Lights, camera… And then missing in action. The story of Budhia Singh, who ran a record-breaking 65 km from Puri to Bhubaneswar in 2006 at the age of four and found a place in the Limca Book of Records, is nothing short of a hair-rising drama.
The overnight star, touted as next Milkha Singh, suddenly vanished from the magazine covers, athletic events and the streets of Odisha after 2007, almost as suddenly as he had appeared. In the next eight years, the state witnessed the rise and fall of several athletes, including current national champion in women’s 100 metres Dutee Chand, but little was heard about Budhia.
So where is the Marathon Boy now?
Once known as a ‘marathon prodigy’, Budhia, now 13, is just like any other 150-odd children at the Kalinga stadium hostel in Bhubaneswar. He still gets up at 6am, but doesn’t run for kilometres anymore. Hours of rigorous session has reduced to 1-2 hours of conditional training per day.
Born to a poor family, Budhia was sold off by his mother for Rs 800 to a vendor. It was Das, a judo trainer, who rescued the boy and took him to his coaching centre. There, Das noticed Budhia’s ability to run for long periods. After the “historic run”, Budhia participated in as many as 48 marathons.
But soon, Das’ tough training sessions for the four-year-old child came under the media scanner, and within a few months the child welfare department temporarily barred Budhia from running in marathons and sent him to the sports hostel.
But the boy still aspires for an Olympics medal — something he and his mentor-cum-coach Biranchi Das, who was murdered in 2008, had once dreamt together.
“Olympics? Well, he cannot even win his school race these days,” Sambit Mohapatra, a veteran sports journalist, told HT from Bhubaneswar.
Confined to a routine life – school, homework and training – at the hostel after being separated from Das in 2007 over allegations of exploitation against the latter, Budhia can’t even recollect how the feat had unfolded around decade back.
“All I can remember is I had started running at 6am from Puri and reached the capital at 2pm. Rest I can’t recall,” Budhia told HT from DAV Public School, Chandrasekharpur in the state capital, where he has been studying since kindergarten under the state government’s sponsorship.
Even his hostel coach, Rupanwita Panda, believes there is nothing special about him and it is too early to think about even the national games.
In India, the average age of a child to participate in a sub-junior competition is around 13, which is Budhia’s current age, but he is yet to participate in any state or national level competition.
In fact, inspired by Budhia, 14-year-old Rajeswari Das had created world record by running 60 km at the age of six and won gold medal in state-level and silver medal in national level 100-metre races.
But why Budhia has failed to live up to the expectations so far?
“I was trained for marathon by my coach. But at the hostel, I am being trained for 100-200 metres race,” said Budhia, adding that he still misses Das.
Mohapatra, who has covered the story of the young athlete since his first milestone, believes the problem is much deeper than what meets the eyes.
“Budhia used to run for kilometres. But his coach never tested his ability with other sprinters before he was shoved into the sports hostel… His future doesn’t look promising,” he said.
The story of rags to riches and then back to square one has prompted Odisha-based film-maker Soumendra Padhi to make a biopic Duronto on the young runner. The movie, starring Manoj Bajpayee as Das and child artiste Mayur as Budhia, is expected to release later this year.
“It’s in post-production right now… People should know the story of this amazing boy and there can’t a better way than to show him on the silver screen. Not only the government, but our society is also responsible for not recognising such a rare talent,” said Padhi.