Pen to oar, for father’s sake

Indian rower Bhagwan Singh, who reached the lightweight double sculls finals at the Asian Games, reveals how he chose the oar over pen to support his alcoholic father.

Out of the 34 rowers at the Asian Games, 33 are from the Indian Army.   -  REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE/GETTY

 

Heart-wrenching stories often become a part of sporting folklore and Indian Army rower Bhagwan Singh’s journey from Moga to Palembang is as fascinating as it could be.

In 2012, a 19-year-old Bhagwan was pursuing BA in journalism (second year) in Chandigarh.

Who knows he might have been covering the 2018 Asian Games but fate and the need for financial assistance to support an alcoholic father, forced him to put the pen down and pick up the oar with the backing of Indian Army.

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His life changed completely.

After reaching the lightweight double sculls finals at the Asian Games, Bhagwan narrated his story.

“My father is still very sick. His one lung is not functioning anymore. I was happy doing journalism but my father had to stop driving trucks after being diagnosed with tuberculosis,” Bhagwan, who has qualified for the lightweight double sculls final alongside Rohit Kumar, said.

“He became an alcoholic during his days on the road. I am just glad that he is around. He is in bad shape at the moment,” he added.

While the door on journalism was shut, the tall and lean Bhagwan was spotted as a potential rowing talent after he joined the Indian Army in 2012 and in no time he was at the hub of the water sport, the Army Rowing Node in Pune.

The army factor

It has been his home since then though his paper posting is at 114 Armoured Engineers regiment.

“With the issues we had back home, rowing gave me an outlet. It felt like home away from home,” he said.

Out of the 34 rowers at the Asian Games, 33 are from the Indian Army.

“There cannot be rowing in India without Indian Army. Even the one who is not a soldier is a young cadet. He will be in the army soon. We are very well taken care of in Pune,” the initial sadness in his voice was replaced by hope and happiness.

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Earlier, the Indian team used to train in Hyderabad but now the base has been shifted to Pune.

Bhagwan has a real shot at a medal on Friday and if that happens, it will mark a complete turnaround in the life of the 25-year-old, who was initially clueless after his father fell sick years ago. He has got three siblings including a brother, who is also a soldier.

Money and hardship

Bhagwan, who has also been a steeplechase runner, can only thank god for his remarkable journey so far.

“I have seen the worst of times. I can only thank God for being here today, representing India. Thanks to the army, I can also take care of my ageing parents. The money is not enough, considering I have my own diet expenses but when I think of the times I have gone through, this should be a cakewalk,” one could sense an army man’s resolve.

Bhagwan also went to Rio Olympics as a standby for Dattu Baban Bhokanal, who was the sole Indian rower to qualify for the Summer Games.