This Eid, 15-year-old Nisar Ahmed brought home a special gift. On Saturday, the sprinter bagged his second gold at the Delhi State Athletics meet. On way to winning the sprint double — 100m and 200m — he clocked timings that were better than the national u-16 records. The teen star also became the capital’s fastest, since his 11s over 100m was 0.02s faster than the state men’s winner this year. But Ahmed’s parents could not make it for the race, or the medal ceremony. Father Mohammad Haq was busy pedalling his rickshaw outside the stadium. And, mother Shafikunisha, who got a rare break from her work as a domestic help, was in the kitchen preparing a special Eid meal.
“We really want to see him run, but for that we need to sacrifice a day’s income and that’s not something we can afford. We know all about his races,” says Haq, known as Nanku among those who hire him to transport construction material to building sites.
Ahmed says that minutes after he held the first gold in his hand, for his 22.08s in 200m, he just wanted to sprint home. Later, walking with his friends through the narrow lanes of the slum where he stays, he tells everyone he meets: “Do national record tod diya ( I have broken two national records)!” Ahmed had bettered the under-16 100m record set by M S Arun in 2013 by 0.01s, and was 0.3s faster than Chandan Bauri in 200m the same year.
Ahmed lives in a tiny 10×10 feet room next to the railway tracks at Azadpur’s Bada Bagh slum. A small slab in one corner of the room serves as a makeshift kitchen. A tiny vent, where a small cooler is mounted, is the only source of ventilation for the room which Ahmed shares with his parents and an elder sister. There is a TV in one corner and neatly arranged trophies, including one for the 2015 School National Games where Ahmed was declared best athlete.
“This is where we live and we still harbour the dream of seeing our son make it big in athletics. It’s been over one-and-a-half years since I borrowed Rs 28,000 for my son’s athletics career. It was to buy spikes, sports gear and for his diet. I haven’t been able to repay it,” says Haq.
Ahmed’s father has developed sores on the sole of his right feet. “It hurts a lot but I have no other option,” says Haq, pointing to his feet. On an average, Haq earns Rs 200 every day. Shafikunisha washes utensils at a couple of houses in Ashok Vihar to supplement the family income.
“I cannot tell you how much joy it brings me to hear about my son’s achievements. We have always backed him and will continue to do so irrespective of our condition. What really hurts me is the fact that I can’t help my son maintain a healthy diet. At best, we can afford to buy some meat once a week for him. If I had the money, I would get him the nuts and fruits he requires to stay fit,” says Shafikunisha, her eyes filled with tears.
Shafikunisha understands little about her son’s sport, but Ahmed keeps her up-to-date. “They only show cricket on TV, but there are videos on his mobile of him running. I see him there,” she says. Ahmed took up athletics at the insistence of his physical education teacher, Surrender Singh, at the government school in Ashok Vihar, where he studies.
“When I saw Ahmed running, I knew he was a natural talent. I asked him to give athletics a shot. He didn’t even have any running shoes or track pants then,” says Singh.
The coach took Ahmed to an inter-zonal event where he beat his competitors with ease. A year later, Ahmed started training with coach Sunita Rai at the Chhatrasal Stadium, about a kilometre from his home. These days, he starts training at 5am and returns home for a quick meal. After some rest, he heads to school where they allow him to leave early so that he can to continue his training at the stadium.
“He is very dedicated and hardworking. The amount of effort he puts into everything is something even I can’t do,” says Haq, before leaving to get drinking water for the family, adding that at the community taps, the slum-dwellers follow a token system.
Ahmed says athletics gives him solace. “There are a lot of things that worry me, but when I am training or running, they stay out of my mind,” he says. So what’s his dream? The answer is another question: “Who would want his mother to work at someone’s home?”