Ni­co­bar’s bi­cy­cle diaries

Mint Asia ST - - Leisure -

paint a pic­ture of a smoothly-run­ning feeder pro­gramme, it may not re­flect the com­plete truth.

On the ground, there seem to be a litany of is­sues. Gen­er­a­tions, lit­er­ally, of An­damans cy­clists have warmed the seats of the same bi­cy­cles. Sources in Port Blair said that re­peated re­quests have been made to the state sports ad­min­is­tra­tion to up­grade the equip­ment, but these have fallen on deaf ears. Salty sea breeze cor­rodes the bi­cy­cles eas­ily. Spare parts are very hard to come by. Bi­cy­cle com­pa­nies are wary of the lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges of ship­ping to the is­lands. Main­tain­ing the out­door velo­drome in rainy Port Blair is also a prob­lem.

When asked about how he man­ages to keep the bi­cy­cles in work­ing con­di­tion, Ku­mar says, “I ask the chil­dren to bring back spare parts from the other cy­clists when they go to the main­land for com­pe­ti­tions.” And how do they keep the track in shape? “Well, we man­age re­pairs to weather-re­lated dam­age lo­cally. But there are some things for which we need ex­ter­nal help. One of the an­gles in the velo­drome bank­ing has be­come de­fec­tive, and that is dan­ger­ous for cy­clists. To fix that, we will need the ad­vice of tech­ni­cal ex­perts.”

Port Blair’s SAI Cen­tre wound-up its cy­cling pro­gramme about six years ago. No one is re­ally sure why. Cur­rently, it only runs a wa­ter sports pro­gramme. Since 2013, train­ing at the SAI velo­drome is con­ducted by Sen­gupta un­der the aegis of the SSC. He is as­sisted by B. Neeta, a former An­damans cy­clist who rep­re­sented In­dia at the Asian Cham­pi­onship in 2005.

The run­ning of SAI’S Port Blair Cen­tre, once the in­sti­tu­tional home of the is­lands’ cy­cling pro­gramme, is shrouded in mys­tery. As a SAG cen­tre, it re­ports to the re­gional com­mand in Kolkata. In May, a fe­male trainee is said to have filed an FIR al­leg­ing mo­lesta­tion by the cen­tre in-charge. The Phoenix Post, a news out­let based in Port Blair, re­ported on 21 May that a “group of 15-20 girl trainees had gone to the Aberdeen po­lice sta­tion protest­ing against in­stal­la­tion of CCTV cam­eras in the cor­ri­dors of the hos­tel where they are ac­com­mo­dated, be­sides some other acts of mis­be­haviour by the Cen­tre in-charge”. A coach, quoted in The Phoenix Post re­port on con­di­tion of anonymity, sug­gested “dis­grun­tled el­e­ments” are “con­spir­ing with the mi­nor girls to set­tle their per­sonal score with the Cen­tre in-charge”.

Sadly, the SSC’S cy­cling pro­gramme has also taken a hit. Out­sta­tion cy­clists, such as those from Car Ni­co­bar, had been ac­com­mo­dated in the same hos­tel as the SAI trainees. Sources Lounge spoke to con­firmed, with­out want­ing to be named, that many par­ents, con­cerned by the sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions, have with- drawn their chil­dren from SAI pro­grammes. The SSC’S cy­cling pro­gramme has lost all its res­i­den­tial trainees af­ter the al­le­ga­tions sur­faced a few months ago. SAI of­fi­cials, in Port Blair and Delhi, de­clined com­ment, though it has been learnt that an in­sti­tu­tional in­quiry into the cen­tre in-charge’s con­duct is un­der­way.

In In­dia, the in­sti­tu­tion giveth and the in­sti­tu­tion taketh away. In­dian sport is lit­tered with sto­ries of ne­glect and ap­a­thy that more or less fol­low the same nar­ra­tive—a pre­co­cious tal­ent, a shot at glory, a vic­tim of sys­temic rot or a mis­man­aged in­jury and even­tu­ally, the slow fade into ob­scu­rity, oc­ca­sion­ally tem­pered by a fea­ture ar­ti­cle re­call­ing days of dazzling youth and prom­ise. But, what is sport but a bad ro­mance? Speed, com­pe­ti­tion, the after­glow of vic­tory—once sam­pled, these quickly turn into ad­dic­tions, ends in them­selves.

It is these ends that may fi­nally jus­tify the long jour­ney from a Car Ni­co­bar ham­let to Delhi. And it is these ad­dic­tions that are on dis­play at a Sun­day morn­ing train­ing ses­sion in the cav­ernous velo­drome, which is echo­ing with the steadily ris­ing sound from the en­gine of Sharma’s Honda mo­tor­bike. Al­ban is rid­ing in the draft, pedalling hard to keep up. When he ap­proaches the pur­suit line on the fi­nal stretch, the low rum­ble of wheels on wood is heard above the Honda’s en­gine. Ce­lestina and Apol­lo­nius stand in the arena’s land­ing area. Far away from their is­land home, in the mighty cap­i­tal of the great repub­lic that has given them an op­por­tu­nity, they watch their kins­man ride around this wooden circle of hope.

COURTESY JOY KU­MAR ROY

Na­tional games: The An­daman and Ni­co­bar cy­cling con­tin­gent at 2007 Na­tional Games in As­sam.

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