Amidst the tomb-like boulders and chocolatey mountains, rocky terrains and tightropes of the North East of India emerges a small yet sturdy boy who can teach us a lesson or two on determination in the face of adversity. Not for nothing has he earned the sobriquet by his friends as the ‘Jalika’ of India.
The average Indian boy who doesn’t fail to savour his “daily dose of Linkin Park and Eminem” is not so average after all. As his toes lightly touch a rock and his feet caress the surface, the viewer should be careful to not blink. With a swish and flick, without a wand, Hemen swings from mountain to mountain like a trapeze artiste, before gently skirting his way to the ground.
“After playing cricket for five years, I realised that luck wasn’t on my side here and hence wanted to try something else. Nothing really happened for a while. I kept trying out different sports but still felt that I lacked thrill in my life. It happened to see rock climbing and paragliding events on TV. There was no looking back since then.”
Having enrolled at the Assam Mountaineering Association in 2012, Hemen had to cross the first hurdle of showcasing his skills to a coach. Once the association saw that he had power and grit combined with aesthetics in his moves, they had no qualms in giving him a membership at the Association. He has been a part and parcel of them ever since and they also have immediately accepted him as one of their own sons.
For 4–6 hours every day, Hemen plunges into practise at the centre. His routine comprises seven hours of free running, Yoga, cycling and visiting the gym for “better flexibility and powerful muscles” every day. “It’s sometimes exhaustive after cycling in the hills and then running. I come back only to eat and sleep but I recover the next day.”
He also maintains a very strict diet. “I eat only home-cooked food, mostly proteins. I can live on fruits and milk all day. I deliberately don’t go out with my friends because I am scared I will be tempted to eat out and also because I have to focus all my time in practise. I can’t remember the last time I ate a
pizza.” His dream is to win the World Championship for Climbing, and become a national level climber for India, that is scheduled to take place on October 25 in
However, such dreams aren’t handed over on a platter; as we all know, they are mostly earned. Hs hurdles are twofold: his family and sponsorship. He says that his family has not supported him in this endeavour. “Whatever I do, I do it on my own. They keep shouting, saying that I am not earning for the family. After a hard day of practise, when I just want to sleep, my family keeps asking me what is the point of all this and where the money is in this sport. I have told them to give me about three years of time after which I will go for a job, if this doesn’t work out. But I really hope it does as I know only bouldering, in and out. Let’s see.” However, his younger brother has picked up running after watching Hemen practise hard which makes the latter very proud. “Atleast someone learns from me,” he laughs.
“Sponsorship is very important. We hardly have sponsors in this sport because it isn’t so popular. We need sponsors because equipment like shoes, gear, harness and the clothes are very expensive, and all we are trying to do is just win a medal for our country.”
“People don’t really know much about this sport as it is confined only in the wilderness, into the hills and jungles. In the concrete confines of a city, they usually twitch their eyebrows when we talk about rock climbing. This is why North East, I feel, is at a huge advantage because the terrain offers scope for so much adventure. The entire place howls of such crazy sports.” He further adds that more people have to be aware of this sport as only then it will become a nation-wide phenomenon “People are hesitant as it is quite dangerous.”
He brushes off his injuries as if they are a part and parcel of his activities. “I was in bed for a year, from January 2016. I hurt my neck while climbing. This was the time I missed climbing the most. Even recently I injured my fingers but I still get up and climb. It’s my dream, I have to do it. Ab soch liya toh karna hi hai.”