This fascinating memoir of Dipa’s incredible journey from Tripura, an almost forgotten sporting outpost, to Rio de Janeiro, the venue for the 2016 Olympics, and beyond, is peppered with anecdotes that make for stunning reading, and at the same time provide an incredible glimpse into what it takes, and what it took, for a sportsperson to battle against all odds and leave an indelible impression in the hearts and minds of people the world over.
Written by her coach Bishweshwar Nandi and veteran sports journalists Digvijay Singh Deo and Vimal Mohan, Dipa Karmakar: The Small Wonder is one of the most heartwarming sports biographies you’ll read this winter. Below you can read an excerpt from this book. Courtesy: Fingerprint.
An excerpt from the book DIPA KARMAKAR THE SMALL WONDER
There have been significant challenges since then, but none have ever managed to break me. Perhaps it is my resolve; perhaps it is because of my stubbornness or because I can channel my anger in the right direction. I am not one to take no for an answer. Failure drives me on; I seem to do better at the second time of asking. My first National Games in Guwahati in 2007 were a disaster. I did not win a single medal. Nandi sir was furious as he thought that I should have won the gold in the vault as I had reached the final after qualifying in first place. But I made an error during one of my vaults and was docked a penalty point, which saw me finish fourth. Nandi sir carried that hurt through the games. He felt that the judges were biased and subsequently he had many disagreements with the jury led by Kalpana Debnath. Sir was convinced that the scores awarded to me were low on purpose, but there was no way of proving it. I ended up empty-handed in those games and right before returning, sir walked up to the jury and gave them a piece of his mind. He challenged them to wait till the next games and predicted that I would sweep the gymnastics medals at the next National Games in 2011. And when the time came four years later, I lived up to his word, winning five gold medals at the Ranchi Games.
That incident brought us closer. Seeing him fight for me made me appreciate his concern. It is very rare to see Nandi sir lose his cool. By nature he is a very quiet sort of a person; he does not speak much in a gathering and prefers to be a silent observer. But put him in a gymnastics hall or see him sit with fellow coaches or those associated with gymnastics and you will be rather amazed to see the transformation.
For us though, he was a dictator. At the training hall, he was always strict and both of us have had memorable confrontations. He always carried a stick to threaten us but having never used it all these years, it did not carry any threat for us. There was one instance though, when I thought that I was going to get a lashing like never before. At the NSRCC, there are various groups of trainees under a particular coach. Since the number of apparatus is fixed, the coaches had worked out a schedule between them wherein they would rotate their groups every forty minutes. This ensured that every evening, every gymnast would complete the basic set of exercises. You may be an expert of the vault or the pommel horse but in our sport you have to complete the all-round event to be eligible to qualify for individual finals on the apparatus. This one day, I was not having a good stint on the vaulting table. Each time I attempted a vault, something or the other kept going wrong. It is the nature of the sport that you cannot be perfect every day and on every attempt. Sir was watching me from behind but knowing that it was an off day, did not interfere much. However with each attempt, I was starting to lose it. I do get very angry at times and when that happens, I tend to go massively overboard. At home everyone knows about it, but at the NSRCC it did catch everyone by surprise, except sir that is. Turns out, Baba had told him earlier of my anger issues and how I would beat up my sister or cause mayhem at home when angry.
The forty minutes on the vaulting table were up and the next group arrived. I wanted to land one perfect vault and then move on. I ran to sir and requested him to allow me one more vault. “No, Dipa, the time is up and they are waiting for us to complete. Leave it and start afresh tomorrow,” he said. I burst out crying and kept pleading with him to allow me another chance. It was quite the scene I was causing at the NSRCC but that stubborn streak in me had taken over. He too realised that no harm would come if I was allowed another attempt and said, “Okay, go on but just one more vault.” In the state that I was, there was no way I was going to get a perfect landing. I ran up to him all cranky and pleaded for one more attempt. By this time the other coaches too had stopped training, with the entire din coming from the vaulting table. They were all watching the situation unfold. Clearly taken aback and unsure of how to handle this, sir asked the other coaches to allow me another attempt. Even that turned out to be a very bad vault for me. I tried as hard as I could but the landing kept getting worse.
I ran up to him again and started pleading for another chance. By this time he had had enough. The stern dictator mode was back on and having indulged in my tantrums for a while, he decided to crack the whip. Despite my pleadings and wailings he refused to allow me any more attempts. Something in me snapped. I flew into an uncontrollable rage. Perhaps there was some measure of control, as instead of lashing out at him I kicked the wall, which was a few yards away from where he was standing. Such was the ferocity of the kick that a piece of skin tore out and I started bleeding. It took a moment for everyone to realise what had just happened. There was silence all over that huge gymnasium. Sir was the first to react; he started screaming at me. “I will break your legs if you behave like this again,” he yelled. Nothing got to me. I was having a fit and was shaking with anger. I could not even feel any pain in my leg even though there was blood oozing out. No one else moved or uttered anything. At that moment all eyes were fixed on just two people—the one yelling and the other shaking. He kept his distance though, probably careful to stay out of my kicking arc. He knew what I was capable of, Baba had warned him many years ago and those thoughts probably came swirling back from the depths of his memory. He probably feared that he was going to suffer the same fate as Puja.
All of a sudden the dark clouds passed and I realised what had just happened. I was ashamed and I ran out of the gymnasium. The tension sort of visibly reduced in the hall. Sir told his group to take a five minute water break and sent another girl to look for me. I was outside the gymnasium, looking for a stick. Obviously, she went back and reported that. I found what I was looking for and returned to the hall with a huge bamboo stick. Seeing me with it, sir probably thought that I was going to hit him with it. I could see the apprehension and fear in his eyes as I approached. I walked up and thrust the stick into his hands. “Hit me with this, you have not brought your stick today,” I said. He grabbed the stick from my hand and told me to go have water and go home. I went, changed, and quietly waited outside the gymnasium for someone to come and pick me up. I did not utter a word of what had happened; neither did I speak to anyone when I got home. I went straight to my room, refused to eat dinner, and locked myself up despite Ma asking me what was wrong. They immediately knew that something had happened, as I became a recluse only when I had committed a major mistake. Baba called Nandi sir to inquire what had happened. Sir was extremely upset and he relayed the entire evening’s shenanigans to Baba. I received a massive yelling from Baba after that, admonishing me for behaving with sir like that.