Mumbai Capital

‘I didn’t expect to become famous again’

dream:Budhia Singh hopes to represent India in the Olympics.  

It’s been a decade since a young boy from Odisha ran a distance of 65 km from Puri to Bhubaneshwar in seven hours and two minutes. The four-year-old child prodigy was India’s youngest marathon runner Budhia Singh, and was greeted by hundreds at the finish line and gaining nation-wide attention. Although Singh was on every newspaper’s front page at the time, today his name probably doesn’t ring a bell.

Singh was a victim of poverty had been sold by his mother to a street hawker for Rs. 800 in 2004. Later, he was taken under the wing of sports coach Biranchi Das, and he completed 48 marathons. Understandably, child welfare activists were outraged at the spectacle of a little boy running distances most adults would baulk at. In 2008, Das was murdered by Raja Acharya, a convicted gangster.

In time, much like his relationship with Das, which went through upheavals, Singh’s reputation faded. Today, 14-year-old Singh is waiting to see the impact of Soumendra Padhi’s biopic, Budhia Singh: Born to Run , starring Manoj Bajpayee as Biranchi Das.

Edited excerpts from an interview in which Singh shares his views about Padhi’s film and his experience as a marathon runner:

Are you waiting to see the film based on your life?

When I was a five-year-old kid, I ran from Puri to Bhubaneshwar. People said many absurd things about me at that time. Some said I had divine powers while others claimed that I had two livers. The authorities at the sports hostel informed me about the film. I didn’t believe them until Soumendra Padhi visited me to tell me about it. I met Manoj Bajpayee, but did not expect to become famous again and give interviews for newspapers.

Have you seen the film?

I really liked the film. I love the dialogues and the songs. My mother and sisters are really happy about it as well. But my friends have already begun teasing me. I had never imagined that someone would make a film about my life.

What advice did you offer Mayur Patole, who plays you? Unlike you, he never ran long-distance from Puri to Bhubaneshwar.

When Mr. Padhi introduced me to Mayur, I thought we looked exactly the same. They mentioned that he wanted to be a runner as well and I was pleased to hear that. He’s an athlete. I think we have a lot in common. He looked just like me when I trained as a runner with Das sir.

Who are the people who have been instrumental in your life story?

I was well trained by Das sir and his wife, Gitanjali. Dr. Sidharth Mahanti was another person who supported me. People said a lot of things about Das Sir when I was a child. But he was like a friend and a father to me. When I was a younger, every day from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., I would train with him and then go to school till 10 a.m. My training would then resume at his judo court at 10.30 a.m. and go on till 4 p.m. I liked training with him. Das Sir and his wife raised me from poverty. If it had not been for them, I would not have been able to achieve great things. I’m grateful to him.

Before Born to Run , a documentary based on you, Marathon Boy, was made by a British filmmaker…

Before making the film, the director Gemma Atwal said to me that she was going to make a film about my life. I was very extremely happy and thought people would hear about me again. It gave me a lot of hope.

However, the film depicted something completely different. She told everyone that I had stopped training and gave up on my dreams. I was very disappointed to see that and felt cheated. But I think this one will be better.

How would you describe your life at the Bhubaneswar Sports Hostel?

The hostel functions like a prison and the kids don’t have any freedom. Moreover, the kids who seek to chase their ambitions as doctors, engineers and even athletes, are discouraged to go on after a few failures. A kid from my village, who lived at the same hostel, suffered an injury; the authorities told him that he should give up. They had disillusioned him and he stopped living there. We should have more freedom to pursue our dreams. The training provided is also terrible. Abroad, a single coach is assigned to two athletes; but at my hostel, there are eight students who train under one coach.

Do you still participate in marathons?

I have not discontinued my training. Currently, I have a swelling in my right knee [doctors had predicted an early onset of osteoarthritis, a common symptom for some runners] and that keeps me from training for marathons and races. Honestly, I don’t study a lot. I do not wish to give up my education. It would be great if I could do both. At the moment, due to my injury and inadequate training at the hostel, I can’t run past 30 km. I practice for two hours in the evening. If I receive better training at the hostel, as I did earlier, I can definitely get back on track. Also, In Odisha, the tracks are just 5 km to 12 km long. Abroad, they are as along as 42 km.

What are your expectations from Born to Run ?

It would be great if this film attracted the government’s attention to my problems. Since childhood, it has been my dream to compete in the Olympics. I watched kids participating in the 2012 Olympics and hoped to receive the same opportunity, along with adequate training. I wish to run as fast as I could when I was a kid. Many children like me fear failures. If people wish to learn something from the film, it’s that you should not give up on your dreams out of fear.

The interviewer is an intern at The Hindu

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 7:38:50 PM |

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