and tweeted the CMO and state Sports Minister. After, more than two months, these efforts paid fruits and the young shooting prodigy managed to get the license. Since then, the Haryana girl has led her gun doing the talking. She has marked her name in the lists of firsts. At the World Cup in Guadalaraja, Mexico, she became India’s youngest and world’s third youngest shooter to win a world cup gold. With CWG Gold medal now, the Jhajjar girl leads a line of sprightly young shooters, like Shreya Agrawal (17), Arjun Babuta (19), Elavenil Valarivan (18), Tejas Krishna Prasad (20) and Muskan Bhanwala (16).
National pistol coach Jaspal Rana who has groomed many of these youngsters, talking about Manu says, “She is mentally very strong. I remember when she joined the national camp; her mother told me that she talks a lot. She is always asking questions about the sport. But I am happy to answer them. She is the talent to look out for in 2020 Olympics Games”.
The Indian story which are being scripted also point towards larger stories. Cricket, still may be the country’s passion number one by a distance, but other sports are fast catching up. And, badminton is the sports, which the budding sporting heroes are increasingly looking upto.
Manika Batra, who had golden run in the Gold Coast Games, is hoping that she has done enough to sparkle, a table tennis revolution in the India like Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu have done for badminton. The 22-year-old Delhi girl bagged medals in all four events on offer including unprecedented gold in the women’s singles and team championship. “It is slowly sinking in. Hope they are enough for our sport to go the badminton way. The achievement will have a lot more significance if it turns out that way for table tennis in India’. Manika has been sleep deprived and perhaps, the rousing reception she got after her arriving at the Delhi airport, prompted her to put these words to her emotions.
Table tennis players are not used to this. The winds in the sporting scenario of the country are changing. Manika Batras are the agents of this change. She is a college drop out. She quit her regular classes at Delhi’s Jesus and Mary’s college to focus more on her passion. She had much bigger goal in mind- to win medals for her country. With her golden run in the city of Gold Coast, her goal has only gotten bigger. Manika Batra takes a lot of inspiration from Sachin Tendulkar and her senior compatriot Sharath Kamal. And, like them she has gained confidence to scale new summits for her game in the country and her country at the global sporting stage. She says, “I have the technique to beat anyone and the thing with me is that I never think about the stature of my opponent, whether it is world number 400 or one. My mental space doesn’t change according to my opponents. Having said that, I would need to work a lot on my fitness to compete with the best (Chinese and Japanese). The game has become faster than ever”.
Divya, Manu and Manika represent the idea of new India. If they are scripting the stories of future India, these stories have got strong background plots based on the women of substance like Saina Nehwal and MC Mary Kom. Saina Nehwal Vs PV Sindhu sharing the top two places out of the three in the CWG 2018 podium will forever be etched in the memories of the connoisseurs of the Indian sports. These global sporting legends, who are the daughters of the great nation, epitomise what could be achieved with dedication, determination and purpose.
These stories of India, which are scripted overseas have got strong backing from the top leadership. Our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, understands and backs this incredible story—as he himself has scaled the summit rising from his humble background. In Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore— the country finally has got the Sports Minister who has got holistic understanding of our sporting eco-system. Col Rathore is trying to bring in a new culture of sports for new India. The efforts of the ministry in putting in a sporting structure of the sportspersons, by the sportspersons and for the sportspersons will take time to fully fructify, but it has the potential of bringing in a transformative change in the realms of sports in the country.
Play sports and be fitter, we will naturally fit into the medal podium has been his mantra. Gold Coast was better than Rio. Perhaps, Jakarta and then Tokyo will be further improvement on this. Meanwhile, many more India stories will be scripted in the foreign lands like Gold Coast in the years
(The writer is a senior sports journalist)