E xactly three months ago it was Rima Das from a backward village near Chhaygaon in Kamrup district in Assam who had brought unexpected laurels when her Assamese feature film “Village Rockstars” was not only chosen for the Swarna Kamal after being adjudged the best film of the country for 2017, but had also bagged three more national awards. On Thursday it was Hima Das, from yet another remote and backward village near Dhing in Nagaon district of Assam, who created history by becoming the first athlete – irrespective of being male or female – who bagged India’s first ever gold in a world track event. Hima emerged from behind, and finished her 400-metre sprint in 51.13 seconds, to create history not just for herself and for her home state, but for the entire country, a feat which has pushed the likes of Milkha Singh, the legendary Flying Sikh, and PT Usha, better known as Payyoli Express, into past history. Both Singh and Usha were indeed huge stars during their heydays, but then while their records were only restricted to the Asian Games and/or Commonwealth Games, our Hima Das did it big in an World event.
Hima’s success brings about a lot of questions. How did she do it, having grown up amid paddy fields and water-bodies in Kandhulimari, her native village, which even today does not have a field that can be used for any kind of basic sports and games? And then, growing up in a joint family of marginal farmers which has 17 members, Hima, eldest of four siblings and pursuing sports for a girl is definitely not a very easy proposition. A fairly studious girl, Hima has also indulged in student politics, having served as general secretary of the Dhing Public High School Students’ Union and also sports secretary of the Dhing Anchalik Committee of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU). It has now come to light that she would also often help her father and uncles in the fields, often carrying sacks of vegetables to the local market on her bicycle. Hima’s story reminds one of the hardship and extreme poverty Tayebunnissa – Assam’s finest woman athlete of the yesteryears – had to endure after she lost her father at a young age. Tayebunnissa had ploughed the field, transplanted paddy saplings, reaped the harvest and carried it home, had only one meal a day to ensure that her younger siblings did not remain in hunger, worked as a private tutor, and after all that, underwent rigorous practice to finally make it to the 9th Asian Games in 1982!
The video available about Hima’s feat meanwhile has stirred a million souls. The way she came from behind after being placed on Track No 4, and the way she took the lead in the last few metres, leaving her nearest competitor far behind, the way she came out waving to the gallery, and the way she held the national flag and the gamosa – the latter a symbol of Assamese pride and identity – and finally the way she stood on the victory stand singing the national anthem as tears rolled down her cheeks – will remain the hearts and minds of people all over the country for years to come. She had a neat plan. She studied in detail each of her competitors during the heats. And she executed it like a true professional. And then, look at the deep love and respect she has for her country, for her community, the soil that had nurtured her. She clearly told television reporters in her own style that the gamosa was symbol of “my culture.” And look the way she encouraged the also-rans after the event was over. And then the Facebook post in which she said with her typical smile, that now she wants the blessings of all the people of India to make it big in the ensuing Asian Games and the next Olympics!
The Prime Minister was moved by watching her win. “Unforgettable moments from @HimaDas’s victory. Seeing her passionately search for the Tricolour immediately after winning and getting emotional while singing the National Anthem touched me deeply. I was extremely moved. Which Indian won’t have tears of joy seeing this!” – Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet. After all, her historic triumph has made this young Assamese lady a symbol of national pride. Her tears have moved millions across the country and beyond, all this becoming evident in thousands of posts on social media. Who has not congratulated her – from PT Usha to Amitabh Bachchan to Sachin Tendulkar to Virat Kohli. “India is proud of you. You have given us reason to hold up our heads HIGH!” twitted Amitabh Bachchan, whole PT Usha said, “Cannot get over the stunning performance.” The best has however so far come from Gautam Gambhir – “Normally it is the citizens who are proud of the national anthem. In this instance, I think, national anthem must have felt proud to be part of the #Hima Das moment. And all this while some are still debating whether to stand for it or not!” Keep racing ahead, Hima. What shall we call you in endearment? Assam’s golden girl, our flying angel, our own Dhing Express, our Bordoichila. The entire nation’s blessings are with you.