Roshni Rai runs for her pride
Roshni Rai, who gathered runners from her native Darjeeling to run the 2012 Mumbai Marathon, discusses her motivations with Laxmi Negi.
Roshni Rai won't take anything lying down. Certainly, not if her nationality is in question.
It won't take long for the 27-year-old to chase a passerby at a crowded Mumbai suburban railway platform and explain to him that she is as much an Indian as he, not Chinese as he taunted her.
Her current training for the 90 kilometre Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa in June does reflect here, what with her blitzkrieg chase which precedes her explanation.
Her reaction may leave some perplexed. But when someone questions her nationality, this shy, diminutive, girl's reaction is on anticipated lines -- she has had to answer that same irritating question many times over.
For this Gorkha girl from Darjeeling, such incidents that concern her identity hurt her.
"Darjeeling was part of Nepal, but merged with India at Independence. We do speak Nepalese, but we are proud to be Indians. Yet we are called Chinese or Nepali," laments Roshni.
"It is difficult to explain that nationality is not the face," the runner asserts, "but the heart of individuals."
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Image: Roshni Rai
'I was never an athlete back home'
Roshni, who began running half marathons in 2006, finally graduated this year, finishing the 26 mile, 385 yard full marathon for the first time in Mumbai in January.
The 2012 Mumbai Marathon, she says, has made her well known. People have started recognising her after the event; she has granted several interviews like this one.
"I was never an athlete back home," she says, adding, "Running is a way of life there."
"People run to go to school, the market, other places in the hills."
Shifting base to Mumbai in 2003 was not easy. The fact that she then nursed a broken heart made the transition even more difficult.
Desolate in the big city, she sought solace in running.
Soon, it became a passion.
A new job in 2007, as a legal executive at Colgate, was a blessing. Colgate had a running club with a coach, Daniel Vaz.
The next two years, Roshni ran the Pune, Thane, Delhi and Mumbai half marathons. In 2010 she attempted the main event at the Auroville Marathon in Pondicherry, but did not finish the full marathon.
The Prague Marathon the same year was her first international event.
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Photographs: Laxmi Negi
'The two Ds work perfectly for me'
"I had to choose something which was close to my heart and also related to my community," Roshni says, highlighting the project that made waves at the Mumbai Marathon last month.
She gathered runners from her native Darjeeling to run this year's Mumbai Marathon, a feat that did not go unnoticed in the customary hullaballoo surrounding the city's premier athletic event.
After making their presence felt at the Mumbai event, her compatriots will propagate the Marathon philosophy in the hills of Darjeeling.
Roshni now has numerous followers on social networking sites, applauding her self-belief.
"There are a lot of people like me in this city who feel shy to reveal that they are Gorkhas because people use it as a synonym with security guards," she says.
"But with my fight for our identity as Indians, there is hope among people," she adds.
Besides pledging her support to compatriots from Darjeeling and participating in the Mumbai and Delhi marathons, Roshni has shifted focus to the 90 km Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa which she plans to run in June.
She has never run 90 km before, and doing so under 12 hours looks very difficult at this time.
"The two Ds work perfectly for me -- Determination and Discipline," says Roshni, seemingly undaunted by the South African challenge.
"If I complete the Ultramarathon," she says, "I will dedicate it to the Gorkhas who lost their lives fighting for India."