The Produnova girl returns to 'tumultous' welcome

The mike held by a reporter struck her head. Soon, she saw another journo bleeding from his hand after losing his balance in the melee. It was a 'tumble' of a new kind for the Produnova expert.

Dipa Karmakar gets a hero's welcome from children and trainees at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi on Saturday.   -  Sushil Kumar Verma

“I wish I could stay back in Rio. I didn’t feel like returning to India. I told my coach once we land (in Delhi), it is obvious that no one would receive us. We can quietly take a cab and go home (to the residential wing of Indira Gandhi Stadium). But I did not expect so many people to receive us.”

For Dipa Karmakar, who vaulted into the hearts of a billion Indians and gained the respect of her peers in Rio with a gallant fourth place, the experience on arrival here was truly “unbelievable”.

The mike held by a reporter struck her head. Soon, she saw another journo bleeding from his hand after losing his balance in the melee. It was a 'tumble' of a new kind for the Produnova expert. The mayhem triggered by the media left the composed Dipa and her coach Bisheshwar Nandi appalled as they hurriedly left the airport.

But the frenetic media was not yet done with Dipa and her mentor. The media landed at the stadium and virtually laid a siege outside the residential wing. Around noon, the jet-lagged duo of Dipa and Nandi emerged from their rooms to fulfil ‘media obligations’. But they had not expected the series of ‘exclusive’ one-on-one interviews stretching to two hours!

“I am very hungry. Can we please go now and have our meal,” an exasperated Dipa pleaded even as the demand for ‘selfies’ continued unabated. Dipa had had enough. She held her coach’s hand, stepped up the pace to 'flee’ to the adjacent building that houses the ground-floor mess for the trainees.

Once inside the mess, Dipa was her self – exchanging pleasantries with the campers.

It was time for a “ thali” and some well-earned rest ahead of the evening’s in-house function of the SAI.

But the Agartala-based girl, such a joy to an entire nation, carries a pain. Her eyes glint with pride at the mention of a career-best performance in Rio. She, however, lowers her eyes, wistfully saying, “Only if I had won a medal.”

The tinge of sadness is apparent. “I missed such a big podium by such a small margin.”

Dipa, the darling of the nation, has every reason to hold her head high. She finished as the best Asian performer in the event – a fact that seemed so improbable only a few months ago.

After finishing the two vaults, Dipa was placed second behind Switzerland’s Giulia Steingruber. But the two gymnasts who followed – Russia’s Maria Paseka and U.S.A’s favourite Simone Biles – expectedly came up with better efforts to capture the gold and silver.

“I knew Simone would win the gold. She is so GOOD. Only if Maria had faltered,” Dipa was candid.

Her grind continues. “I have my second semester exams of M. A. (Political Science) next week. I have not studied at all. During the camp here I was studying for about 40-50 minutes each day. But my coach told me not to carry text books to Rio. I don’t know what I am going to write. I will have to study all night.” The exams lie heavily on Dipa’s mind.

A request for a ‘selfie’ follows and Dipa quickly flashes her infectious smile. She is Dipa again. The pain of missing a podium-finish is just a blur.