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My quiver is full of arrows: Deepika
Deepika Kumari is forever in the zone. Nothing disturbs her. When she is in preparation, you can almost liken the experience to deep meditation. After a fair amount of cajoling, she finally agreed to an interview at the National archery camp in Gangtok. Yet, once she started talking, she wouldn't stop. Meet Deepika, arguably Indian sport's brightest young star, a World Cup winner to boot and with the Olympics just over a month away, our big hope for a medal too. To think, she's only 18.
How much has life changed for you - in such a short time and at such a young age?
How has life changed? (Thinks) Quite a lot. What was it like then and what it is today, perhaps I really cannot put it in words. . . How do I say it. . . See, earlier I knew nothing about archery. I started it as a hobby, but now I'm in the Indian team which was always a dream of mine. Today I have learnt about the sport, its techniques, the nuances. From the Deepika of those days, to the Deepika of today, there's a great difference. I have learnt about archery, about people, so there's been a lot of changes, a lot of difference.
What is the single biggest thing that has changed?
In a sense, nothing really has been left behind. I'm still studying. Even after archery began seriously, I still met my friends. I still do, though I don't really like going out all that much. It could just be that earlier the practice was less, now it takes up almost all of my time. Abhi aim ban gaya hai, toh us pey zyaada focus ho gaya hai. There are some things you have to learn to ignore as a consequence.
Was your family hesitant to let you take up archery?
My father was a bit hesitant earlier. He had always wanted me to study but he came around when I reasoned with him that I could do manage both - the game and my studies. He was worried about how his young daughter would manage alone at the academy but I was able to convince him that I could handle it.
How did you manage to convince your parents?
I've always been more attached to my father. He'd listen to me more and also had a lot of faith in me. I was a shy kid, I was very obedient. Even if I had to go out and play with my friends, I wouldn't unless I was granted permission by my parents. So, my father always had faith in me. I guess, that worked when I needed to convince them when it came to the big decision.
Has there been a change in the family's condition in the past two or three years? How is the idea that a girl is getting money home received by them?
My parents never had that issue, and even I have never wanted it that way - whether a girl or a son should bring money home. Right from my childhood, Papa has always said, "You are not my beti, but you are my beta. He never calls me beti, it's always beta. So, there's never been a problem that a girl is bringing money home. Also, I've told him that if I'm earning, it's for my family. And there's an aim to do something for my country. From doing that what I'm getting, it's for my family. I've said, 'If you ever need anything, please never hesitate to ask. Don't ever think that you're taking from your daughter. ' So, he's never thought of it that way, and neither have I.
You're only 18, all the training and hardwork can get repetitive and boring. How do you keep distractions away, do you yearn for a normal life?
What is normal life? Normal life is the same thing as this, what I'm doing. We all have to do something in life, it could be studies otherwise. Times have changed. Hum ladikyan ka ab aisa nahin hai, that when you turn 18, parents get you married, you're off to your sasuraal, toh sirf choolha phoonkha hai. Aisa nahin hai.
God has given us hands and legs, we have to do something in life, so why not do something alag, hatkey. In today's generation, sports is considered a meaningful thing. It has improved a lot. So, I never tire of it.
You've seen a lot of the world in a very short time. Did you ever imagine such a life awaited you, one which would give you such an early understanding of things?
No, I had never imagined it like this. When I was very young, I'd be actually mortified to talk to people. I was really a scared kid, couldn't bring myself to talk to strangers. Then, as I grew, the desire to know people also grew, getting to know them and understand them. It has developed gradually and I have opened up. Yes, as a kid I had this dream of taking a flight, sitting in an aircraft. I used to watch the skies as a little child. After taking up archery, coming into the Indian team, these dreams began to get fulfiled. I was meeting new, different people from other countries. It was like a dream, and I had never imagined it'd all happen so quickly. But whatever is happening, it's only good, I guess.
Tell us about your first flight.
