When she makes rotis, 11-year-old Meenaxi is actually rolling out maps. Maps of India, Africa, the expansionist idea of Russia – pages from her seventh-grade atlas. Shy, her voice barely a whisper, Meenaxi says, “Maps hi bante hain, gol toh kabhi, kabhi…”
Forget getting the roti’s customary shape right, her tiny hands are not supposed to be doing anything even close, but watch them launch the javelin every afternoon on that dusty, uneven patch of land Bangaon village calls “academy”.
On the day we visited Meenaxi’s village in Haryana’s Fatehabad district, she made a quantum jump to her throw in the searing late-afternoon heat – a 30-point-something metres from a previous 25.8. “She was throwing to impress you,” laughs coach Hanuman Singh as he takes in the new in-house record.
In a season when a former junior of his from the state athletics circuit is present-day Olympic champion, the ‘My Jump and Throw Academy’ is Hanuman’s coop. A borrowed two-acre piece of land, a makeshift cowshed at one end, an adjoining fodder storage-turned-equipment room where a gifted Valhalla brand javelin – the gold standard – gleams among shabbier spears and a jugaad-style technique correction apparatus, and a dozen local girls
Neeraj Chopra’s exploits at the Tokyo Olympics last year and his explosive return to top-level action on the international circuit last month, continue to fire the imagination of the country, and the javelin is suddenly a status symbol and necessity rolled into one. Hanuman’s academy, which he started in 2010, is a blip among Haryana’s 1,100 registered sports academies and their 25,000 registered sportspersons. But while it’s basking in Neeraj’s reflected glory, it boasts an identity of its own.
“We thought of the name so that the girls have some apnaapan with the endeavour,” says Hanuman, a 40-year-old reformed muscleman who insists he would have been in prison today due to his earlier wayward ways had the javelin not rescued him. Having been a javelin thrower himself on the state’s circuit, he was confident the sport could be taught to anyone who showed an early aptitude for it. The belief that you don’t need a coaching diploma to teach the rudiments at a basic level is a gamble that seems to be paying off for the self-made coach.
At the ‘javelin nationals’ in Delhi, Bangaon girls attracted attention with a full podium in the under-16 category. “Aagey chalke agar national camp mein aayein toh woh success hai, till then, it is my job to find them at a young age and shape them,” Hanuman explains the academy’s philosophy.
The academy was co-educational until Hanuman farmed out the boys to a friend in a neighbouring town, and decided to focus only on the girls – 10 Bangaon locals and two promising outsiders, one of whom is generally Dalit or tribal. It has turned out to be a providential decision.
No Corporate Strings
Bangaon, a predominantly Jat village of 1,500 homes, helps debunk the widely held myth that modern sport needs shrill, all-invasive corporate support for it to survive. While funds are always welcome, it has shown that self sustaining micro models can survive, and flourish even.
For the moment, the Haryana government’s cash rewards for exemplary performances largely keep it going. The money goes into the academy coffers. Don’t the girls’ families resent it? “Cash rewards are our main source of funds. The families here have understood what we have set out to achieve, they understand we need that money here rather than in their savings,” Hanuman answers with a smile.
There are other patrons too. The Valhalla javelin, which cost Rs 1.8 lakh and shipped from Finland, was gifted by the Fatehabad district collector Pardeep Kumar. Similarly, on reading a newspaper report on the academy last year, a retired chief engineer gifted equipment worth over Rs 1 lakh, while a local educationist, Sangeeta Bishnoi, continues to lend logistical support in school and college premises.
Today, it is a micro-enterprise, right from the inductees, to facilities, equipment and funds (the monthly expenditure doesn’t usually exceed Rs 8,000-10,000 and that’s mainly incurred on equipment maintenance). Even the complaints are minimal. The only thing high here is aspiration. The girls and their families believe in the idea that launching a spear in the air can open doors and help shape the destinies of Bangaon’s womenfolk.
“Rozi-roti ke liye,” is the unofficial credo of the community which takes from the academy and gives in return. Whether it’s a ‘little Finland’ or not as yet, Bangaon is clearly little India at play.