Marathon project to raise awareness about Gorkhas of India

Jan 18, 2014, 10:41 IST | Hemal Ashar

From the war wounded who lost their limbs in fighting, to the Gorkhas who shed blood for India on the battlefield, strong political statements are being made on the stage that is the Mumbai marathon

In a blink-and-you-miss-it world, five or six hours is a long time. The marathon is perfect as a platform to make a statement of any kind -- the personal or the political and even the philosophical.

John Abraham holds the date
John Abraham holds the date

This marathon a project called, 'Run with Roshni' is aiming to raise awareness about the Gorkhas who are part of India. Roshni Rai, marathon runner believes in letting her soles do the talking. Roshni, who is from Darjeeling and will be running the full marathon course of 42.195 km is going to run with a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, 'We are Gorkhas and proud to be Indians'.

Roshni Rai at a finish line
Roshni Rai at a finish line

Mumbai-based Roshni, who works with Colgate-Palmolive adds, "The marathon is such a good opportunity to make a statement of some kind, create awareness or simply give people a chance to perceive others differently and put things in the correct perspective. Five hours of running gives us that opportunity to reinforce our message to the people, that we are Indians.

The fleet of foot from the Dark Continent
The fleet of foot from the Dark Continent

When I tell somebody that my mother tongue is Nepali, the predictable and familiar question that follows is: Are you, from Nepal? Then, I have to answer that I am from Darjeeling, I am a Gorkha and I am Indian. Nepali is a language that is recognized by the Constitution of India."

Roshni also says that not only are the questions irksome, the ignorance can also make them feel bad. Because of their Oriental features, "My friends and I are regularly asked if we are from China or Hong Kong." Roshni had started her project, Run with Roshni in 2011, even spoken to several newspapers about it, "but we still need awareness and more visibility and so, I continue to run and spread the message about Gorkhas," says the seasoned marathoner.

A carnival like atmosphere prevails
A carnival like atmosphere prevails

This time, there are two runners from Darjeeling there is Roshni and another person in the full marathon event, while there are others who are running the half-marathon. Says Roshni, "It is really hurtful that people from our motherland do not know anything about us. My running project, also raises funds for economically backward runners, some of them find even raising money for marathon registration (Rs 1,100 each) a strain."

For Roshni, running goes beyond carb-loading, glycogen depletion, hitting the wall, runners' high or any of the jargon associated with sustained endurance effort. Her overall vision is to empower and enlighten Gorkhas in India. She also wants to eliminate the identity crisis faced by Nepali speaking Indians in their motherland.

Ian Cardozo
Ian Cardozo

Within that larger vision, there is a sporting mission too. Roshni says, "I want to support strong runners from the economically backward classes in Darjeeling to run national and international marathons. It is not just Indians but the world that should know who the Gorkhas are. This can be done by getting media mentions through running and winning marathons."

(L to F): Yuliya Raban, John Kelai, Rahul Bose and Damon Hill
(L to F): Yuliya Raban, John Kelai, Rahul Bose and Damon Hill

Roshni thinks there is a treasure trove of endurance talent in these hilly areas, with their hi-altitude that demand so much from the runners. While it may sound far-fetched, Roshni believes that there may come a time when the people from India's hills start coming close to the world's best, snapping at the heels of the formidable Kenyans and Ethiopians so to speak. Roshni's mission and message come together to form a compelling cocktail of awareness, education and acknowledgment of the Gorkha identity and achievements at marathons like the one tomorrow in Mumbai.

She ends, "Every time when there is any disturbance on any Indian border, Darjeeling receives 4-5 dead bodies of her sons, who are serving in Indian Army because the Gorkha Regiment is always on the frontline to protect mother India. Darjeeling has received dead bodies of her sons with India's flag on their chest, now she should start receiving her sons with India's flag on their shoulders, the way sports stars return home after winning Olympic medals."

A group of runners doing the Dream Run (6-km) at this year's marathon will remind people of the sacrifices made at the frontline. The group of 15 former defence persons are running for the War Wounded Foundation. Snap a special salute to these fiery 15, who have been wounded in different wars, fighting for India.

