Amrita Maan slips into nostalgia mode at the mere mention of ‘sacrifice’: raising a child as a single parent, in a tiny government quarter in South-West Delhi, waking up early in the morning to drop her daughter Tulika to school on a bike, and then riding roughly 20km to a police station in Rajouri Garden, the bustling West Delhi neighbourhood, where she was posted.
The endless hours Tulika spent in a room at the police station after school, because no one was there at home to look after her, later admitting her to a judo club so she could spend a couple of hours every day not surrounded by cops – or criminals – and taking multiple personal loans and drying up the savings to support her career in a sport that was, in the beginning, just a ‘time-pass activity’.
“You can’t gain anything without sacrifice,” Amrita, an assistant sub-inspector with Delhi Police, says. “And I am a single parent, so I had to go through a high level of it.”
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On Wednesday, all of it – “Tulika’s mischief, temper, the loans… everything,” she says, laughing – felt ‘worth it’. The 23-year-old finished on the podium at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, becoming only the second Indian judoka after Shushila Devi Likmabam to win a silver at the Games.
After breezing through her early rounds without much trouble, Tulika lost to Scotland’s Sarah Adlington in the gold medal bout of the +78kg category. Adlington, who weighed 16kg more than the Indian at 110kg, made the most of her advantage by creating most of the scoring chances. Like boxing, in judo too, it counts if the fighter is seen to be attacking. Tulika, who tried to counterattack, was handed a couple of warnings – called ‘shido’ in judo – before she lost by ippon, judo’s equivalent of a pin in wrestling.
Tulika’s silver, however, assumes significance because, just a few months ago, she was contemplating quitting the sport. Despite being a two-time Commonwealth Championship gold medallist, the 23-year-old did not feature in the initial squad named by the Judo Federation of India, (JFI), which is run by a Committee of Administrators.
No clear-cut explanation was given for her exclusion by the technical committee responsible for selecting the team. In an email to the JFI president, Tulika had called the decision ‘unfortunate’.
“Kindly add my weight category +78 kg in the above selection, otherwise I have no other option to leave judo forever due to wrong management and selection criteria of JFI,” she had written.
After several interventions, including by her coach Yashpal Solanki, erstwhile federation secretary Man Mohan Jaiswal and Indian Olympic Association general secretary Rajeev Mehta, Tulika’s name was added at the last minute.
But the episode affected her mentally, Amrita says. “It was a very difficult phase. She was very concerned about how things would pan out. I couldn’t show her that I was upset so I tried to keep her in a positive mindset.”
Life of hardships
It’s something Amrita has done all her life, especially after her husband passed away when Tulika was still very young. “I had to report for duty at Rajouri Police Station at 9 am when Tulika was in school. We lived at the government quarters in Jharoda, where the police training centre is located. So, I used to drop her off at 7.20, drive to work and then, an auto-rickshaw would bring her to the police station after school. She spent the rest of the day there, studying and playing,” Amrita says.
Judo was just an activity that Tulika was introduced to so that she could spend a few hours elsewhere. Amrita admitted her to a club run by a former national-level player, Sangeeta Gupta, in the neighbourhood.
Amrita, even today, has no interest in the sport. But as her daughter started taking a serious interest in it, the financial pressures began taking their toll. “If I earned Rs 10, I spent Rs 40 on her training and other requirements. I have taken 3-4 personal loans, and withdrawn money from my pension funds… I did whatever she wanted. Zindagi ki kamai laga di (put in my life’s earnings).”
Roughly six years ago, Tulika was admitted to the Sports Authority of India Centre in Bhopal, where she started training under Solanki, a former India international and Arjuna Awardee, who left his job in the state intelligence services to become a coach.
Tulika, Solanki says, is known for her strength and long reach because of her height – she’s almost six-foot tall. “But whatever she’s achieved today is all because of her mother,” Solanki says. “Such is the bonding that even other Indian team members prefer staying at her house whenever they are in Delhi and they all call her mom.”
Amrita says it’s ‘good luck’ that the judokas consider her a mother figure. But she has one complaint: the overdose of judo. “Saara din bas judo… judo lage rehte. I used to yell at them, ‘mera dimaag mat kharab karo!’”
Curiously, Wednesday was the first time Amrita saw her daughter compete live. And she finished on the podium. “There’s been a lot of struggle for this, and we faced it all by ourselves. So, it does feel special,” she says, slipping into nostalgia once again.