It was a really strange feeling. Couldn't believe I was actually sitting in an aircraft. We were going to Turkey and we had to change three flights. On the first one from Kolkata to Delhi I felt, aagey nahin baith paaoingi. Bahut ajeeb sa tha. Ekdum upar, neeche sab. I told my coach, "Nahin jaane mujhe, mujhe vaapas bhejh do Kolkata. " (Laughs).
So who do you talk to about your problems, your fears? Do you call home each day, or is there someone you confide to?
(Mildly surprised) Kissi sey bhi nahin. Actually, I don't usually share my feelings with my parents. Right from my childhood, I have been a very private person.
Your India team colleague Jayanta Talukdar broke down the basics of archery very lucidly. He said, it's a combination of Power, the Technical and the Mental. At your age, how do you manage to tackle the mental aspect, especially when you say you choose not share by talking about your doubts, fear or pressure?
I think you have to divide talk into personal and professional. The personal, I keep aside. For professional matters, the coaches are there. As far as that mental aspect is concerned, it belongs to the ground only. That share and discuss with madam (Purnima Mahato, national women's coach and mentor) and didi-log. On the personal level, we have been taught meditation and calming procedures and that covers a lot and is very helpful. Those things teach us a lot.
As for pressure, I just ignore it. I never take it. I have been told by my coaches that I'm too young to bother about it. They say, I have a lot many years to do this, taking pressure is only self-defeating. If you succumb to it, you end up shooting a one when you have been shooting tens all day. So I simply banish it.
How was the reaction when you brought home your first pay cheque?
That was from the junior Nationals when I represented Jharkhand from the academy. It felt good as it was my pehli kamai from archery. I had not told them at home, somehow kept it a secret that I was into archery and competing. I cashed it and gave it to my parents, and they were very alarmed: "Arrey, itna paisa! Itna sara paisa kahan sey aaya tumhare paas!?"
How much was it?
Twenty thousand. They were very surprised, "Itna paisa?! " I said, "Nahin, woh medal jeeti thi, us se hai. " Only then were they were relieved. (Laughs).
How did your interest in this sport start? Is it true that you had very good aim as a kid and you could knock down mangoes with stones?
Arrey nahin! Bilkul nahin! (laughs uncontrollably). Mangoes, I love. Between our house in Ratu Chhati colony and my school (APEG Residental School), there were many mango orchards. I'd pick the tiny ones that had fallen on the orchard floor and eat them at school. Everyone thought I'd had plucked them. Kabhi pahunchte hi nahi they mere pathar aam ke paas. Everyone thought, 'Deepika ko bahut pasand hain, tod ke lai hai. ' Aisa kuch nahin tha.
In 2006, my cousin Deepti came home during summer and told me she was doing something called archery and showed me a few things. It began there. It wasn't so much to do with Ranchi's surroundings. My parents were strict, so there wasn't much going out. It was only tuitions and school. Even the TV had only Doordarshan, some serials and news and so there was almost no awareness for sports at home. But by the next year, I was in the academy - Saraikela first - and then in 2008, in the Tata Archery Academy. From then on, it's just been the national camps. Kahan samay beet gaya, pata hi nahin chala.
What does being world champion mean to you?
If you ask a sportsperson, he or she may not be able to fully describe it. When you stand for the medal and one who is first, their country's flag is hoisted and that country's national (sic) is played. That feeling is really a very nice one. When I was champion for the first time, it was in the US. There were actually tears in my eyes. It was such a proud feeling to think, 'Yes, I've actually done something for my country. ' That was a great feeling.
Do you remind yourself each day of the fact that you're world champion?
No, it doesn't occur to me. I don't think that I am world champion. It's more like, 'I was world champion'. That time is past. Now, I have to be (again). Woh toh khatam ho gaya. Ab usko soch ke koi fayada nahin hai. Woh 'thi' mein reh gaya, ab mujhe hona hai. I have to think in that direction now.
So, what are you thinking about London?
It's every sportsperson's dream to be a champion in the Olympics. We have done well so far, my performance has been good. I have to do better. It's a one chance thing. People spend 10 years to get there, I've got one at such a young age, so early in my career - in just five years - so I don't want to let this chance go. Want to get a medal, khaali haath vaapas na aaoon.
