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Meet Moumita Mondal, a Tea Seller’s Daughter Making Waves in Athletics

Emerging athlete Moumita Mondal's father makes tea in a dilapidated stall. Now, she is making waves in sports.

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The smile on Subhash Chandra Mondal’s face was distinct. It did not stem from abounding euphoria, but from tranquilising relief. The conclusion was aided by evidence, for I had seen the same smile only a few hours ago.

My chauffeur, Rajesh Sharma, sported the same smile. Albeit initially seemed perplexing – contentment is unlikely to be the primary emotion evoked when one has to drive on ramshackle roads for three hours – the explanation justified the smile.

Rajesh Sharma was smiling, as he recently met his daughter after a year, during his trip to Bihar for Chhat Puja. Subhash Chandra Mondal was smiling, as he was meeting his daughter after a year.

Emerging athlete Moumita Mondal's father makes tea in a dilapidated stall. Now, she is making waves in sports.

Subhash Chandra Mondal with his daughter, Moumita, at his tea stall.

(Photo: The Quint)

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His daughter – Moumita Mondal, an emerging athlete – was standing at his dilapidated-yet-thriving tea stall. Wrapped around her neck was the National Games bronze medal.

And, be it for a fleeting moment, the self-proclaimed all-subject experts at the stall had halted their painstakingly meticulous session of ‘We discuss all that is wrong in the world, over a cup of tea.’

In that moment, and in that tea stall – by the railway track in Jirat, a small West Bengal town – the only point of discussion on the agenda list was that 21-year-old girl, who had made not only her father, but the town feel elevated.

This is her story.

Emerging athlete Moumita Mondal's father makes tea in a dilapidated stall. Now, she is making waves in sports.

Moumita often offers her father a helping hand at the stall.

(Photo: The Quint)

The Curse of Being a Second Girl Child

Back at the house, only a few metres away from the tea stall, Moumita opens up about the bond with her father – which might be enjoying its peak now, had seen the depths of indignation for the nine long years.

I am very close with my father now, but till when I was nine, he barely had any affection for me. After my elder sister Sangita was born, he wanted to have a son. You know how it is in the small-town families. I grew up seeing him always grumpy. I was also terrible at studies and my sister was good, so all the love and care was showered at her.
Moumita Mondal, Athlete

Subhash Chandra, initially being discernibly ashamed, admitted "You see in these parts of the country, we are repeatedly told every family needs a Diya (guiding light). I also bought into it, so naturally, was not pleased when I had two daughters."

Emerging athlete Moumita Mondal's father makes tea in a dilapidated stall. Now, she is making waves in sports.

Moumita narrates how her father had once offered no love and affection.

(Photo: The Quint)

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As Soma – Moumita’s mother – walks in to join the conversation, as she narrates her tales of mortification.

I got married at only 14 – the financial status of my family was not great, so they essentially decided to do away with me. I was very young when I had two daughters, so I was unaware of the societal views. I came to realise when, after Moumita was born, the neighbours said ‘See the sadness in the family, they would have been distributing sweets had it been a boy and not a girl.’
Soma Mondal, Moumita's mother
Emerging athlete Moumita Mondal's father makes tea in a dilapidated stall. Now, she is making waves in sports.

Soma Mondal had two kids while still being a teenager.

(Photo: The Quint)

Those neighbours she was referring to, meanwhile, had thronged the Mondal house by now. That, reporters have now started to visit their town for Moumita, was known by all.

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What Sparked the Father-Daughter Bond

While she might not have received the endearment of a father till about nine, it is because of Subhash Chandra that she managed to attain the pedestal she currently has under her feet.

‘What changed suddenly?’ I asked.

She elaborated:

I have always been more like a boy than your usual girl. I didn’t play the homemaking and cooking games like the girls of my age did. In fact, I hated those. I wanted to be active, wanted to play the games that the boys were playing, so I always mingled with those. In a sense, though I was a girl, I was the son my father always wanted.
Moumita Mondal, Athlete
Emerging athlete Moumita Mondal's father makes tea in a dilapidated stall. Now, she is making waves in sports.

The accolades adorning the Mondal house.

(Photo: The Quint)

“She was so restless that when we used to go out, we would tie her feet to the mango tree. Else, by the time we returned, the house was in ruins,” her mother interjected.

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Here, we could do with a background sketch of Subhash Chandra. An immigrant from Bangladesh who fled to West Bengal during the 1971 riots, he was passionate about sports, and aspired to become a professional footballer, donning the jersey of the club that represented the refugees – East Bengal.

