Even though he went out of the medal reckoning in the Rio Olympics yesterday, after finishing fourth in the men's single sculls event, Indian rower Dattu Baban Bhokanal returns home a winner. India's only qualifier in the rowing category, Bhokanal has already made a remarkable journey from his drought-stricken village in the state of Maharashtra to Brazil.
A viral Facebook post by author Rupa Pai highlights the ironical twists in Bhokanal's life. His story is also that of many Indian sportspersons competing at the Olympics this year, who've made it to Brazil by sheer hard work and determination.
Bhokanal grew up amidst water scarcity in Talegaon Rohi, a drought-prone village near Nashik in Maharashtra. He dropped out of school after class 10, often helping his father in farming and digging wells to earn money. After losing his father to cancer, he decided to join the army to support his family and was selected in 2012. It was here that one of his seniors suggested that he take up rowing because of his 6 feet-4 inches height.
Yet, Bhokanal first had to overcome his fear of water. He didn't know how to swim and had only seen his first waterbody in 2012. "Water is very scarce in our village. We don't even have water to drink. Trust me, it's worth more than gold. How could we imagine that it could be used for sports as well?" BhokanaL told The Indian Express in an interview earlier this year.
With intense practice, he won two gold medals in the National Games in 2014 and a silver medal at the Asian Championships in 2015. Four years after he first began rowing, he has qualified for the Olympics. The struggles are far from over. He remains the sole breadwinner in his family. A report in The Hindu points out, even as he was participating in the Rio Olympics, the situation back home remained grim. His mother continues to be bedridden, after sustaining grievous injuries in an accident. She sustained brain injuries when Bhokanlal was competing at the Olympics qualifying regatta in April.
On Thursday, as the 25-year-old competed in the men's single sculls quarterfinals at the Olympics, he had not forgotten the stark reality at home. "I can bring hope to my village," he told the Miami Herald recently. "If only I could bring water."