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DEEPIKA KUMARI

'I know my roots and am not embarrassed that my father drives an auto rickshaw'

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Teenaged archer Deepika Kumari, flanked by parents Geeta Mahato (left) and Shiv Narayan Mahato, has risen above the odds.

Rural India is to the fore once again. Whatever else India may or may not have proved to the world at the Commonwealth Games, it showed us that some of the smallest villages and remotest corners have come of age and with an attitude to boot.

A few years ago when Deepika Kumari, then a Class VI student, was visiting her grandmother in Lohardaga in Jharkhand, she accompanied her cousin to a local archery competition. Little did she know then that the visit to the village competition would shape her future.

Deepika, now 17, went on to take up archery as her sport and won two gold medals at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games in Delhi. "A cousin of mine took me to the archery competition and I was tempted to pick up the bow and arrow," remembers Deepika. It was her parents’ unwavering support - father Shiv Narayan Mahato drives an auto rickshaw while mother Geeta Mahato is a nurse with a government hospital - that helped her stick to her dream.

Once she had decided that archery was what she wanted to do, Deepika went about finding information on the Arjuna Archery Academy at Kharsawan and finally decided to apply for admission. She was not even shy to speak to the then Chief Minister’s wife, Meera Munda, who owned the academy.

"If I am unable to lift the bow, I would go back but allow me to demonstrate once," she is said to have told her. Munda was doubtful if the thin girl before her would even be able to lift the bow and hold it steady to aim at the bull’s eye, but Deepika’s talents proved her fears misplaced. "I am surprised by your confidence and will allow you to undergo training here," Munda told her.

Having attended school up to class VI in a private village school in Ratuchatti, 12 km from Ranchi, Deepika wanted to continue with her training and studies together.

"We often took her to the academy on a motorbike and tried to fulfill our dreams in supporting what she desired," says Deepika’s mother. "Whatever pain we took in getting her to the academy and paying the fees was for Deepika’s happiness. We didn’t hanker after medals, money or publicity," she says.

With Rs 20 lakh in her kitty now - given by Jharkhand chief minister Arjun Munda and the Tata Archery Academy, as felicitation money -Deepika remembers the days when she was not able to pay her fees to the academy on time. "I am extremely happy to get the cash award as I can now buy a proper house in Ranchi," she says excitedly. "I know my roots and am not embarrassed that my father drives an auto rickshaw, but as any other responsible son or daughter, I would like him to rest when I can earn," she says.

Though Deepika is not sure if she would want her siblings to make a career in sports because of the hardships involved, she says her lot became easier once she started performing well. "Once I joined the Tata Archery Academy, all my needs were taken care of by the Academy," she said. Her father Shiv Narayan agrees. "She opened the doors for her future by her splendid performance," he says.

Deepika’s coach at the Tata Archery Academy, Purnima Mahato, has great expectations of her star pupil. She, along with chief coach Dharmendra Tiwary, believe Deepika is a potential Olympic medallist. "She is quite young and uses a bow of 38 poundage and as she grows up and graduates to higher poundage bows we expect even more precision in her aims," says Purnima Mahato.

As for Deepika, her next target is completing her graduation along with pursuing her sports career.

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