A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. Bengali sports journalist-author Moti Nandi wrote a book in the Eighties about a young girl called Koni who fought poverty and hardship to became a swimming champion. The book, called Koni, was later made into a National Award-winning film starring Soumitra Chatterjee. It told the story of the poor, and often hungry, girl of course, but also of the coach who spotted her talent and struggled with her on her journey out of oblivion and to triumph at the National Swimming Championship. “Fight, Koni, fight,” was what the coach would keep exhorting the girl in the film when she was down, and for a while that became the most popular catchphrase in Bengal.
Probably because everyone roots for the underdog, and also because there are few things as sacred as a bond between a teacher and a student. Years after Koni was made, Sriparna Mukherjee, a real-life swimmer who played the girl’s role, said the film was “meaningful for everyone because any sportsperson or, for that matter, any student understands the importance of a coach who believes in you so completely that you feel you can fight any fight and win.”
There was more than a hint of that in the ‘Have I made you proud?’ expression on young Dipa Karmakar’s face as she jumped into her coach Bishweshwar Nandi’s arms after executing the dangerous Produnova vault last week. And when she waited with him later, arm in arm, looking at the screen for her score. Nandi has been Dipa’s coach and most trusted ally for 16 years. With no apparatus and little money available for her training when she started, Nandi is said to have built Dipa a springboard from discarded scooter parts and stacked crash mats for her to practice vaulting. For his efforts, he had to listen to loose talk about why he was spending so many hours with a young girl. No surprise then that today, when the whole country is flooding Dipa with praise, she is intent on getting her beloved coach some recognition. Both she and her father want Nandi to be conferred the Dronacharya award.
PV Sindhu’s relationship with her coach or Sakshi Malik’s ties with hers may not go as far back as Dipa’s, but clearly both are strong. You could see the tension radiating off Pullela Gopichand as he watched his ward battle with Spain’s Carolina Marin for Olympic honours on Friday. And you had to clap when you saw Sakshi sitting on her beaming coach Kuldeep Singh’s shoulders waving the Tricolour after her victory on Thursday. All three men are definite Dronacharyas. But if I had to choose one for the prize, my vote would go to Nandi. If only to negate all the ugly things he’s had to listen to for 16 long years.