There is still something traditional about the Baroda Basak Street, Baranagar, on the northern fringes of the city. The maze of overcrowded lanes and alleys leading to the three-storeyed house, overlooking the Baranagar Archery Club, is typical. Rickshaws and auto-rickshaws, cycles and cars honk
to just about find their way through countless pedestrians, and create a din that is part of the area's background score. An occasional bus entering the scene can be made out from far as the decibels reach alarming levels.
Sundown is announced by the sound of conches from almost every house in the neighbourhood, a traditional Bengali ritual to usher in anything that is auspicious. The waves hit the buildings and bounce off to create a symphony that can sometimes get even the staunchest of non-believers to touch their foreheads.
Archer Dola Banerjee is a believer. She stops in the passage and quietly says a prayer. She does the same during medal ceremonies after the national anthem is played. "For us, the national anthem is a prayer that we can hear after every competition," says Dola, when reminded of the similar gesture following the Commonwealth Games team gold.
Kalpana Banerjee has just finished her evening prayers when Dola and brother, Rahul, get home. Suddenly, the whole house is up and about. They have returned from Asian Indoor Archery in Singapore and are back from their regular abode, the SAI, Eastern Centre, to change bags and rekindle their taste buds on mother's recipes. There are strolley bags lined up in the hallway, "packed according to the climate of the place of their next visit".
They casually dump their bags and place the next two closest to the door while rattling off their plans for next week. The national archery trials, to pick the team for the first Asian GP in Bangkok, begin in New Delhi from February 10. "Is it still very cold in Delhi? Do we need to carry excess woollens or a windcheater will do," asks Rahul, the Delhi Commonwealth Games individual gold medallist.
Over the past two-and-half decades, this household has seen this hectic globetrotting ritual double itself. Initially, it was Dola, now Rahul has joined her. Between them, they have two Arjuna Awards, two World Cup gold medals, two junior World Championship gold medals, multiple Commonwealth Games medals, including two gold, which have taken up almost every wall in the living room. More are now finding place in a drum for want of space. They are currently the only sister-brother pair to have represented the country at the Olympics and are bracing up for Rio 2016.
"I am fed up of this," says mother Kalpana. "Staying away from home for days together and then coming back for a day and again vanishing. I am left to unpack and pack bags. I keep asking her ‘when will you get married and settle down,' and she smirks and leaves."
Both Dola and Rahul’s Arjuna Awards are on display in the living room where the Banerjees pose for a family snap, with father Ashok and mother Kalpana. (Prateek Choudhury/HT Photos)
Kalpana wanted Dola to be a playback singer like her cousins, Shaan and Sagarika. Her father, Jahar Mukhopadhyay, and his son, Manas, Kalpana's brother and Shaan's father, were composers and music directors. But the proximity of the archery club and her husband, Ashok's, involvement with the club changed all that. Archery became an addiction for Dola when she was only 10 and her exploits became an inspiration for Rahul. Like most Indian middle-class homemakers, Kalpana remained quietly resigned.
Dola has more of her father's traits, reserved, composed, self-assured. Only Ashok believed that his daughter could make a comeback in the national team after an injury lay-off of almost a year. Dola had a disc prolapsed in her lower back and it surfaced during the Commonwealth Games. She helped the women's team win their first Asian Games medal, in Guangzhou, shooting through the pain barrier. That in fact aggravated the injury and an operation seemed inevitable. Acupuncture helped her recover, but winning her place back in the team wasn't easy.
Rahul played his part. "There were times when she used to get frustrated and weep in bed. "Didi, give yourself a chance to fail. We haven't given up on you, so why would you?' he would tell her," says Ashok. "I immediately knew I underestimated my son," he adds. Actually, in the house and neighbourhood, nobody really noticed when Rahul graduated from the Tata Archery Academy in Jamshedpur to become a mainstay of the men's team.
Rahul is everything Dola isn't. He can strike a conversation with anyone. His circle of friends keeps growing and at times gets a few stern words from his sister for not concentrating. "He is invariably late. That irritates me the most," says Dola. "People take life too seriously," says Rahul. And like all siblings, they fight. However, there are three things they never differ on. A buggy ride around the Maidan greens is a cherished way of unwinding, Kishore Kumar songs still touch a chord and of course archery is the best addiction in the world.
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