Pravin Jadhav has spent half his life in a shanty near a drain, in a household where two full meals are a luxury. There’s no electricity and water is scarce. And the only reason he picked up a bow — about six years ago, against his family’s wish — was to escape poverty.
Now, Jadhav is Olympics-bound. Well, almost.
On Sunday, the 22-year-old from Satara teamed up with veterans Tarundeep Rai and Atanu Das to win a World Championship silver medal in the Dutch city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and book a quota for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Jadhav, who till a few years ago hadn’t stepped out of Sarde village, was part of a team that conquered rivals from Norway, Canada, Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands before losing to China in the gold-medal match.
The last time India entered the final of the men’s recurve category of the World Championship was in 2005.
“I still have to compete for a place in the team for the Olympic Games. There will be selection trials for it and I need to keep up my form,” Jadhav, the national champion, tells The Indian Express. “This is just the start of the journey.”
His journey, actually, started a decade ago in Phaltan taluka, a drought-prone region in Satara. “We didn’t have anything. Till last year, we lived in a hut. We didn’t have electricity and there was barely any money for two meals a day,” says Jadhav, whose father Ramesh, 71, is a daily wage labourer.
Baban Bhujbal, his primary school teacher, advised him to use sports as a springboard to a better life. So he chose athletics, which would require zero investment. “It looked like an obvious choice,” Bhujbal, 43, says. “But we soon realised he lacked the stamina to do well. Once, he fainted just while warming up. He was severely under-nourished.”
Bhujbal took care of the dietary requirements and gradually, Jadhav started to succeed in 400m and 800m races, winning taluka and district meets. That drew the attention of scouts of the Maharashtra government’s Krida Prabodhini scheme, which provides free coaching, education and lodging to athletes from rural areas at residential academies.
But the pre-admission tests showed he was better suited for archery. “The length of his arms, along with stability and strength, gave us a feeling he would do well in archery more than athletics,” says Praful Dange, 37, Jadhav’s coach.
But Jadhav’s parents were against the idea. “They wanted him to find a proper job… there was a clothing store in the village and his father insisted he work there,” Bhujbal says. “That, he felt, would at least get him a salary.”
But Jadhav knew this wasn’t an answer to poverty. So archery it was — initially, using a traditional bamboo bow before moving on to modern equipment, either borrowed or gifted. He began dominating the junior circuit before claiming the national crown this year. He was also the second-best behind teammate Rai at the selection trials for the World Championship in March.
Last year, when Jadhav was recruited by the Army under the sports quota, his family urged him to focus on that and quit competing. But Bhujbal and Dange intervened and insisted that Jadhav should continue with archery. “He’s a natural. I have not seen many sportspersons who are as focused as he is,” Dange says. “He knows this is his only chance to create a good life.”
If he keeps up his form, Jadhav will be in Tokyo next July. But before Sunday’s final, he spent most of the time trying to trace his family. He eventually called up a friend, who walked around 15-20 minutes on foot to check.
“Their phone was broken,” Jadhav says. “I was worried because I wasn’t able to get through to them for a few weeks. I thought they wouldn’t have charged the phone since there’s been no electricity for the last few days. But I was also fearing something worse.”
Jadhav now plans to buy his parents a new phone. For someone who’s struggled for two meals, this is a small step towards a convenient life. “Made possible because of archery,” he says.