Dipa Karmakar's life after Rio

The quiet Karmakar house has transformed into a landmark in Abhoynagar area of Agartala, and the family now enjoys special status. Dipa, now a celebrity in the state, gets police security whenever she moves around the city.

Gymnast Dipa Karmakar and her coach Bishweshwar Nandi arrive in Agartala to a rousing welcome.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

Scores of umbrellas providing shade to thousands of schoolchildren and their parents under the blazing sun looked like a colourful canopy in the open stands of Agartala’s Vivekananda Maidan. The ground reverberated with patriotic songs, as gymnast Dipa Karmakar was being welcomed on her return home from the Rio Olympics, where she narrowly missed the bronze medal.

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The festivity was complete when a heavily garlanded Dipa and her coach Bishweshwar Nandi entered the premises in an open jeep; they went around the ground waving to the ecstatic crowd and thanking them for their love and support.

Dipa’s father Dulal Karmakar was also in the jeep, soaking in the atmosphere and silently watching the crowd enjoying the songs specially composed in honour of Dipa. He also saw how political leaders, including the Tripura Chief Minister, Manik Sarkar, and the Sports Minister, Sahid Chowdury, held Dipa in high esteem.

Life has changed for Dulal Karmakar and his wife Gouri after Dipa became the first Indian woman to qualify for the Olympics and made history by reaching the vault final and finishing fourth in Rio.

The quiet Karmakar house has transformed into a landmark in Abhoynagar area of Agartala, and the family now enjoys special status. Dipa, now a celebrity in the state, gets police security whenever she moves around the city.

“It feels good. All over the country everyone now knows about our family,” says Dipa’s mother Gouri with a sense of pride.

The Karmakars have been invited by a cultural organisation in Bangladesh, as it wants to honour Dipa for making the Bengali brethren proud. The family also wants to go on a vacation but life now revolves around Dipa. “All these trips depend on Dipa’s availability and convenience,” says Dulal.

Dipa’s performance in Rio has not only changed the profile of her family, but has also completely transformed the country's outlook towards gymnastics. It has also sparked the revival of gymnastics in Agartala, which was known as the cradle of the sport not very long ago. Under the able guidance of Dalip Singh from Haryana, the state produced several top-class gymnasts, including Bharat Kishore Deb Barma, R. R. Roy, Mantu Debnath, Balaram Shil, Bijan Saha, Bishweshwar Nandi, Rathindra Ray and Kalpana Debnath, between mid-1980s and mid-1990s.

Dipa, 23, has inspired a generation, including the youngsters who have seen her train from close quarters at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Centre in Tripura.

“Dipa didi’s performance in the Olympics has motivated me to work harder and be like her,” says Asmita Pal, the daughter of a daily-wage labourer. The 15-year-old gymnast was picked by Bishweshwar Nandi to train with Dipa in the three-month pre-Olympics camp in Delhi.

Dipangshu Sinha, a Standard VIII student and a National School Games gold medal winner who performed at the gymnastics show organised during Dipa’s welcome ceremony, is determined to make it big. “I participated in the demonstration session. If I become better, I can be like her,” he says.

Dr. Salama Sushila Devi, who moved from Manipur to Agartala at a young age, is of the view that Dipa’s story would help bring back the golden age of gymnastics in the state.

“This is a golden opportunity. It should inspire parents and young kids to take up gymnastics. The parents should take responsibility and encourage their children to pursue the sport,” says the widow of Dalip Singh.

Dipa’s first coach and Bishweshwar’s wife Soma Nandi is extremely delighted for her most famous student. “I feel proud that people recognise me because of Dipa and Nandi sir,” says Soma, who taught Dipa the early lessons in gymnastics at the tiny and ill-equipped Vivekananda Byayamgar before she moved to the Netaji Subhash Regional Coaching Centre (NSRCC) under Bishweshwar.

“Dipa is determined to do well in the 2018 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games and the 2020 Tokyo Games. I hope her determination takes her forward,” Soma adds.

Spurred by Dipa’s performance, the Tripura Government is keen on helping elevate the status of the sport. Apart from promoting Dipa and Bishweshwar as assistant director and deputy director respectively in the state’s sports department, the Chief Minister has asked the authorities concerned to complete the reconstruction work of the NSRCC. He has also asked them to put up a foam pit to help Dipa train in Agartala.