THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Like the revolutionary Iranian poet Ahmad Shamloo, Bisweshwar Nandi had to hide his “love in the larder”. Growing up in the strife-strewn Agartala in the 1970s, he had to put aside the pursuit of his first love, gymnastics, to be just alive.
Sport, in the wake of civil unrest, was just trivial. Sustaining life wasn’t.
“My house was pretty close to the Bangladesh border. So when Indian forces were fighting the Pakistanis to liberate Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), we couldn’t even go to schools or colleges, forget about training. Pakistan Army used to shell our villages. We would wake up with the sound of gunfire and mostly didn’t stray out of the house out of fear for life,” recollects Nandi, his eyes bleary.
But young Nandi didn’t forsake the love of his life, and when the political strife eased, and Bangladesh liberated, the teenager resumed coaching, though parents were still apprehensive of the life outside the academics. “Getting a government job at home or even in Kolkata was what the parents dreamt of. Sport, in general, wasn’t encouraged very much,” he says.
On those days he was confined to the compound walls of his house, he used to voraciously read sports magazines, through which he kept in loop with the feats of gymnasts worldwide. The images fired up his imagination and fuelled his ambitions.
He was soon fixated by the Soviet maverick Aleksandr Nikolaevich Dityatin, who once held the record of most individual medals in a single Olympics (eight in the Moscow edition). “I used to cut out and keep all posters and photographs of him. Apart from training my entire life centred on him. I used to wait for Sports magazine to come from Kolkata. I even tried to style my hair like him. It was my life’s biggest yearning to meeting him. Reading about him and his techniques really helped me with ideas and techniques. I wish I had Wikipedia in my days,” he laughs.
Years later, Nandi did meet his idol. “There was an invitational championship in Russia, I think in 1983. I was quite keen to meet him and was wondering what I would give him as a gift. Finally, I decided to gift him an idol of Lord Shiva. Fortunately, I met him, gifted the idol and exchanged pleasantries. I asked him about certain routines and we left as good friends,” he recounts.
Despite the dated facilities, through practice, reading and interactions with senior players, he evolved into a more than capable gymnast himself, winning four nationals and reaching the final round of the Bangkok Games. But still, his dreams remained largely unfulfilled.
Thus he began coaching, which offered a shot at fulfilling his own dreams. And he stumbled on Dipa Karmakar. “Her father Dulal, a weightlifting coach and my friend, took her to me one day and told me that she is quite talented on the vault. After a few days later, I too realised that she is quite talented,” he opines.
A decade later, the mentor-ward relationship has truly blossomed, and Dipa has ensured her stake as the best-ever gymnast to have emerged from the country. “Whatever I have been, I’m really indebted to him. He is strict, but at the same time caring and understanding. He is supportive of everything I want to try out,” she says. He was the instigator behind her Produnova in the Glasgow Games. “I knew she had the ability,” he remembers.