Tiny in size, big in deeds

Gaurav Kanthwal

Ever since Dipa Karmakar won the bronze medal in the vault event of the women’s artistic gymnastics at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, she became a trailblazer for a sport which had no presence in India. It has been close to two years now that she has resurrected the sport in the country, capturing the nation’s imagination with a fourth-place finish at the Rio Olympics.  A book on her was a long time coming. 

Authors Digvijay Singh Deo and Vimal Mohan begin by recounting the events leading up to the day in August 2016 when Dipa Karmakar became the first Indian gymnast to finish fourth at the Rio Olympics.

The narrative then moves on to Agartala, Tripura, describing it as India’s gymnastics capital from the 1960s to the 1980s. Dipa recalls the contribution of late Dalip Singh, an NIS-qualified coach, whom she anoints as the godfather of the sport in Tripura. Dalip, who hailed from a farmers’ family in Mahendragarh, Haryana, is credited with raising the first crop of national-level gymnasts from the region. Bishweshwar Nandi, Dipa’s coach, was one of his disciples. 

The book traces the journey of a five-year-old from a local club in Agartala to a 23-year-old, who became the first Indian gymnast to reach an Olympics final. 

From her formative years to initial failures in sub-junior nationals and consequent feats in the Nationals, the book captures all details of her life and not just in gymnastics.  The 25-year-old comes across as a bubbly, small-town girl who leads a simple, cheerful life. An entire chapter has been devoted to the Produnova, Dipa’s signature move on the vault and now famous as the Death Vault, which made the four-foot something a celebrity in the gymnastics world.

The book also pays tribute to pioneers of the sport in country — Bharat Kishore Deb Burman, Mantu Debnath, Kalpana Debnath and Banasree Debnath, whom Dipa has idolised since childhood.

The authors have been able to capture her true persona: the sincerity and the honesty of a small-town girl who had lofty aspirations and nerves of steel. Dipa’s special bond with her coach Bishweshwar Nandi is well portrayed. Over the years, Dipa’s athlete-coach relationship with Nandi has turned more into a father-daughter bond that has resulted in many firsts for India on the international stage.

Written in first-person account and an easy language, the book makes for a racy read. There is, however, an occasional botch-up in numbers, year of occurrence of an event and some typographical errors.

The authors’ notes and acknowledgements, though repetitive, make for an interesting read. In their individual acknowledgments, the trio has thanked profusely close to 100 persons if not more, all duly named, including kids in their extended families, bankers, IPS officers, revenue officials, public relations executives, and not-to-miss, office bosses, without whom the book would not have seen the light of day. Still, there are many whom they have not been able to name but have not missed an opportunity to express their gratefulness to them as well.