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From Olympic Torch to Plucking Tea Leaves: Pinky Karmakar's Tryst With Olympic Glory is Now a Tale of Despair

Pinky Karmakar was the  Indian torch-bearer at the 2012 London Games

Pinky Karmakar was the Indian torch-bearer at the 2012 London Games

Pinky’s short but proud stint with Olympic glory showered upon her with name, fame and adulation from her own people, and the state government.

Pinky Karmakar was having her lunch, the first proper meal since morning, at 4 pm when reached out to her for an interview.

Working as a permanent labourer for a daily wage of Rs 205 (the new wage rate) in Borborooah Tea Estate of Diburgarh district in Upper Assam, Pinky looks after the Covid protocol adherence by the tea garden labourers.

It was from the narrow lanes of this very tea garden that a 17-year-old Pinky, who aspired to be an archer, went to Nottinghamshire in 2012. She represented the country in “torch bearer” run at the London Olympics.

“People don’t allow me to forget my Olympic days," Pinky says. “I clearly remember when I wasn’t being able to hold the torch with the flame. It was heavy and I need to lift it with one hand and raise the other hand. The very feeling of pride, that I was doing it for my county in London gave me enough strength to pull through. I met many people and possibly football legend David Beckham when his academy gave us the jerseys. Those were the best days of my life."

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The young girl form the tea garden was chosen among 20 schools where Pinky was associated as coach in Unicef’s Sports Development Program.

Besides, she used to run a night school for the uneducated adults of her tea garden and adjoining areas. Lost in the oblivion of the proud memories of London Olympic, Pinky continues to involve herself in welfare projects.

Pinky Karmakar (3rd from left in between) in happier times.

With a heavy voice she says, “I am pursuing my graduation, my studies got impeded due to financial constraint, and I did not get any help from any quarters."

“Sometimes I am forced to think that being a girl from the tea community could be my handicap," she added.

Pinky’s short but proud stint with Olympic glory showered upon her with name, fame and adulation from her own people, and the state government.

In her return from London she was given a red carpet welcome at Dibrugarh. Politicians, ministers and MLA’s crowded her home to congratulate her on the achievement and more so being from the tea garden.

Former Chief Minister of Assam Sarbanda Sonwal was one among the many who received her at the airport and assured her of all help.

Help was also offered from the then Union Minister of State (independent) for Northeast Development, Pawan Singh Gathowar, who also represented the tea community of the state.

Pinky Karmakar says nobody has inquired about her well-being.

“Nobody, and I mean nobody even bothered to know whether I am dead or alive. People don’t let me overcome my agony, they keep on asking what happened? You did so much and got nothing in return. I am not sure what to do with my life. They said I need to complete my studies. I have my old retired father and my brother and sister at home to look after," says Pinky.

Though her association with Unicef virtually ended after 2012, Pinky continues her duties as students development coach under ABITA which pays her 7000 rupees a month. She needs to visit three gardens once a week for this and sometimes to ABITA office at Dibrugarh, where her travel expenses are inclusive in her monthly remuneration.

“With Pinky’s experience, we feel that the respective governments have failed the tea community of Assam. We request the present government to appreciate Pinky’s contribution and appreciate her passion," says a representative of All Assam Tea Students Association of Dibrugarh district.

“She represented India, we shall meet Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma soon on this," the representative added.

On the day when Assam’s sports icon Lovlina Borgohain reached New Delhi to a grand welcome, Pinky, conveying her happiness, said, “I am very happy for Lovlina. She has done us, the state, and the country proud. My only apprehension is that no sportsperson should be in my situation."

After a decade her unhealed sores have been scratched and it definitely pains.

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first published:August 10, 2021, 07:29 IST