Why Ruptu Gogoi believes CWG is like Mt Everest for Lawn Bowls 
Ruptu Gogoi (in centre) boasts of a hat-trick of gold medals at the National Games (2011, 2015 & 2022)

Guwahati: Even as we get ready to bid goodbye to 2022, it would not be an exaggeration to say that few people in India know about the sports of Lawn Bowls, and fewer follow the game or take part in it. This is despite India’s exploits in the Commonwealth Games earlier this year. 

So, one can only imagine what Ruptu Gogoi must have felt like when he picked up this unknown sport nearly fifteen years ago. 

One can ask several questions to Gogoi, but the most important question would be how it feels to play a sport that doesn’t feature at the Asian Games, and the pinnacle of sports: the Olympics.

The multi-generational sport has been on the Commonwealth Games itinerary since 1930 and is concentrated in countries with a colonial past, but for the likes of Ruptu, who boasts of three successive gold medals at the National Games (2011, 2015 and 2022), the CWG is nothing less than Mt Everest.

“I have come across such statements many times, but I have a different take on that. See, the Commonwealth Games is like Mt Everest for us, for other disciplines it could be the Asian Games, or the Olympics. Since lawn bowls don’t feature in the other two events, we attempt at scaling the summit of our competition, and any budding player will aim at reaching the podium at the CWG,” Ruptu told EastMojo after clinching a gold medal in triples at the recently-held Inter-district meet, here.

“The point is all about being satisfied with what we have in our control. As players, we don’t have the power to take the game to the Olympics. Who knows what the future holds, but for now we are happy to be competing at the National Games and the CWG. Also there are various continental and invitational events that take place each year,” he added.

Ruptu, who works for the Assam Police, started his career as a long jumper in 2003 before a neurological condition forced him out of athletics in 2007. But he found his calling in lawn bowls.

In 2008, he attended his first camp in the city’s Sarusajai Stadium, the only centre in the state with dedicated lawn bowls greens. And in less than a year, he found himself among the top names of the state, alongside the likes of Arjuna Awardee Nayan Moni Saikia, Taniya Choudhury, Mridul Borgohain, and Mohammed Raja, among others, earning their respective places in the national camp ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

The Dibrugarh native’s inclusion in the national camp meant they boarded the flight to New Zealand and Malaysia as part of the team’s preparation under former head coach Richard Gale of Australia.

But as fate would have it, hours after the CWG 2010 opening ceremony, Ruptu was down with dengue, which had already taken a toll in the national capital in one of the worst outbreaks that year.

Ruptu’s dreams of representing his country as the team manager-cum-player were badly hit on debut.

Not the kind of person to give up meekly, Ruptu bounced back with Gold in doubles and Bronze in singles at the National Games in 2011 before finishing fourth at the HK prize money tournament in Hong Kong in 2012. In between, he also participated in the Asian Championship in 2012.

Ruptu reclaimed lost glory with the gold medal in doubles at the 2013 national championships and kept himself in the hunt for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.

Selected for the national camp preparing for the 2014 CWG alongside Nayan Moni Saikia and Taniya Choudhury, Ruptu wanted to make the most of the lost opportunity in the previous edition, before his neurological condition worsened, and he ended up in the hospital bed of the Guwahati Medical College.

“This has been troubling me right from the days I was into long jump, and after switching to lawn bowls, initially it was going fine although I was under medication from time to time. If I have to explain in simple terms, the nerves in the right shoulder and the wrist get squeezed, and it affects my bowling. Sometimes, it’s tough to keep myself exposed to the sunlight for a considerable period,” he said, explaining his condition.

Ruptu came back strongly at the National Games in 2015 by doing an encore of the previous edition with a Gold in doubles and a bronze in fours. Three years later, impressive performances kept him in the national reckoning, and winning the trials for the Gold Coast CWG, meant he could finally realise his dreams of representing India at the highest level.

But as luck would have it, there was more disappointment in store for many players, including Ruptu. The ugly politics of the Bowling Federation of India saw eight of the 10 players selected to represent India came from Jharkhand, the home state of the former national coach (2010-2019) Madhukant Pathak. 

Despite a two-month acclimatization and training camp Down Under, the Indian team returned empty-handed from Gold Coast.

In 2019, Ruptu pulled out of a tournament in China due to medical reasons. After the Covid­19-induced lockdown, he found himself out of national reckoning ahead of the Birmingham Games, where the women’s fours team (Nayan Moni, (Rupa Rani Tirkey, Lovely Choubey and Pinki Singh) scripted history with the first-ever gold medal. The men’s fours team, comprising Sunil Bahadur, Navneet Singh, Chandan Kumar Singh and Dinesh Kumar, returned with a silver.

Elated at the teams’ performances in the CWG, and Nayan Moni being honoured with the Arjuna award, Ruptu said, “This is a recognition to the entire lawn bowls fraternity in India. We are proud of Nayan Moni’s efforts, and the sacrifices she had to make throughout to earn that respect. Her award will serve as an inspiration for the next generation of lawn bowl players.”

Putting behind his disappointment, Ruptu, the youngest of three sons of a farmer in Dibrugarh, represented Assam at the 36th National Games in Gujarat. He completed a hat-trick of gold in doubles at the Kensville Golf and Country Club. He bagged a bronze as part of the state’s fours team.

With time, Ruptu has learnt to balance the highs of podium finishes and deal with the heartbreaks. 

Also read | Assam cricket’s Vijay Hazare success seeds sown in soil from Balangir

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