On May 21 last year, a 90kmph nor’wester that had struck Calcutta killed two schoolboy rowers who were practising for their upcoming regatta at Rabindra Sarobar.
On November 22 this year, their two friends from the same capsized boat — who had survived the calamity — won silver at a national championship in Hyderabad.
Devanshh Chakraborty and Sanskar Chandra dedicated their win to their friends Souradeep Chatterjee and Pushan Sadhukhan, with whom they might possibly have rowed for the title on Wednesday had the fierce storm not snatched them away.
“Every time we crossed that spot (at Rabindra Sarobar) while practising, it reminded us of them. What we have done today is a tribute to them. Only we know how difficult it was to go back (to rowing),” Sanskar told The Telegraph from Hyderabad, hours after the 24th Sub-Junior and 6th Inter-State Challenger Sprint National Rowing Championships, organised by the Rowing Federation of India.
All four went to the same south Calcutta school.“We had joined Lake Club together last year and wanted to compete for the nationals. Today, we have been able to fulfil the dream,” Devanshh said.
In May last year, Souradeep, who was in Class X, and Pushan, who was in Class IX, drowned in the lake after their boat overturned during the squall. Devanshh and Sanskar managed to swim ashore.
On Wednesday, Devanshh and Sanskar, both 15, were part of the Bengal team. They won silver in the sub-junior coxless fours, which refers to four rowers being on one boat.
The present team that represented Bengal at the national championship in Hyderabad on Wednesday. (From left) Rohit Kumar, Aarnav Rawat, Sanskar Chandra, Devanshh Chakraborty Sourced by The Telegraph
They had teamed up with two other teenage boys — Rohit Kumar and Aarnav Rawat — who also trained at Lake Club and were selected to represent Bengal.
The four of them won the silver medal beating Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra in the final. Haryana won gold. Rowers from 20 states took part in the two-day championships.
That afternoon in May 2022, Devanshh, Sanskar, Souradeep and Pushan were practising for fours. The only difference was that it was fours with a cox — a fifth person who gives directions to the rowers.
Devanshh’s father, Debarshi Chakraborty, said: “This was the first time they were participating in a national championship and I was not expecting a medal. I just wanted my son to overcome the trauma he suffered from.”
After the Rabindra Sarobar tragedy, Chakraborty had taken his son away to Puri for a break, but Devanshh had refused to step out of the room for the eight days they were there.
“I realised that my son was deeply scarred and the only medicine was to make him face his fears,” Chakraborty said.
The boys have been practising in the lake for months now and have trained themselves in the techniques to be followed if their boat overturns.
Was it an easy decision to send their children back to the lake?
Sanskar’s mother Lipika Chandra said: “It was difficult. But when I realised that my son wanted to go back, we gave him a free hand. We also realised that instead of sitting indoors, he needed to go out.”
Sanskar said he was “never scared of the water”, but every time he crossed the spot where their boat had overturned, it made him sad.
“It was a daily reminder of the dreams we wanted to realise together. I again started to train for the nationals in May this year,” he said.
Sanskar, a Class IX student who lives in Ultadanga, leaves home at 5am every day and takes an auto-rickshaw to Sealdah station to catch the Budge Budge local. He gets off at Lake Gardens and walks to the Lake compound.
Devanshh, who lives in Baruipur, around 21km from the lake, would also have arrived by then. They practise together from 6am to 8am.
“After 8am, they rush to school. The school has been kind enough to support them with attendance issues as they miss the first two periods every day and attend classes from the tiffin period,” Lipika said.
Bengal won several other medals in various categories in the tournament.