All roads lead to Kandhulimari village in Assam these days. This is the most talked about address with political heavyweights of the State making a beeline to the village in Dhing in Assam’s Nagaon district.
Dhing is home to the ‘Goddess of Speed’ Hima Das – the sprint queen who has brought so much glory to the nation with her incredible burst of speed in the final moments of the 400 m race at the World Under-20 Championship on Thursday at Tampere in Finland. And, since then, India has not stopped talking about this doughty sprinter – from Prime Minister Modi to the ‘Badshah’ of Bollywood Amitabh Bachchan to the common man on the street. While Hima is still in Tampere, the city in southern Finland, back home at Kandhulimari, her parents haven’t slept since their daughter won the gold.
An Economic Times report quoted Hima’s mother Jonali Das as saying, “While we couldn’t be there in Finland to see her in action, we gave her our blessings over the phone before the race.” And parents’ blessings indeed work like magic!
The report further quoted Hima’s mother as saying, “My eldest child (read Hima) has been exceptional from a very young age. She used to chop firewood since she was 11 and spent lot of her time out playing around. She used to have a protein-rich diet with chicken and eggs daily in her plate.”
Hima’s mother also said that the track queen was never the typical “girl-next-door kind” who would help her in the household chores. Rather, she would play football for the local clubs of her village, drive her father’s tractor or even race with a Sumo vehicle and leave it behind!
Hima’s father Ranjit (read who is a farmer) always used to encourage his daughter – “She would wake up every morning at 4 and take off for a morning jog with me to the rice fields. In fact, I am her first guru.”
How did this young girl from Dhing in Assam, who just received formal training for 15 months, become the world champion? In her proud village, everyone feels they have had a role to play.
Hima’s father recalls that her talent was first spotted by Shyamasul Haque, a physical education instructor at the local Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, in 2016, when he saw her playing on the grounds of Dhing Public School. He then brought her to Gowri Shankar Roy at the Nagaon Sports Association, where she qualified for inter-district competition and won two gold medals at a sports meet at Sivasagar, a town about 250 km away. “Hima has achieved an impossible feat. It takes years of practice for an athlete to trim a second from their timing. She has massively improved from 2016 to 2018. Her confidence is what sets her apart,” says Gowri Shankar.
Hima’s close gang of seven friends, who go by the name Mon Jai (which means “I want to” in Assamese), fondly reminisces the days they played football in the village playground. Hima caught the attention of Nipon Das and Nabajit Malakar, coaches with Assam’s Directorate of Sports and Youth Affairs, when she was practising for the Interstate Athletics Championship in 2017 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Guwahati. “Her dedication and hard work set her apart. Hima is a very rare talent I have come across in my career. A lot of athletes come to the track not to build a career but to secure a Government job,” Nipon Das remarked about the ‘golden’ lady.
The two decided to “invest” in Hima after they saw her discipline and punctuality during practice drills at the stadium in January 2017 and asked her to stay back for coaching. “We just asked her to bring whatever she had in her bag and promised we would take care of the rest,” Das said.
The coaches spent on Hima out of their own pockets as they did not have “enough budgets” for Hima’s diet or training. In fact, her coaches have a stellar role to play in making Hima Das the ‘Goddess of Speed’ today. From then on, there has been no looking back for Hima – to the national camp in Patiala, and onwards to the Asian Youth Championship in Bangkok, the World Youth Championship in Nairobi, and other meets. She first competed in 200 m and switched to 400 m as coaches found her possessing both “speed and endurance”. And, finally, she scripted history at Tampere in Finland on Thursday for being the fastest woman on earth in the 400 m race in the World
Hima’s coaches – Nipon Das and Nabajit Malakar – say that she is “totally fearless and herein lies her strength”. Even seasoned athletes cannot intimidate her. Not even American champion Taylor Manson could beat the grit and will power of this ‘speed queen’ from Assam.