Despite being just 13 years old, Nitesh Jha has an unusual fondness for his household chores. For his father, who works as an auto-rickshaw driver, Nitesh enjoys washing the vehicle early morning everyday. The youngster is also keen to lend his mother a hand in the kitchen. “My daal-chawal is the best. Everyone loves it,” he says, with a smile. And then there is sprinting, a passion recently fuelled by a win in the 200-metre event in the “fastest Indian talent hunt” event, held at the University Sports ground in Kalina.
Nitesh had started celebrating even before he crossed the finish-line. It wasn’t that he had never won medals in sprinting – two silvers hang nailed onto a wall in his shanty in the Juhu Koliwada area – but this was the first time he ever finished first. Another race awaited him as soon as he got his medal. His friends and fellow students from the Angel Xpress Foundation, an NGO, got a hold of the prize and bolted, shouting ‘celebrity’ at the owner. Unfazed, the 13-year-old caught up with them and reclaimed his prize. The secret to his speed, he claims, is his love for running his races barefoot. Practice sessions are held on the littered sands of Juhu beach.
The training regime of the Class VIII student of Anandilal Podar Vidyalaya took shape after watching Farhan Akhtar-starrer Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The feature film became his motivation and has now essentially become his training guide. “I practice whatever they showed in the movie. How Akhtar runs and even those exercises where his coach is telling him to change directions after blowing his whistle,” he explains. Training, of course, is always held barefoot.
Along with the medal, winning the 200-metre event has also earned the youngster his first pair of spikes. The teenager has qualified to participate in the final-leg of the nationwide tournament to be held in Bangalore. A win there will guarantee him a scholarship that will ensure his academic pursuits and athletic training till the undergraduate level. But Nitesh is thinking more about the pair of shoes with ‘needles on the bottom’, his way of describing spikes.
But it is not that the youngster did not own a pair of shoes. His brown sneakers were handled with great care. “I don’t use them for running because they may get damaged,” he says. The care with which he wears his socks and shoes at the end of the event, according to Aparna Saboo from the NGO, reflects his calm behavior. “He tends to stay oblivious to the mischief associated with boys his age. Instead, he likes to study and run,” she says.
Hindi and Mathematics are his favourites, and he does not mind spending hours at a stretch pondering over algebra questions. At times, through his own admission, there is not much that can distract him. Running is the exception, along with his famed recipe for daal and rice – the secret ingredients for which he refuses to disclose.