THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: With his strapping frame and no-nonsense countenance, and a wrestler-like name to boot, rower Bajrang Lal Takhar gives an impression that he shouldn’t be messed with. But once he eases into conversation mode, especially when detailing the nuances of rowing, the gruff-rough disposition melts.
For someone who is widely credited for rowing’s renaissance in the country, Takhar is unassuming to a fault. “It’s not like I discovered the sport. I chanced upon the sport, worked very hard on it and was lucky enough to make my country proud. Everything I reckon is a coincidence,” he says.
It has to be coincidence if the catalyst of rowing revolution is from a generally arid backyard of the country. He hails from Sikar district in Rajasthan, more famous for providing personnel to the Rajputana Rifles regiment of the Indian Army. The summers are harsh, winters are bitter and the annual rainfall is just 459.88mm. Forget about water bodies, even drinking water on daily basis is a luxury.
So what shaped his fate? “Like most of my relatives and neighbours, I was trained to be a soldier. Since sportspersons had a concession, I started playing basketball, which was quite popular in schools. I got picked on the basis of that. We’re naturally tall and well-built, and basketball was the game that we were all pushed to play. But a few months later, my coach told me I would be better at rowing and had more chances for promotion if I was a rower, as the Army higher-ups liked rowers. So I started rowing, first in Hyderabad and then in Pune,” he explains.
The natural physique and coarse hands proved to be beneficial again. “It was senior rower Jenil Krishnan who inspired me. He taught me the finer points of the sport and it was his guidance that helped me win my first international gold at the Asian Championship,” he goes down the memory lane.
Then came the heartbreak of the Doha Games, where he missed gold in single sculls by a micro-second. “I still remember the coach’s face. I felt like crying and wanted to remain on water. He told me I should have watched my back. But I started putting more effort on eliminating the glitches,” he recollects.
Four years crawled by, with the close shave haunting Takhar every night. Then at the cusp of the Guangzhou Asiad surfaced another hurdle. “The boats we ordered didn’t come in time. They reached India after we had left for China. So we had little peace of mind,” he says.
But nothing flustered him. He was single-mindedly focused on his goal. And a clinical race fetched him the yellow metal, making him the first Indian to claim an individual gold. “It was expected, since I had won the Asian Championship a couple of years ago. The draw was more or less the same, but still I had to execute the plan. I set off smoothly, got an early lead and didn’t slow down my pace at all. I was very relieved, though the Doha miss still rankles me sometimes,” admits the Naib Subedar.
Now, he has his eyes set firm on an Olympic podium, though he concedes it is difficult. “The Europeans are way ahead of us, and the Beijing Games was an eye opener. We’re slower by quite a few seconds. But the infrastructure has vastly improved since my early days. We will one day win an Olympic medal. Nothing is impossible,” he says, for his own tryst with the sport buries the impossible hatchet.