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Budhia Singh could have been an Olympic hero, but India didn't care

Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava
Jyotsna Mohan BhargavaAug 03, 2016 | 20:29

Budhia Singh could have been an Olympic hero, but India didn't care

He is a teenager who has been long forgotten, yet yearns to be remembered. At the age of four, when nothing makes a child happier than sprinting to a swing in the park, he ran seven hours from Bhubaneswar to the religious town of Puri. Today, those 65km are a hazy memory because Budhia Singh can barely finish a 400m lap.

His story is one of rags to relative riches which nosedived as suddenly back to a one of penury.

He was sold for just Rs 800 by his family and after that, it was not a happy existence.

Budhia was treated badly by the new family until a judo coach Biranchi Das bought him and took him under his wings.

It was here in Odisha that Biranchi discovered the powerhouse of talent the little boy was. One day, he asked Budhia to run as a punishment and then forgot about him for hours. The rest should have been history but sadly, is a story of broken dreams and promises waylaid.

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A four-year-old Budhia Singh runs during a marathon in Bhubaneswar on May 2, 2006. 

Budhia's fame as a runner soon spread far and wide, endorsements came and there was suddenly money, but what also followed were allegations of the coach exploiting the boy.

With Biranchi's murder four years later, no one will ever know if what he and Budhia shared was a guru-shishya relationship or he was simply a man who found his golden goose. In spite of that, by all accounts Biranchi was the only stability in Budhia's life.

What no one can deny though is that the boy was a prodigy who is now languishing in an obscure sports hostel, his amazing stamina and endurance stifled after the child welfare department and the state government banned him from running.

I don't deny that running 40-odd marathons at a tender age were unhealthy and harmful but where in the world is talent destroyed so callously like it was done in Budhia's case?

He was too young to run miles but why was that gift not nourished systematically, why did no one focus on his diet or other aspects of training?

China may be an extreme example but remember gymnast Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian who scored the first perfect ten at the Olympics at age of 15? For that matter, the youngest Olympic champion was just 13. In sports, you are never too young but your sell by date comes before you can blink.

Budhia may have been exploited but what we did to him afterwards was even worse. His talent was never in doubt, yet he has been forced to live in a sports hostel without a specialised coach. He may still be too young to run a marathon but you don't become a champion overnight.

So we played our usual brand of politics even over this little boy with everyone laying claim to his future yet no one being really interested in investing in it.

Why else would this child prodigy be made to run short sprints when this was never his forte? A Usain Bolt will never be able to beat a Mo Farah in 5,000m.

A few years ago, Budhia's family may have seen a faint light at the end of the tunnel and hoped that their son, small as he was, would bring some big changes in their lives.

But today, they continue to live in a slum and have probably long given up hope of Budhia taking them out of misery.

After all, you cannot dream on an empty stomach. Their only hope now is the money they will get from a movie on the child which will be released soon. It may be easy for this biopic to win some critical acclaim but it will be empty praise if it does nothing to transform the boy's life.

Remember that image of an innocent Budhia running doggedly on the streets? Today it seems like we, as a country, have failed him. There is nothing worse than indifference. Now we can only hope it's not too late.

A life of poverty is probably the biggest inspiration for anyone. Surviving in such squalor and abandoned by his family, it's not easy to dream, but Budhia had one.

He wanted to reach the Olympics and if he was born in the West, he just may have.

But here, people have mostly forgotten him and he no longer knows how to fight with his destiny.

Last updated: August 05, 2016 | 13:39
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