On 14th August 1947 towards midnight, the first Prime Minister of India proclaimed, “…At the stroke of midnight when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom…”
Sixty nine years later, to the day, on 14th August 2016 towards midnight, it was Indian gymnast Dipa Karmakar’s turn to make her tryst with destiny. And India was awake at their television sets, cheering her on. As I waited for Dipa’s take turn on the vault, I wondered how it must feel to carry the aspirations of a 130 million people with every jump and twist and twirl.
In a country with few sports heroes beyond cricket and even fewer female sports stars, it is incredible that this petite girl from Tripura has managed to unite the entire country and brought us to our TV sets in the middle of the night. There is no denying though that the trend has been changing with Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal and Mary Komleading the charge. During my interactions with the three, for my book She Walks, She Leads, the common grouse in their journeys has been the lack of support, finances and facilities. Their achievements have been the product of their personal sacrifices and the commitment to excel against all odds.
Dipa Karmakar’s story is not much different. She had zero financial or logistical support. Her practice “vault bench” was fashioned out of an old motorcycle seat and her practice arena was a vacant marriage hall. It was in these conditions that she perfected her routine including the death-defying Produnova, a manouevre that she has become synonymous with.
Awards and aide follow recognition and recognition is not easy to come by in a country which barely registers sporting feats beyond cricket. An anecdote that comes to mind is when Mary Kom’s name was struck off the list of Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Awardees in 2007 by Milkha Singh. This, despite the fact that she had been bestowed with the Arjuna Award and the Padma Shri and had won gold at the World Boxing Championships five years in a row. At that point Mary had publicly demanded to know how many more titles she would have to win before the country believed she deserved the honor.
Fortunately, these last few years have seen some change in our collective attitude towards our sportswomen.
As Dipa stands at the starting point, poised to break into her run, my breath catches in my throat along with the millions across the globe. And as she catapults off the vaults and performs the Vault of Death, my lips move in prayer as I can imagine millions across the globe dis too. She lands on her feet, throws her hands in the air and flashes a smile at the judges and the crowd. It is not Dipa’s day though. She misses a medal by a whisker and places fourth.
The missed medal, though, is not the gauge of her achievement. She has set the ball rolling and it is now up to the rest of us to keep it moving. Congratulations Golden girl!