What is the meaning of pressure?
See, pressure is something that divides us into two things. I don't want to go there. I don't want to ever be confused. I want to just follow the one path, the training that I have been given. I don't want to think about the result. If it's wrong, then "Chalo, it was my bad luck". Then I'll try some other path. Even if that's wrong, I'll adjust to another. But to already think of all this from the start only harms us. I don't want to know what pressure is, or what it means. That's why I don't even want to ask or think about it.
You say, you don't know pressure but do you realize that an entire country is waiting expectantly for your medal?
Believe me, but I am not aware of whether an entire country is waiting, watching. I haven't seen any of my interviews. When people tell me they've seen my interviews here and there, on Mahua (TV channel), then I'm at a loss. I have no idea when they are aired. Even the commercial that Tata's shot with me, I saw it only after a year, that too on the net.
If you were to buy one thing what would it be?
Papa has bought a car now. Don't ask me which one, I have no interest in them. If I had to buy something, it'd have to be a house. Ever since I was a kid it was my dream to build my family a small house, one in which they can live achche se, jahan bahut jyaada idhar udhar na ho.
Does your father still drive for a living?
Hmm... yes, he does. And I don't like it. Which daughter would like her father to drive to make ends meet, especially where there is so much road rage and accidents are common? You know, I tried to tell him not to but he told me, "This is my job, be it big or small". I was very impressed by what he said. I learnt a lot from that.
If you weren't an archer, what would you be planning to be?
I don't know about plans, because at the moment all my plans are for London. (Laughs), But yes, I'd be studying to be a doctor, perhaps. Mama is a nurse and she wanted me to become a doctor.
You have said your parents were strict. When did you last get a scolding?
Not were, they still are. . . . Oh, I used to get a scolding everyday. Everyday, I would get a beating when I was a kid. More than my parents, I'd get a beating from my teachers in school or at tuition.
You grew up to be a naughty kid?
Very naughty. After the initial shyness wore off, I became just like any other Indian kid growing up. I developed this great habit of lying to get out of things. Whenever I was caught, I'd get a beating, but then I'd be back at it again.
Then one day, I spoke the truth, I got a beating for that too. . . (laughs) We'd have our tuitions at 4 in the morning. Before I left for it, I used to complete all the chores at home. Right from when I was around 10 or 11, I'd do daily household chores. Being the eldest daughter in the family, the tasks came to me - sweeping the floor, filling up water, making rotis etc. That day, I couldn't sleep, awoke around 2, and began doing the chores to kill time. Knowing I had time I did it at a leisurely pace, and that very day I ended up late at the tuitions. I explained the reason that I got caught in the household chores - which was the truth - but my tuition sir would have nothing of it: "Ghar ka kaam kar rahi theen, ya so rahi theen?! Jhoonth mat bolo!" The more I explained, the more he was convinced I was lying. And I got a beating again. That day I decided never to speak the truth.
So, you've been lying all along in this interview?
Hey no! I don't lie now. It was then as a kid (Laughs).
Household chores are an integral a part of every lower-income household in India. Someone abroad, or even kids in Indian cities today wouldn't understand it. . .
Even now when I go home from the camps, I lend my mother a hand. But I don't miss those chores as such, because I really hated doing them as a kid. I remember complaining to my mother: "Haan, haan, mere se hi sirf karao kaam. Badi ladki hoon na. . . " Actually, Mama would leave early for work and I'd crib to my dad all morning.
You said you began making rotis as a little girl. When was the last time you made one?
Hmmm. . . maybe in 2007, after leaving home to join the academy.
Do you still have the skill? What shapes do they take now?
(Laughs) Nahin, gol hi banti hain, India ka naksha nahin. . .
Have you thought of taking your parents on a holiday abroad? After all, you've seen the world. . .
I will someday, but first, I still have to do a lot in life. This is just the beginning. . .
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