Despite hardships, Assam paddlers impress at Khelo India Youth Games in Bhopal
The Assam Team at Khelo India Youth Games in Bhopal

Guwahati: Blame it on the inferior quality of boats they train with at the Charanbeel water sports complex. Defying extreme odds and numerous challenges, the Assam team of Mithu Patar, Rabinash Patar, Bikram Jyoti Konwar and Darshan Bordoloi won many hearts despite finishing a heart-breaking 4th in the men’s K4 500m finals at the Khelo India Youth Games (KIYG) in Bhopal.

On top of that, Bikram and Darshan finished a credible fifth in the men’s K2 1,000m event.

Reacting to their performances, coach Ananta Borthakur said, “It was difficult to adjust the balance as the boats are light-weighted in comparison to the boats we are using here. They have given their best, but you need to take success and failures in your stride, and this was a very good exposure for them.”

Coach Ananta Borthakur (c) along with the five paddlers who qualified for the Khelo India Youth Games in Bhopal

The quadruple confirmed their entry to the KIYG after bagging bronze medals in both the K4 (500m and 200m) events at the national championships, held in Bhopal from December 22 to 24. A few days before their departure to the Madhya Pradesh capital, a team from EastMojo visited the centre, where the four paddlers gave an insight into the numerous odds they were up against in realizing their dreams of participating in the flagship event.

Rabinash Pator

Young Rabinash Pator earns his livelihood by working as a helper to a local painter engaged on daily wage near the Kayaking, Canoeing & Swimming Training Centre along the Oujari Charanbeel in Morigaon district.

On a similar assignment at the centre’s outdoor facilities, being developed as a water sports park, Rabinash’s eyes fell on a number of boats stacked under a shed, and a few trainees using some of the boats for training at the state’s only centre, which has produced numerous medal winners at the national level.

Rabinash Pator

Unable to control his curiosity, the 15-year-old decided to utilize the lunch break to sneak in and take a closer look at the unique-shaped boats, which according to Rabinash didn’t resemble the ones fishermen use. His curiosity about the boats increased, but by that time the lunch break ended, and he had to resume painting the walls.

While he was physically at work for the rest of the day, he headed back home to Hatigarh village, situated around 1km from the centre. Born to a family of daily wage earners, mostly engaged in the paddy fields around the village, Rabinash contributes his meagre income to support his family, also comprising two sisters.

The next morning Rabinash arrived around 30 minutes earlier than his regular schedule, as he wanted to express his intentions of joining the sport by meeting the coach, Ananta Borthakur.

“From the previous evening, I was imagining myself on one of the boats, and training with the other paddlers. But somewhere, I was worried, what if I can’t manage time for my regular work, so I thought it would be better if I spoke to sir directly and ask him about the training schedule, and if I can be enrolled at the centre,” Pator told EastMojo.

“And sir instantly agreed to take me under his tutelage, and from there on my journey started. I still remember it was in September 2021 when I began my training. It started with swimming, and then we went ahead with the basic training.”

In May 2022, Rabinash, along with Darshan Bordoloi, Bikram Jyoti Konwar and Mithu Pator teamed up in Bhopal to clinch the gold medal in K4 500m event, and from then there was no looking back for the youngster.

Seven months later he landed up in Bhopal once again, this time for the qualifiers of the Khelo India Youth Games, and he along with his three other teammates returned with a bronze medal at the 33rd Junior National Championships to book their tickets for the showpiece event in the Madhya Pradesh capital.

Mithu Pator

On a recent trip to the training centre in Morigaon district, Mithu Pator initially hesitated to extend his hands for a shake while being introduced by his coach Ananta Borthakur – the reason, the 17-year-old boy’s palms had corns and calluses.

Mithu Pator

Born to daily wage labourers in a nondescript hamlet called Panipokhora, Mithu Pator supports his family of seven, including his ageing grandparents by selling two tins of stones which he cuts each day from the nearby hillock each day. The two tins fetch him around Rs 50 but consume more than a couple of hours of labour under the scorching sun each day.

In 2021, Mithu found a way of life when he followed in the footsteps of seniors from the village, training at the academy. He soon started taking a keen interest in water sports and got himself admitted to the centre.

“When I came here, I couldn’t swim and spent the first month and a half learning it. The real training started from there on, and in 2022 we were sent to Bhopal for our first tournament. And we returned with a gold medal in the K4 500m category, before adding a bronze in the category at the 33rd national championships in December, last year,” he told EastMojo.

“I start the day with light training that includes running, cycling, and open workouts, before training in water between 6 to 8 am. After that, I head back home and leave for the nearby hill to fetch stones for the day. I return by around 11a m with two tins, which I sell off at the hardware store. Each tin would fetch me somewhere between Rs 25 to 30. Whatever I earn, I give the entire amount to my parents to support the daily needs of the family.”

Mithu is happy to be a part of the 22-day camp, organized by some of his seniors, for all the five paddlers, who qualified for the KIYG 2023. He exuded confidence in a good show in Bhopal, but deep inside, he is a bit worried if his family will be able to manage their finances without his contribution.

Bikram Jyoti Konwar

Bikram Jyoti Konwar lost his dad when he was just 10. Since then, he decided to help his mother run the household by preparing Hor Alank, a basic ingredient for rice-based traditional alcohol and selling it off in the evening market.

Bikram Jyoti Konwar

Elaborating on the process further, Bikram explained that he prepares cakes of steamed glutinous rice mixed with herbs and spices and allows it to ferment for a fortnight before selling it. “It is prepared on a daily basis, but the selling part depends on how long it is left to ferment. It usually takes around a fortnight, and on holidays and off-days, I take out time to sell it in the evening market.”

“There is no other alternative source of income, I’m still studying, and my mother also works as a daily wage labourer in the paddy fields of the village. Our day starts as early as 4:30 – 5 am, and after an hour I leave for training and return by 8 am. After that, I take the cattle out to graze, and leave for my college.”

After a quick lunch break, Bikram leaves for another two-hour training session that starts at 3 pm, before heading back home to complete his studies for the day. Bikram’s interest in the sport grew once he tasted success at the national level, partnering with the trio of Rabinash, Mithu and Darshan Bordoloi when they lifted the gold in Bhopal, last year.

Darshan Bordoloi

Born to another daily wage earners’ family, Darshan was inspired to take up the sport by his elder sister Swarnalata, who is currently undergoing training as a cop. Darshan is the only son in the family of six, that includes his three sisters, and naturally, he loves the responsibility of handling some part of the household chores when his parents are away earning their livelihood.

Darshan Bordoloi

After his morning training session, he sets the cattle in his place out for grazing before heading to his school, and when he returns, he grabs a quick meal before heading to the academy for the afternoon session. The routine has been the same for the 17-year-old ever since he joined the sport in 2019, and is touted as a quick learner by his coach. The teenager has worked hard over the years, and his performances speak volumes of his dedication to the game. Darshan is also hopeful of getting the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Swarnalata, who is currently undergoing training at the Assam Battalion.

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