We are sipping tea at Ganesh Kishan’s shack next to the district stadium in Churu. The afternoon sun has warmed up the cot nicely and like pigs on a stationary spit, the underside of our thighs are being roasted on the metal bar running along its side.
“The foreigners really struggled in the heat,” says Ganesh. He is referring to the International Olympic Committee officials who came down recently to inspect the freshly laid track at the stadium. The inspection was successful and Churu now proudly boasts an Olympic-standard track for athletics. While the track nears completion, groups of 15-20 teens have taken to the roadsides for jogging in preparation for the physical fitness test.
The Indian army conducts recruitment drives in Churu in alternate years and some real military heroes have emerged from the district. Kishan Singh Rathore was one of India’s first recipients of the Mahavir Chakra — for valour in the 1947 India-Pakistan war immediately after independence. Many have followed in his footsteps since, including Kirti Chakra winner Colonel Karni Singh Rathore and Lieutenant General Sagat Singh whose parachute brigade liberated Goa in 1961. A decade later, as Major General, Sagat Singh was commander of the HQ IV Corps that made the advance to Dhaka during the 1971 War.
The youth idealises the army and its heroes – they doesn’t really have many other options – which means that a culture of fitness and thus sport, runs deep in the city’s veins.
“People here are crazy about sports,” says Additional District Magistrate Ramratan Saunkariya. “All the big schools in the district have playgrounds with tracks, badminton courts.” The stadium complex is certainly well equipped if deserted. It is high noon. A tennis court, couple of basketball courts and a huge hall with badminton courts and TT tables indicate that Churu takes its sport seriously. It has reason to. The district has a rich legacy of sporting achievement.
Krishna Poonia – Padma Shri awardee and commonwealth gold medallist hails from Churu. Now, she’s a Congress MLA from Rajasthan. Devendra Jhajharia is an even more inspiring figure. When he was eight, Jhajharia lost his left hand after coming in touch with a live electric wire but fought his way through to the Paralympic Olympics where he won gold for javelin throw at the 2004 Athens Olympics and then again at the Rio di Janerio edition in 2016. His wife Manju is a former high-ranking kabaddi player.
“People here are very tough,” says Saunkariya. Everyday life in Churu is not easy to begin with – summer and winter months are both extremely cruel – it takes something special to indulge in regular strenuous physical activity. The office of Dr Mohit Sharma, Chief Medical Health Officer, Churu is located, bizarrely, in the neighbouring town of Ratangarh. Over the phone, he tells me that every year the temperature reaches at least 49 degrees – “Churu natives have developed a natural resistance to the elements.”
The same goes to some extent for most places in Rajasthan – tough weather produces hardy people. In last year’s Asian Games, the state contributed five medals to India’s 69 medal tally. Not bad for a state that is more than 60% sand.
After walking around the stadium complex, we trudge back to Ganesh Kishan’s shop for yet another cup of hot tea and hotter biscuits. The shack does not have electricity and a green net slung across three sides is its only protection against the heat. That, and the cool water Kishan stores in earthen pots behind the shack.
As we retake our seats on the cot to the side, two youngsters get off their bike to chat with Kishan and help themselves to the water behind. They’re just back from a workout at one of the army training academies. Plans for the evening are being discussed. Tennis is floated as an option. Army and sports, the two lifelines of Churu.
Updated Date: Jun 12, 2019 12:39:02 IST