The nights are pitch black. The weak light emanating from the streetlight is still much too gloomy. But even as a heavy shower passes by, you keep warm in the small mud-plastered ‘home.’
Thirty boys are squeezed into the tiny dwelling. Leaning against one wall are 10-odd traditional bows, the modern equipment is packed in bags and kept in a mini attic. Broken suitcases stand under a packed clothesline. On a bookstand is an assortment of publications.
One bunch of students cook food, making perfect round ‘rotis’, others pore into books. There’s no electricity, no entertainment, no television. Standing next to the ‘home’ is a brick structure — a hostel they will shift into come Diwali.
Welcome to the Eklavya archery academy.
“They are from the tribal belt and life wasn’t too different for them at home,” says Dinesh Bhil, a former national champion and SAI product, who established the academy in 2005 on the five-acre land he bought with his prize money.
Archery runs in the blood for these boys, aged between 14 and 23. “I like being here,” says Raman Bhil, a multiple-medal winner at the national championships. “When I was at home, I had to walk seven kilometres to get to school. Here, I can study and play.”
The students begin their day with physical training; shift to practice and prepare food before setting off for school or college. It’s the same after they come back. Everyday. They also farm vegetables and make bows out of bamboo shafts to sustain.
Dinesh, 31, started the academy, with only six-seven boys. Now, sometimes they have to turn students down. “Parents come to us with a hope that the kids might get a job somewhere,” Dinesh says.
Of the 30 archers here, 15 have won medals on the national stage. The rich haul includes 34 medals—12 gold, 12 silver and 10 bronze.
“Struggle is second nature to them,” chips in Kanti Bhai Bhil, a former MLA. “If with such meagre facilities they have done so well, can you imagine what they can achieve if they were groomed with top-class facilities?”
Taking their performance in national competitions into consideration, the government bought five recurve and four compound bows.