Chander Shekhar Luthra in Rio
Rio de Janeiro: Rarely does irony in sport, as in life, paint a happy picture. But it did in the case of Indian rower Dhattu Bhokanal, who is the only one representing the burgeoning country in this sport at the ongoing Olympics in Rio.
The 25-year-old comes from a remote village where taps run dry before one can say water, and is competing in rowing. It is unlikely that he lost sleep over all concerns raised over the polluted water bodies in Rio. It is unlikely because he saw a river for the first time just fours years back.
And yet, this man from a village called Talegaon Rohi, Maharashtra, where wells only see a trickle of water during rains, has risen to inspire others like him from nondescript parts of the country to oar their way to far-flung countries like Brazil.
What makes his achievement remarkable is that as he competed with the best in the world and finished fourth in quarterfinals on Tuesday, his ageing mother lost her memory after falling down and needs medical attention now.
A class 10 drop-out, Bhokanal was a farmer, spending hours lugging water from the village wells to his fields.
In simple words, Bhokanal had just one choice: “to end life like many other drought-hit farmers in his village”. It was going that way till the Indian Army put “oars” in the hands of a young recruit who had, forget an ocean, not even seen a river till 2012.
Success or failure?
In 2011, when Bhokanal’s father died, he stepped out to earn some living outside his village. He was fortunate to have been guided to join the Army. Bhokanal picked up an oar for the first time in 2012 after one of his senior officers suggested his name on the basis of his good physique and six foot-plus height.
“When I saw all the guys in the water, I immediately pointed towards a guy. ‘Who’s that’? His movements are very natural in the water,” Bhokanal’s coach Rajpaul Singh Mokha recalls after one of the training sessions in Rio.
Bhokanal trusted his seniors and coaches and dedicated his life to rowing and started training 2-3 times a day.
Bhokanal’s event, singles sculls, is considered to be tough. A rower has to be precise in his movements even when he is using his body’s explosive power as the unstable boat could flip over any time. Though he is a high school drop-out with limited knowledge of basic science, he is precise enough to be calculative and keep high speed. “You’ve got to make the boat move at a high pace, and you’ve got to make sure you don’t go over.” said Mokha.
Bhokanal will return without a medal from Rio but he will have filled the hearts of youngsters back home, especially those from drought-hit areas, with something much more valuable — hope.