It is a form of worship for him

The winners at the National Laser Coastal Sailing Championship in Chennai: (left to right): Sandeep Gajula, Dharmender Singh, Rajesh Chowdhary, Sarav Rajavelu and Swetha Sadanand.-K.V. SRINIVASAN The winners at the National Laser Coastal Sailing Championship in Chennai: (left to right): Sandeep Gajula, Dharmender Singh, Rajesh Chowdhary, Sarav Rajavelu and Swetha Sadanand.

The son of a farmer in Barauni, about 200km from Patna in Bihar, Rajesh Chowdhary grew up assisting his father in cultivating crops. He subsequently joined the Army Yachting Node (AYN), and was soon into rowing and kayaking. A shift to sailing was, in several senses, a natural progression, writes S. Dinakar.

Rajesh Chowdhary loves his conversations with the water. He also listens to the sound of the wind. And he dances to the rhythm of the sea.

He enjoys his sailing, even on days of mighty gusts and swells. As the sea changes shades, from green to blue to one of silvery or golden hue — the water's tango with the sun throws up exotic colours — so do the nuances of Chowdhary's sailing.

On days of light wind and swells, quite the toughest scenario for a sailor, Chowdhary's patience and navigational skills enable him to slice through water. When the waves are low, he often rides a crest.

It was not quite the perfect 10 for Chowdhary in the Government of Tamil Nadu National Laser Coastal Championships. Even so, winning 10 out of 11 Laser Standard races is a remarkable feat in a sport dictated by conditions. Chowdhary was pro-active and mostly guessed right.

In scorching Chennai heat, he sizzled, winning by an astonishing 20 to 30 boat lengths. His compatriots call him `jadugar.'

In the waters of the Bay of Bengal, Chowdhary was focussed and alert, even after he had clinched the National title. Now, he is eyeing a place and a medal in the Beijing Olympics.

Yes, he is chasing a big dream. But then, Chowdhary is not without accomplishments. He nailed the bronze at the Laser Radial category in the Doha Asian Games, missing silver by the proverbial whisker. He has won two Asian Games bronze medals, one Asian Championship gold, two Asia Pacific gold, and a gold in Portugal's Diera Europa Cup.

He awaits an Arjuna Award. The soft-spoken Chowdhary holds no grudges, but admits to being disappointed at being overlooked so far.

The son of a farmer in Barauni, about 200km from Patna in Bihar, Chowdhary grew up assisting his father in cultivating crops. He was also fascinated by sportsmen. "I always thought there was something different about them."

He subsequently joined the Army Yachting Node (AYN), and was soon into rowing and kayaking. A shift to sailing was, in several senses, a natural progression.

However, Chowdhary, mostly, sailed in lakes. Interestingly, it was in Chennai, 1997, that he saw the sea for the first time. He now rides the waves, harnesses the wind.

Chowdhary's AYN team-mates also sparkled in the Nationals. D.P. Selvam — he even beat Chowdhary in a race when the champion was caught in a turbulent wind — took the second place overall. He was followed by V. Harihara, who braved a boil on his left shoulder. Selvam and Harihara were consistent, if not incisive.

In the Laser Radial class, the emerging AYN sailor, Dharmendra Singh, topped.

The varying conditions — the wind speed varied from three to 16 knots and the swells from 1.5 to seven feet — tested the sailors. And the heat did not make things easier.

The event was organised exceptionally by the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association (TNSA). The host association's young sailors also promised much. In the Laser 4.7 class for under-18 sailors, TNSA's Sarav Rajavelu and Swetha Sadanand topped. Both are coached by TNSA's Munna Jamal.

The talented Swetha sailed aggressively on the last day, clinching three races to edge out Mrinalini Santhanam. Mrinalini lost the gold in the final stretch but can take much heart from her performance. Sandeep Gajala won the emerging sailor award.

Chowdhary had the last word. Even as he cleaned his boat meticulously after his triumph, he said: "Sailing, it is a form of worship for me."