Except, neither did he had any money, nor did he have his family’s support. Being average at best in studies – or, ‘10th fail’, as Moumita mockingly says – he saw no other option to make a livelihood but to open a tea stall. Since that, it has been his sanctuary of sorts.

Now, back to Moumita’s story.

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When he saw I was equally passionate about sports as him, he started giving me time and attention. My father got me enrolled in an athletics training centre nearby. The monthly fee was only Rs 30, but at the time, it still meant something to us. We had no money to buy the professional kits, so I remember, he borrowed a football jersey from someone, and got me another used pair of football boots. He accompanied me in every event, used to note my timings, and personally track my progress. You can say that he was living his dream through me.
Moumita Mondal, Athlete
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Why Athletics?

‘Why did you pursue athletics?’ I asked.

What else was cheap and available? I was hugely fond of cricket, and I also played well, beating the boys. But my family never had the money to support a cricket career – buy kits, get in a coaching camp and everything.
Moumita Mondal, Athlete
Emerging athlete Moumita Mondal's father makes tea in a dilapidated stall. Now, she is making waves in sports.

Now, there is hardly any place to keep the medals.

(Photo: The Quint)

For the first few years, Moumita trained at her local camp. From sprints, she had transitioned to hurdles, but it still could satiate her love for sports. Then, at 15, she decided to become independent to learn more things.

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A group of boys – much older than me – had come to our ground and they were amazing in long jump. I was so thrilled that I asked them where they had trained from. It was a two-hour train ride from my place, but I was determined to master it so I used to travel every day, all by myself.
Moumita Mondal, Athlete

Around the same time, her progress started becoming more noticeable than ever before. In 2017, when Moumita travelled to Visakhapatnam for the Junior Nationals, the family basked in prestige. Not that she had won a medal, but the small-town girl had travelled to a new state, all because of sports.

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Meeting Coach James Hillier

2018 saw Patna being added to the list, and this time, she returned with a bronze medal. In 2019, eight more medals were added to the tally.

Though, yet again not completely satisfied with her performances, she wanted to take the next step. That was when she met James Hillier – the Athletics Director at Reliance Foundation, who also coaches Asian Games medallist Jyothi Yarraji.

I was at a zonal camp in Bhubaneshwar when I met coach James. I was intrigued to see a person from abroad working with Indian athletes and training them so well. Me being me, I was determined to train under him and so I first tried to approach him through others. When nothing worked, I went up to him directly and asked him to get me to his Reliance Foundation camp.
Moumita Mondal, Athlete
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Recalling the incident, James says “She was this bubbly girl. You could see her jumping up and down all over the place. Back then, I was still early in my journey here and was trying to find out who the best athletes were. Moumita had potential, but she had not done a massive deal. But because of her perseverance and incredible work ethic, I chose not to decide on what she had done, but her zeal to improve.”

Since 2021, Moumita has been training in the Mumbai. About the association, she says “I would not have made it this far without them. They have everything you can ask for – coaches, nutritionists, psychologists. There are 15-20 specialised people working on and for you.”

Emerging athlete Moumita Mondal's father makes tea in a dilapidated stall. Now, she is making waves in sports.

Moumita Mondal now trains at the Mumbai Reliance Foundation High Performance Centre.

(Photo: Sourced by The Quint)

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The Mondals, Los Angeles, and Five Years in Between

Since training under James, Moumita has won quite a few medals, but none more glittering than the National Games bronze, and a ‘Best Athlete’ award in an U23 meet.

Though, she is aiming for the stars.

My goal is to be at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. I know I am not ready for Paris yet, but I also know I will work very hard in the next few years to be in LA. I want to take my family to the USA. They had never even boarded an express train until I took them to Puri for holidays recently. My dream is to see them flying to America.
Moumita Mondal, Athlete
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Subash Chandra, by now, is teary-eyed. He says "In May, she got a job in Railways. In my entire family, we have never had anyone working in any reputable job. To see my daughter doing what none of us could ever even imagine, let alone try to do, is truly special."

Sangita, the elder sister, joins in.

Since I was the obedient kid, I have always taken the fall for her. Now that she has become a professional athlete, neighbours taunt me by saying I am a failure as compared to her. I remain quiet. But if and when I see her representing India in the Los Angeles Olympics, I will scream the loudest.
Sangita Mondal, Moumita's elder sister
Emerging athlete Moumita Mondal's father makes tea in a dilapidated stall. Now, she is making waves in sports.

Sangita wants her sister to be at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

(Photo: The Quint)

An internet search says the distance between Jirat and Los Angeles is 13,053 kilometres. Perhaps, her scream will be loud enough to travel that distance.

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