From Panipat to the Podium: Arjun Singh Kadian's Neeraj Chopra biography documents the athlete's astronomical rise
Written by a policy professional from Haryana, the book seeks to understand Neeraj Chopra’s journey in the wider context of what Haryanvis have accomplished in sports.
What strikes you about Neeraj Chopra when you listen to his interviews? I am touched by his simplicity and lack of artifice, rare among people who have earned money and fame at such a young age.
The 24-year-old, who bagged a gold in javelin at the Tokyo Olympics on 7 August, 2021, has not forgotten his roots even at the top of his game. To get to know him better, read Arjun Singh Kadian’s book Neeraj Chopra: From Panipat to the Podium.
Kadian is an academic and policy professional from Haryana, Chopra’s home state. Being immersed in this milieu enables the author to offer relevant socio-economic and cultural insights that another biographer could have possibly missed out on. He has worked at the Chief Minister’s Office in the past, and also been involved with the Haryana Thinkers Forum. He previously wrote a book titled Land of the Gods: The Story of Haryana (2021).
The book seeks to understand Chopra’s journey in the wider context of what Haryanvis have accomplished in sports. He writes, “Haryana has given Ravi Kumar Dahiya, Bajrang Punia, Vijender Singh, Saina Nehwal, Yogeshwar Dutt, Sakshi Malik, Gagan Narang, Seema Punia, Vikas Yadav, Manjit Singh, Akhil Kumar, Phogat sisters, Sarita Mor, among others.” Kadian writes with great affection for Haryana, and his book aims to dispel stereotypes about Haryanvis.
How did javelin throw become a popular sport in Haryana? Why did Chopra gravitate towards it despite the lack of avenues and opportunities in Khandra, his village in Panipat district? What made senior sportsmen warm up to him and provide mentoring? How did Chopra’s joint family, his own resolve, and the Haryanvi diet, contribute to his success? What role did sporting academies, coaches, and YouTube play in training him for excellence?
You will find answers to all these questions in Kadian’s book. His research began with reading articles, listening to interviews, and tracking social media. After that, he met a number of people associated with Chopra – colleagues, friends, mentors, coaches, and family members. Living in Panipat, and having a strong network of local contacts, gave the author easy access to these people and multiple leads to pursue for his engagingly written biography.
One of these interviewees told Kadian, “Sir, iss poore process mein sabse zyada mazaa aapko aane waalaa hai” (you will be the one enjoying the most in this entire process). This enjoyment is palpable in his writing, especially when he describes the time that he spent with all of Chopra’s close associates. He also gives enough background information about the sport for readers who may not be familiar with its origin, history, current avatar, and rules.
Did you know that Chopra, who went on to be honoured with the Arjuna Award, the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award, and the Vishisht Seva Medal, grew up being bullied by his peers? As the first child in a large family, he was adored by everyone. The love was expressed by feeding him “doodh, dahi, malai, makhan, and ghee (dairy products).” He put on a lot of weight, and the children in the village began to call him Sarpanch ji “because of his rotund disposition.” Having experienced such bullying myself, I can imagine how he must have felt.
This book provides a detailed account of the hard work that Chopra had to put in since the age of 12. Apart from fitness and nutrition, he had to focus on building emotional strength. Since he lived in what was then a remote area, he had to travel long distances for training. As he grew older, he had to live away from his family in order to use facilities available in cities. Sometimes, he had to skip school examinations. Later, he enrolled for distance education.
Chopra’s persistence paid off. The Indian Army inducted him as a Junior Commissioned Officer on the post of Naib Subedar. This came with leave for his training. He got a chance to travel for games in Bangkok, Jakarta, Paris, Monaco, London, Doha, Zurich, Rabat, Eugene, Ostrava, and Lisbon. JSW Sports became his official sponsor. Beyond Panipat, Panchkula, Patiala, Bhubaneswar, and Vijayanagar in India, Chopra got opportunities to train in Germany, Finland, South Africa, Turkey, and Sweden. He also became a Subedar in the Indian Army.
Reading Kadian’s book will help you appreciate the robust ecosystem that sportspersons need in order to flourish.
In addition to a loving family and competent coaches, this includes a financial safety net, and a team to help take care of their physical and mental health.
Chopra, who has faced several injuries, and has undergone arthroscopic surgery on his elbow, understands this well. He is grateful for the love that he has received during the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games, and thereafter. His big win at the Tokyo Olympics was followed by this humble tweet: “To all of India and beyond, thank you so much for your support and blessings that have helped me reach this stage. This moment will live with me forever.”
Neeraj Chopra: From Panipat to the Podium is published by Rupa Publications.
Chintan Girish Modi is a freelance writer, journalist, and book reviewer.
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