Says Maj. Gen. (retd.) Ian Cardozo (76) who is here from New Delhi to run in Mumbai, "All of us have been wounded in different wars fighting for India. Some of us have lost a leg; some have lost their hands, the others, their eyes. We come here (to Mumbai) in happiness and appreciation. We are glad to have been given the opportunity to prove that we are as good as anybody else in society, we want to prove that disability is no obstacle to taking part in mainstream, daily life."

Maj. Cardozo lost a leg in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Cardozo says, "I lost a leg in the Battle of Sylhet. My battle started with 15 officers and after 13 days, four officers were killed, seven were wounded. I tell the people that this is the price that the people in uniform pay. We have to pay this so that the country remains safe and you can sleep safely at night, agriculture and industry, function as normal." Asked if there is a trace of bitterness, seeing able-bodied runners who have never made the sacrifices that they have, Maj.

Cardozo goes philosophical. "There is no bitterness at all. Our life is focused on 'love' because it is on the altar of love that men and women in uniform give up their life for the lives of the people of India. In fact, love is a very important word, love for the country, love for the people, love for those who served with us and love for the cause." The Maj. does admit though that sometimes there is a "sense of sadness that the Govt. does not give us our due." He says that they will be at the marathon, "to make a statement, that for somebody's tomorrow, we gave our today."

With stirring words of sacrifice, valour and honour coming our way, what does Maj. Cardozo have to say to those doing the daunting full marathon? "We, the war wounded look at people doing the full marathon and we salute them." When told that they should be saluting him, Cardozo laughs a little and says, "well it is upto them but we are aware of the infinite power that is in each and everyone of us and the full marathon is pushing those limits of power, that is why we doff our hats to them."

The denizens of this distance of 42.195 km say that the course can humble you, but it is Cardozo's eloquence and his answers that can make runners feel humble. And for a last shot in the arm for all those assailed marathoners: if those who bled for India say that you have the inner power to quell those doubts and that distance, you have no option but to do just that.

Slice of Darjeeling
The history of Darjeeling is intertwined with that of Bengal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal. Until the early 19th century, the hilly area around Darjeeling was historically controlled by the kingdoms of Bhutan and Sikkim, while the plains around Siliguri were intermittently occupied by the kingdom of Nepal. In 1828, a delegation of British East Indian Company officials on its way to Sikkim stayed in Darjeeling and decided that the region was a suitable site for a sanatorium for British soldiers.

The Company negotiated a lease of the area from the Chyogal of Sikkim in 1835. In 1864, the Bhutanese rulers and the British signed a treaty that ceded the passes leading through the hills and Kalimpong to the British. By 1866, Darjeeling District had assumed its current shape and size. So, the mother tongue is Nepali and we are proud to be Indians.

Numbers, runners, Formula-1 and fun
There are 38,510 runners participating in the 11th edition of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM), for once, SoBo will see pounding feet instead of whizzing cars. For those who want to catch the elite athletes gliding past like gossamer, wake up at 7 am, as the event starts at 7.20 am, and rush to the Marine Drive, otherwise knowing their horsepower and how fast they go, you are sure to miss them altogether.

The Mumbai marathon's global flavour is getting stronger. This year, there is a Ukrainian woman Yuliya Ruban with a personal best of 2.27.00 to watch out for. We need better interpreters so that these elite athletes struggling with the language at pre-race conferences have more to say than just TCW - Training, Course and the Weather.

With the Boston blasts throwing their long shadow on marathons all over the world, security is incredibly tight for this one. Not only will you see the men in uniform keeping a watchful eye for trouble-makers, but you will also see them running in the half-marathon and relay race covering the full distance, for the newly introduced Police Cup. Mumbai cops, you are tops.

During one of the many press conferences in the race run-up, F1 world champion Damon Hill, the international brand ambassador of SCMM, said that the F1 is an expensive sport and out of reach for many aspirants. Tomorrow though, marathoners would not mind being imbued with some F1 firepower, propelling them towards the finish line.

Fatema Pittalwala

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