Daughter of scrap dealer makes Indian archery team after battling COVID, Amphan cyclone
"There was a time when we would be lucky to get one meal a day when my father's shop was shut for close to two years during the lockdown," Aditi said.
Scrap dealer Rajkumar Jaiswal's family was down to one meal a day when COVID-19 reared its ugly head. His shop was shut, and soon his house was submerged in floodwater, as Cyclone Amphan battered Bengal.
However, the double whammy of coronavirus and cyclone failed to break the spirit of his daughter Aditi, who has just made it to the Indian archery team for the World Cup, World Championships and the Asian Games. Backing her all along was former Commonwealth Games gold medallist Rahul Banerjee, now a full-time coach.
Daughter of the Baguiati-based scrap dealer, Aditi has been a meritorious student and secured 97 per cent in the ISC exams, which got her an admission into St Xavier's College with Economics honours.
Rajkumar and his wife Uma wanted Aditi to focus on studies, like her elder brother Adarsh, who is pursuing engineering from Vellore as it "guarantees a job". But Banerjee was convinced that Aditi was destined for "much bigger things".
"There was a time when we would be lucky to get one meal a day when my father's shop was shut for close to two years during the lockdown," Aditi told PTI after returning from the archery trials in Sonipat, where she earned an Indian team berth.
It was a gruelling two-phased trial spanning two months across Kolkata and Sonipat. As she got down to work, Aditi continued recollecting her "days of struggle".
"Our house got flooded after Amphan and we lost all connectivity for days with no power. Somehow, we overcame all the odds and good days seem to be back. My parents are now convinced that archery has a future. Hopefully, I keep improving. Every sportperson's dream is to play for India at the Olympics and win a medal, but it's a long way to go. I'll just have to keep at it," added Aditi, who is inspired by Korean archer Ku Bonchan, the Rio Olympics double gold medallist.
This is the first time that the 20-year-old has made the cut for the first-choice Indian team. Earlier, riding on her gold and silver medal win at the Senior Nationals in Jammu last year, the 20-year-old made her Indian debut with a second-string side for World Cup Stage 4 in Medellin, Colombia.
In Medellin, she made a forgettable first-round exit, going down to Dipti Kumari in the individual section, while in the team event they lost to Korea in the second round.
"There was a lot of pressure from her father and mother on when she would get a medal (so as to get a job easily). I kept telling them 'sabr kijiye' (have patience) -- you don't become a world champion overnight," Banerjee, who took Aditi under his tutelage in 2018-19, said.
Aditi's biggest 'test' was the two-leg trials where she had to finish inside the top-four to make the Indian side. She needed to win her match against Madhu Vedwan with a bonus point to make it, and she did so with utmost calmness.
Hailing from UP but brought up in the West Bengal capital, she finished second in the trial for the top-eight, which came at the expense of India's ace archer Deepika Kumari, who ended ninth and was eliminated.
"Archery is all about mental toughness and calmness -- something she has it in her. I've noticed that from day one when I saw as a kid at SAI, while I too was training," Banerjee said.
"Even yesterday she was on the edge, but I didn't have to say much. She did it with ease."
Aditi took up archery at the age of 10, following her brother who used to go to SAI Eastern Centre in Salt Lake, before switching back to studies owing to "family pressure".
Banerjee first spotted a "spark" in Aditi in 2015. Aditi showed promise by winning medals at sub-junior and junior levels. Because of the high cost of equipment, her school Mahadevi Birla Sishu Vihar sponsored her with two imported bows, costing Rs 3 lakh and Rs 6 lakh respectively.
Banerjee said he had to make some changes to her technique, like bow-arm position, drawing arm technique.
"From drawing to release, I made some changes. I know, it's a critical phase for any archer because we all have come through the same phase.
"People would say why are you always after her... I knew she had a long way to go. She is always at it in the ground till she's perfect."
Aditi worked with Rahul at SAI in 2018-19, and became the first trainee of the Dola and Rahul Banerjee Kolkata Police Archery Academy in Ultadanga, when it opened in August 2021.
"We have a foundation sponsoring the academy and through which we don't take a penny from Aditi and all her expenses are looked after. I just made sure that she kept training without listening much to her folks."
"She was always at it, first to come and last to go from the training. A very good listener, she has it in her to go all the way."
Can she make the Paris-bound Olympic team?
"100 per cent. She definitely has the potential."
The Banerjee siblings are also associated with the Bengal government-supported Archery Academy in Jhargram, from which junior archer Juyel Sarkar has emerged.
"We need more and more sponsors coming up. We have many other underprivileged kids training here. We have a lot of talent in the state, we just need to tap them and show the way," Banerjee said.
"It does not happen overnight. She showed her promise at the trials and it's up to her to achieve bigger things. The journey has begun for her," Banerjee signed off.