Jammu and Kashmir’s young pistol shooters Samarth Tuli and Laabibah Michelle Tahir could not stop needling one another onboard the first chartered flight, operated by SpiceJet from Delhi to compete the Khelo India Youth Games here. Seated in the Executive Class, they paused only when refreshments were served.
Samarth Tuli, all of 10 years of age, and Laabibah, older only by a couple of years, reflected the bonhomie and camaraderie that filled the Boeing 737 cabin with infectious energy and enthusiasm as 26 athletes from Jammu and Kashmir were among the first to be flown in for the Games. SpiceJet is operating eight flights to make it easy for the young athletes to reach the Assam capital.
“We had an overnight bus ride from Jammu to Delhi and it is amazing that we will fly a longer distance in less time,” Samarth Tuli said. “I have been training for three months but you really must hear about the 10.8 that I shot in a match. My friend (Laabibah) is a bit shy, though she will click lots of photos herself."
Recurve archers Yasmeen Batool and Nusrat Rehman and their manager Khaleda Bano, a former volleyball player and shot putter, were beaming throughout the flight. The archers who are from Kargil and Leh, will be joined by five boxers a couple of days later. They will comprise the first team to represent Ladakh in Khelo India Youth Games.
“We have been given wild-card entries,” said Yasmeen Batool, taking a break from watching a video on her smart phone. “We have got our own bows and arrows, but we are hoping that we will be able to compete with better equipment in Guwahati.” At just 17 years of age, she knows that Nusrat and she are path-breakers who can inspire countless girls in Ladakh to play sport.
Punjab’s compound archer Sangampreet Bisla, a bronze medallist in the World Youth Archery Championship, plugged into music on the flight. “I am have recently competed in the All-India University Championships and am looking forward to defending my crown here,” he said, having won gold in the Khelo India Youth Games in Pune last year.
Delhi’s Arush Dutt, who trains in the Khelo India Academy in DPS Sonipat, hopes to make an impact in the table tennis competition here. “The moment I knew I was picked for the Games in Guwahati, I let books take a backseat and focused on my preparation,” he said, grateful for the Khelo India scholarship that he has been a beneficiary of.
“The scholarship goes a long way in reducing the financial burden on my parents, who have always encouraged me to play the sport,” he said. “My father is an Assistant Engineer in Central Public Works Department and my is a teacher in a Government School. You can imagine how much the scholarship means to them.”
Yet, for each of the hundred athletes who boarded the flight, the send-off by Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju and boxing legend MC Mary Kom, will be etched as an emotional moment. “You know, I even managed to get Mary Kom to pose for a photograph with me,” said Rabiba, a pistol shooter from Jammu and Kashmir.