BANGALORE ~ Geetha Bai has won three gold, 11 silver and 16 bronze medals in power-lifting at the national level. In the Karnataka state championships, she has set an unbroken record of winning 27 times. At an international meet in Finland, she came heartbreakingly close to winning a bronze. And what has India’s appreciation of her efforts been? She now sells plastic carry bags in a dingy shop located inside a fish market in Mangalore. Recently, following a decision by the local administration to ban plastic bags, the meagre life that she has managed to make for herself is also in danger.
Geetha is 38 years old. She started competing in 1995. Even now she trains from 5 am to 9 am at a gym. Though she used to participate in the 90 kg and 90 plus kg power-lifting events, she has now lost weight and wants to be in the 82 kg category. “My brother died recently. I will not be able to participate in any event for the next six months as his three school-going children are my responsibility. My sister-in-law too has just had an operation,’’ she says.
She was selected 16 times to participate in international meets, but found herself grounded due to lack of sponsors. But to get awards and recognition, she needs to keep participating in international events. “Government babus tell me to spend my own money, they will reimburse me later. If I had the money, why would I need to beg anyone?’’
Geetha started off as a kabaddi and tug-of-war player. Her muscle weight and build brought her to the notice of a coach who taught her power-lifting. To practice at home, she bought weights from scrap dealers. “There were quite a few women power-lifters in the coastal belt. They were my inspiration,’’ she says.
Her juniors have jobs in banks or central public sector undertakings through sports quotas. But Geetha has to clear her tenth standard to be eligible. She continues to take the exam regularly. “In 2011, I passed in three subjects. I need to take the other three subjects to qualify for a job. But I can’t concentrate this year,’’ she says.▪