Child Care in Manipur Talent Pool

Published: 01st February 2015 06:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st February 2015 06:04 AM   |  A+A-


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Dekalu Thi Panmei—your tongue takes a few innocuous twists before you get the pronunciation correct—is only eight. She looks even younger, and straight out of feted Chinese director Jack Neo’s critically-acclaimed movie Home Run, which tells the story of a pair of siblings and their adventures over a lost pair of shoes. If you are wondering what she is doing in the Games Village, you’ll wonder more when you realise she is a participant, a swimmer to be exact.

Frolicking around the Village, despite the suppressing heat, the initial impression is that she might the kid of an athlete or an official. But the giant tag hung around her neck, big enough to weigh her down, is a giveaway. Her coach Kiran Mala has to literally run behind her, lest she could be lost in the vast fiber jungle that is the Village. “I’ve lost quite a lot of weight running behind her. I wonder how I’ll be after the event gets over,” Mala, a former international swimmer jests.

Joining Panmei from the behind a cluster of bricks are Yaipha Phi and H Ritu, aged eight and 10, respectively. Mala shouted at them to not split from the group. She informs they are playing hide and seek. They promptly trotted back to her, chirped something in Manipuri, laughed heartily and formed a ring around her. “I’m like a mother to them. I have to be with them throughout. They are quite mischievous,” she laughs.  

For all their playfulness, Mala asserts they are quite serious about the sport. “They are not here for time pass. They want to learn and they are practising as hard as some of our senior athletes. They were selected after trials. In addition to almost a full school week, they train for nearly 20 hours a week.”

But you again wonder the logic behind initiating such young swimmers into a serious tournament. “Some of the seniors are only competing in water polo. Some of them are injured. See, they haven’t even competed in sub-junior nationals. But we want to give them early exposure. This experience will be of huge benefit as they graduate to a bigger level. This exposure part is something I have never had when I was growing up,” explains Mala, who had competed in the 1982 Asian Games. 

This youth drive, she informs, is a concerted effort by the Manipur Olympic Association. “We reckon the best way to nurture talented athletes is to give them early exposure, and we have been doing this every sport. If you look at our contingent, the average age must be 20-21,” she points out.

Panmei is not only the youngest swimmer around—she is a couple of months younger to Bi—but also the shortest and the lightest. “She will be a bit nervous seeing the bigger swimmers around her. But we want the kids to shed the fear,” she says. Bi then pulls out a candy from her jacket. Panmei shakes off Mala’s fingers and sprints behind her. Mala too sets off behind them. They might be too young to realise the legacy of boxer Mary Kom. But the spirit of Mary is not lost.

Stay up to date on all the latest Sport news with The New Indian Express App. Download now
(Get the news that matters from New Indian Express on WhatsApp. Click this link and hit 'Click to Subscribe'. Follow the instructions after that.)


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp