BELGAUM: Dundappa Athani, a 63-year-old man of Kolhar village in Bijapur district, can still ride any cycle at a speed of 40-50 kms per hour! Yes, You should see him to believe it.
He returned from New Delhi after seeing Indira Gandhi to Kolhar in just four days cycling at a speed of 70 kms per hour. He peddled to Gwalior Jail to see bandit queen Phoolan Devi and cycled in Chambal valley. He challenged a police inspector of Karimnagar to rode cycle to follow his jeep to Srisailam in Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh and succeeded in it. Still he can ride cycle at 40 km per hour even at his ripe age. Not only Dundappa, hundreds of others, including women of Bijapur and Bagalkot districts, can be seen cycling daily on national highways.
Cycling has become a part and parcel of peasants of this region and cycle races have become common in most of the annual fairs held in villages here. What made this region to adopt the cycling as its tradition?
No doubt, bicycles were a property of rich men once and a principal means of transportation till a few decades ago. But riding the cycles was a prestigious sport in Mumbai and Pune provinces which inspired the Patwardhan dynasty of Jamkhandi, one of the princely states under Bombay Presidency of British India. As the royal family also ruled neighboring states like Sangli, Miraj and Kurundwad, they used to organise competitions in cycling and wrestling during Dasara, December 31 and annual fairs of different villages. There were many inter-princely state competitions then.
There is one more reason. The hardness of the people is encouraging them to take a keen interest in this sport.
According to Anita Nimbargi, District Cycling Coach, Bagalkot, people of the region have a strong stamina required for cycling, as they eat jowar roti and curds. It is also found that as this whole region shifted due to backwaters of Almatti Dam, it lacked basic facilities like roads and buses. As an alternative, cycle was the only mode of transportation for the poor.
M P Maranur, the cycle coach, who hails from Kumbarhalla village in Jamkhandi taluk, observes that poverty has become a boon in disguise to promote cycling here. “As people were unable to pay even for public transport, they travelled by bicycles and cycles were everything for them,” he analyses. Of late, economy has improved in the region, now people prefer bikes rather than bicycles, he feels.
Cycling Training School
When Cycling Training School, the only one of its own kind in the state at that time, was opened in Bijapur in 1983, there was a flood of cycling in undivided Bijapur district, which then included Bagalkot also. Because of this school, cycling became popular. It even attracted women. It has trained thousands of budding cyclists and contributed hundreds of national and international cyclists to the nation till now.
The government converted the school as the District Sports School in 2006 with the training privilege of Cycling and Basket Ball. Now, the District Sports Schools of Bagalkot and Gadag also have training facility of cycling.
However, the aspirants of this sport are mainly from rural and poor families. Many a time, they face financial problems. Such an example can be found in Bijapur where a woman cyclist begged money to fulfill her needs. To avoid such a situation, Bijapur District Central Cooperative Bank has taken approval from the Apex Bank to provide financial assistance to cyclists. It has decided to reserve `10 lakh every year for this sport. But Bagalkot district has not received such support.
Most of annual fair committees are conducting cycle races and giving out attractive prizes to encourage this sport. Even local representatives have been supporting the game by organising races as it has a big following in the region. The government is also supporting the ace sport by providing facilities like hostel, coaching, modern bicycles, and shoes.
Despite such a support, the sport is haunted by infrastructure facilities like lack of better grounds for practice. Cyclists of both districts have depended on the national highway to improve their skills. A long-pending velodrome in Bijapur, which was approved by State Government on June 31, 2003 is yet to come up. The district administration is not finding standard contractor to take up this dream project worth `4.5 crore. In between, the higher officials had proposed to shift this project to Bangalore. But a strong protest from cyclists and the public prevented the shifting.
However, cyclists are still practicing on highways on their own risk. Already two cyclists including national cyclist Rajeshwari Mathpati have lost their lives in road accidents while practising on the busy national highway.
Jamkhandi is called as ‘Kashi of Cyclists’ like Lords is known as the ‘Cricket’s Kashi’. Kumbarhalla, a village in Jamkhandi taluk, has gifted over 100 cyclists to the state till now. “Here each house has at least one cyclist and it has over 10 national and international cyclists,” says Yenkappa Entettu, a senior cyclist. Neighbouring taluk Mudhol has also recorded its name in this field. One can find over 50 cyclists in a small village called Kolar which is famous for curds.
There are many cyclists in Basavana Bagewadi taluk too. Bilgi, Tulsigeri, Hulloli have also many cyclists.
Women not left
Though cycling needs more physical strength and endurance among participants, women of both districts never feared to ride the bicycles. According to Alka Phadtare, District Cycling Coach, Bijapur, even illiterate women are also much enthusiastic towards this sport and all of them from poor and rural families.
Neelamma Malligawad, Gangu Biradar, Premalatha Sureban, Anita Nimbargi, Sunita Nimbargi, Sharada Nimbargi, Kaveri Banakar, and Savita Goudar are some of the international and national women cyclists.
Unfortunately national cyclist Rajeshwari Mathpati died in a road accident recently during her routine practice. Many races are being organized in villages exclusively for women.
Sabu Ganiger also participated in the Delhi Common Wealth Games. It is found that those who live in city are not showing interest towards this sport.
Cycling Coach CM Kurane says: “All aspirants who are getting trained here are from rural areas. We don’t know why city people are not coming forward.”
However, Maranur admits that city people think that their studies will be interrupted by this activity. B B Chimmalagi, a national level cyclist and Commercial Tax Officer from Bagalkot says that cycling will not disturb the study, instead it enhances good health and concentration.
Passion for cycling has provided many job opportunities to rural cyclists in various departments like the Railways, Police, LIC, and in the Forest Department under sports quota.
Currently 15 international and national cyclists like R N Attar, Nijjappa Entettu, Vijay Singh Rajputh, Sabu Ganiger, Laxman Teradal and Kaveri Banakar are working at Bagalkot and Bijapur stations of South Western Railways.
A PhD on a cyclist!
Bijapurians have also concentrated on documenting this as a tradition. Sharada Nimbargi, a cyclist, has pursued a PhD on international cyclist Vijay Singh Rajputh, who is serving Railways.