A taste of school rowing in India
India has a long and rich local history in rowing and the 41st K C Mahindra All India Invitational School’s Regatta in Kolkata has added to this history.
The regatta dates back to 1973 making it one of the oldest schools, and now the largest, rowing events in Asia. It brags a wide participant base with school rowers from throughout India taking part. Raced over 500m, many of the rowers are new to the sport, some of them coming in with one month rowing experience.
Spread over a week the most popular event amongst the spectators was the coxed four while the junior boys single sculls attracted the highest number of entries – 36 in total. The regatta also includes two other events; the All India National Dart Championships and the All India School Swimming Competition, making it a week long sporting festival.
Two stand-out rowers at this year’s All India Invitational were Devdeep Datta Gupta who stroked the winning junior boys four and Mayurakshi Mukherjee who won the junior girls single sculls. Both Devdeep and Myurakshi are members of the West Bengal State Rowing Team and they have participated in several national rowing championships in India.
The Lake Club, which organises the regatta, aims to promote rowing to juniors through all sectors of society, thus it charges just a token fee of 1 rupee per student per month (about 2 cents US). There are 1500 members across all age groups with 170 of them active rowers. This number has been rising as it is part of a steady increase in the popularity of rowing. Membership is via a process of vote by existing members. New members usually hear about rowing through friends and members.
Athletes are recruited at the age of 12 into the Lake Club. When they are over 15, and have demonstrated ‘exceptional ability’ they are recommended to go to the West Bengal Rowing Association for selection to the Junior Nationals regatta held every November. The promising rowers who are younger than 15 train for inter-club and intra-club regattas.
The Lake Club was established in Kolkata in 1932 and was part of the rebellion against the exclusiveness of the sport which saw it restricted to the affluent and the upper class in what was then colonial India and Burma.
The Club holds the All India Invitational annually in June and it is raced on Rabindra Sarobar Lake which is a manmade body of water that dates back to construction in 1927. It has been used for rowing ever since its inception. The lake is in the heart of Kolkata it has recently been listed as a vital environmental area.