History – the subject – boasts of being an accurate representation of facts. True. History tells us facts: Hima Das. 400 metres. 51.46 seconds. First Indian to win gold in a track event, achieving the feat at World Under 20-Athletics Championship.
History will preserve her legacy. Accurately. Precisely. But inadequately. For History will correctly tell us that Hima Das ran a 400 m sprint, but fail to make a mention of the thousands of hurdles Hima ran before even earning herself the right to compete on a level-playing ground at that global event.
The dash that put India on the world athletics map began with little strides in the rice fields of Dhing village in Nagaon district. Some of us face trouble even placing Assam on India’s map — let alone the chances of spotting Dhing village.
India’s most-talked about daughter today, Hima, put on running shoes only 18 months ago. She never had the luxury of fitness coaches or professional nutritionists or the moral comfort of an association’s backing. She was alone in this. Her grit and coach Nipon Das were the only forces she had for company.
Nipon, who was with the Directorate of Sports and Youth Welfare, had spotted the flash of brilliance in Hima at an inter-district meet in which she dashed to glory in the 100m and 200m sprints. Nipon was instrumental in getting Hima to Guwahati where she trained in the state academy, which did not have any separate facility for runners.
Today, veering into our mobile phones and laptops and tablets, we are celebrating the pride Hima has brought to us. But, hang on! This is not her state’s achievement. This is not even India’s achievement! Let’s not hoard her credit by calling it a collective success.
She won not because of us, but despite us.
On any other day, we are the same bunch who wouldn’t have stopped short of calling her ‘chinese, chinky, outsider, villager’.
But, today those adjectives fade away in the glory of that gold medal shining bright on her!
You know what makes Hima’s achievement even more special? The state of Assam has been hurting for a while now. The lynchings of two boys a couple of months ago shook the conscience of the state. The pain still runs down the spines of those there. Most recently, the Assam floods have came knocking and how – the annual carnage has seen ferocious rivers uproot lakhs of lives and livelihoods in the state. But, the pain goes beyond these events.
Northeast region has never really got the attention it deserves, but ironically folks from that region have always attracted more attention than they ever sought. Being called names, threatened, beaten up only because they look different.
Hima would have faced this and more. She is a woman and we know how kind society has been to that gender.
It is this baggage that Hima carried in her giant strides towards the finishing line. Hima made her region, her state and its people forget their pain — even if it was just for 51.46 seconds. And that is why it is special!
(The writer is a stand-up comedian and former journalist)