Tira Samanta considers her heavy bunch of medals — national and international — junk. In her mind though, she is used to lugging around heavier baggage; that of deprivation, humiliation and the fact that in her heyday, there was little scope for a career through archery in Bengal.
The 38-year-old reluctantly takes out her clutch of medals from inside a rusty barrel meant for dung-cakes from under the staircase of her tiny two-room shanty in Baranagar, ironically, not far from where Indian archery’s ace brother-sister duo of Rahul and Dola Banerjee stay.
For Tira, a three-time national champion, the medals don’t mean a thing because recognition was conspicuous by its absence. “Not that I had expectations, but deprivation hurt more,” she says.
Tira, the mother of eight-year-old girl Turni (the name meaning ‘flight of an arrow’ in Bengali) has no source of income. She is solely dependent on her husband, a Group D employee at a government hospital here. She chokes up when asked what went wrong.
“When I was competing, I never thought archery would fetch me a job. Despite our humble background, I was never groomed to think like that. All I thought of was giving my best every time I took the field. I was the country’s best and the fact that I represented India and Bengal was everything for me. I thought if I did my part well, the rest would follow. It didn’t,” she says.
Tira retired from competitive archery in 2000, came back for a year in 2003 to win the last of her six state crowns. Alongside, she set up a business that would manufacture wooden training equipment and bamboo arrows for beginners. But once that gained ground, her partner, who by then had a fair idea of what it was all about, shoved her out.
“I did not say anything. Even today some of my money is unutilised in that joint-account because my partner wouldn’t sign cheques,” she says indifferently.
She cleared the International Olympic Committee Level I coaching course in 2006 and decided to concentrate full time on coaching at the Baranagar Archery Club where she trained juniors during breaks from national camps. “I stopped going to the club after officials decided to promote someone else. Turni was there and she saw the way I was humiliated. She hates anything to do with archery now,” Tira says.
Most of her contemporaries are employed either with the SAI as coaches or at the Gun & Shell Factory here, some others have received financial help from their states. Tira though, has got nothing from the state sports department, other than mockery. “He is no more, so let’s not talk about it,” she says, referring to the just deceased Sports Minister of West Bengal.
Despite all this, Tira says she needs her daily dose of archery. So if you happen to walk, through these crowded bylanes of Baranagar, look around you carefully. For perhaps you’ll spot a once national champion, forgotten by her present, briefly forgetting it herself while reliving her days of glory.