(Left) Firoza shows some of her medals; she rolls bidis to make ends meet. Pictures by Saurav Bhattacharyya
Firoza does not run any more. But that does not mean she doesn't have to cross hurdles.
For the past 18 years, Firoza, an ace sprinter once, has been struggling to make ends meet. Now she ties bidis for a living.
To supplement her income, she works as a cook at an ICDS centre at Joykrishnapur village in Karimpur, near the Indo-Bangladesh border, about 210km from Calcutta.
Unlike her contemporaries Jyotirmoyee Sikdar and Saraswati Saha, Firoza could not represent her country at any international meet.
Later, she also had a dream of training young athletes, but the local administration did not help her with the requisite piece of land.
Firoza, who is now in her thirties, had started brilliantly. Some of her medals hang inside her mud hut; some are put away carelessly in bundles of cloth. She says her journey began from Madhugari village in Nadia on the banks of Padma, 10km from Karimpur.
“From my childhood I had God-gifted talent. I could run fast. My father Boyen Biswas, a farmer, wanted me to take up sports,” she said.
After primary school, her father’s continuous inspiration got her admitted to a government school in Krishnagar where she could pursue athletics.
“It was while studying in Krishnagar that I was noticed by the instructors attached to Sports Authority of India (SAI),” said Firoza, now a mother of three.
In 1986, she participated at a national sports talent contest in Haryana. “I appeared at four sporting events and topped all,” said Firoza.
Her big break came at the national school games meet in 1990 in Delhi.
“I won a silver in the 100m sprint event,” said Firoza. “Next year, I won the gold in 400x4 metre relay race at the east zone junior athletics meet,” she said. In 1992 and 1993, she won gold medals at the 200m and the 400X4m races.
Her biggest achievement came in 1994. “A gold at the 100m sprint event at the national school games brought me to the limelight,” she said.
This despite the loss of her father the previous year. “My father died in 1993. It was a great shock to me because he was my inspiration. Nevertheless, I had made up my mind and appeared at the national school games in Lucknow the next year and topped the 100m sprint.”
It took her one step ahead; she got a call to the national trials. This was also the turning point, in another sense.
“My elder brother suddenly summoned me home. Since my father was no longer there, it was his responsibility to get me married.”
“I opposed the marriage proposal for the sake of my career, but in vain. There was no one to support me. I had to succumb to the pressure from my brothers, who killed my dream,” Firoza said.
She was married to Asraful Miyan, a day labourer from Joykrishnapur. “Ekhono dauratey ichcha korey (I still feel like running),” Firoza said.
“The tracks call out to me and my shoes, which I have kept with me even after so many years. Sometimes, I become puzzled when I see photographs of my contemporaries Jyotirmoyee or Soma Biswas or Rosa Kutty in newspapers or television. I had their talent,” Firoza said.
Her former coach Imanul Haque at SAI was not available. But one of his contemporaries said: “In her time, Firoza was among the best in the country. She was very promising. She had the talent to be successful like Soma, Saraswati or Jyotirmoyee. We still mention her name to budding athletes.”
Firoza’s husband Asraful, once a farm labourer, is ill now and cannot work to earn a living. He now repents his decision of not allowing her to continue her sport. “Now I can realise the mistake I made by forcing her to give up athletics. My relatives were against Firoza continuing in sports as a married woman. As a conservative person I also supported them. But it was a decision that not only ruined Firoza’s career but my family too,” Asraful said.
“After a few years of marriage, I fell ill, which led the family to almost starvation. But once Firoza took up the job of a cook at the ICDS centre, the situation improved a little,” he said.
“My fate robbed me of everything,” Firoza said.
While the local panchayat has offered no help to Firoza, the Karimpur zonal sports association wants to. The association’s executive committee member and secretary of the Karimpur Referees’ Association, Sujit Biswas, said: “Firoza was a genius. It would be our pleasure if we could offer her support. We could arrange camps for young athletes whom she can train.”