Dipa Karmakar’s journey as a sportstar is one of grit, determination and stubbornness to beat all odds. An excerpt from the book  Dipa Karmakar: The Small Wonder:

You can either be shaken by such incidents or mentally toughen up. I learnt from every incident and it fuelled my determination not to be cowed down. I do not know if it was rotten luck or just me but I seemed to attract trouble more often than not. My first international medal should have been a cause for much joy, but more than anything else it left a sour taste in the mouth. It started on an unpleasant note in the first place. We were informed about our participation at the Sultana Kamal Central South Asian Championships just three days before the competition and the selection happened on the basis of past performance. I had been in regular practice under Nandi sir and hence did not head to Dhaka undercooked. Surprisingly, sir was chosen to accompany the team for the competition which was held at the Mirpur Indoor Stadium in Dhaka. In fact the stadium is just about a kilometre from the Sher-E-Bangla National Cricket Stadium which Indian sports fans will connect with immediately.

We were informed about our participation at the Sultana Kamal Central South Asian Championships just three days before the competition and the selection happened on the basis of past performance.

My fellow teammates were Meenakshi from Punjab and Rucha Diwakar and Vandita Rawal from Maharashtra. We won the women’s all-round event and I also won an individual gold in the vault, a silver each on the balancing beam and the individual all-round and a bronze medal in the uneven bars. My wait for an international medal was over; I would be returning with five! However I was not happy with the scores awarded to me as I felt I deserved to win the gold in the both the events where I was awarded the second position on the podium. That feeling of hurt was accentuated by an incident that left the entire team upset. Nandi sir was awarded a medal along with the team at the medal ceremony by virtue of being the coach. Now it is not usually the norm but in that tournament all coaches were felicitated. It was an unexpected joy and all of us were pretty chuffed that sir too had received a medal. Our joy was short-lived as a short while later he was asked to return the medal without any explanation. The coaches of the other teams on the podium, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, were all wearing their medals but it came as a huge shock to the entire team that sir was asked to surrender his medal back to the organisers. Naturally we expected some kind of explanation but despite Dr GS Bawa being the tournament director, none was forthcoming. I had been witness to the repeated humiliations sir had to undergo over the years and this one was very hard to accept. I felt cheated. Sir tried to be casual about it but I could tell the pain he was going through. There was a small ceremony in Agartala when we returned home as the gymnastics fraternity celebrated our success but my heart wasn’t in it at all.

Our joy was short-lived as a short while later he was asked to return the medal without any explanation. The coaches of the other teams on the podium, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, were all wearing their medals but it came as a huge shock to the entire team that sir was asked to surrender his medal back to the organisers.

There was pent up anger inside me. I felt we were being unfairly targeted. It wasn’t just in the camp that was being held in New Delhi post the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The feeling of victimisation persisted even during our shopping trips to Pallika Bazar in Connaught Place.

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Posted by SheThePeople on Monday, April 18, 2016

While bargaining in the market, the smart shopkeepers would easily spot us to be non-native/outsiders. Our different accent in Hindi would always take the conversation in a different direction. The shopkeepers would often ask, “Where are you from?” I would go on to say, “Tripura”, upon which the next query used to come quite often as, “Where is it? In Bangladesh?”

These expressions were very disheartening for both Nandi sir and me. I would always feel pity for their general knowledge about India. Tripura and other north-eastern states have always been marginalised in terms of sports and because of this, I wished that at least the people recognise it to be a part of the county’s mainland.

The shopkeepers would often ask, “Where are you from?” I would go on to say, “Tripura”, upon which the next query used to come quite often as, “Where is it? In Bangladesh?”

During these times while shopping and sometimes also in some formal gathering, some would venture a guess as to whether I was a boxer or a wrestler. Often my biceps and sturdy built would confuse them. They would ask, “What do you do?”

Tripura and other north-eastern states have always been marginalised in terms of sports and because of this, I wished that at least the people recognise it to be a part of the county’s mainland.

“I am an athlete.”

“What do you play? Are you into boxing or wrestling?”

“No,” I would try to evade.

“I think, I have seen you wrestling,” one would lie in typical Delhi bluster.

“No, I am a gymnast.”

“So, you work in some circus. Do you do trapeze also?”

“It’s not a circus. It’s gymnastics and girls also do gymnastics,” I would reply.

It hurt. It always did and it does even today.

“It’s not a circus. It’s gymnastics and girls also do gymnastics,” I would reply.

I must reveal an interesting conversation that took place after my medal at the Commonwealth Games. We were still at the venue, long after the medal ceremony had ended. The team was together and the phones were ringing non-stop. I did notice sir talking animatedly to someone from a distance. It had been an emotional moment for him and his faith in me had been vindicated. The tears of joy are difficult to stop at times like this and all of us were content letting him be, even the other coaches who had always sneered at him. After a while he sought me out in that crowd and motioned me over. He handed the phone to me and I presumed it was someone from Tripura wanting to congratulate me. It turned out to be a former gymnast, the same one who had slapped me at my first international competition five years ago. She said, “I feel sorry I slapped you in your first international competition. I want to clap for you now. God bless.” I said, “Dhannobad. Thank you so much,” as tears rolled over my cheeks. This was the loudest clap for me. Life had come full circle.

Excerpted from Dipa Karmakar: The Small Wonder by Bishweshwar Nandi, Digvijay Singh Deo, Vimal Mohan with permission from Fingerprint! Publishing.

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