Nicobar’s bicycle diaries
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.
National games: The Andaman and Nicobar cycling contingent at 2007 National Games in Assam.