Imtiaz Ahmed / Guwahati
Tayabun Nisha is the first woman athlete from Assam whose spectacular performance on the national stage 48 years ago, became an inspiration for the likes of sprinter Hima Das, swimmer Mithoo Borooah, table tennis champion Monalisha Baruah Mehta, ace boxer Shiva Thapa, archer Jayanta Talukdar or medal-winning pugilist, Olympian Lovlina Borgohain.
Tayabah’s story is of sheer grit as she overcame her family’s inherent poverty while living in eastern Assam’s Sivasagar town, as it happened at a time when her peers – Muslim women – dare not venture into the playground.
Tayabun, 68, made a career out of sports starting from Eid sports meets at the Darbar Field in Sivasagar and to the Delhi Asian Games in 1982.
Tayabun had lost her father when he was in the eighth standard. She not only managed her home and the small agricultural land but also practiced sports and participated in sports events.
Tayabun Nisha with Olympians Hima Das and Lovlina Borgohain
“For a small girl, a packet of toffees as the winner’s prize was a really big motivation for us to participate in the sports meets organised on the occasions of Eid, Independence Day, Republic Day, etc at Darbar Field. Winning the coveted best athlete’s trophy was a dream which I would eye for every time only to be denied because of my tender age. The organisers would not allow me to participate in the seniors’ events where the best athlete’s prize was to be won. So, I would put on mekhela chadar to look like a grown-up and participate in the seniors’ events. It worked out at times and I won the coveted title on a couple of occasions and I was motivated all the more.”
Tayabun looked back at her journey while speaking with Awaz-the Voice.
Her talent was spotted by Ranjit Gogoi, a sports organiser. He sponsored this little Shivsagar girl to represent the district in the All-Assam Inter-district Athletics Meet.
From this point, there was no looking back for her. Soon, she represented India in the Asian Games, the world veteran athletics meet in Japan, the USA, and South Africa.
Tayabun Nisha distribution relief during the floods
A shot putter and javelin thrower as well, young Tayabun was trained initially by her father. He noticed her interest in sports and took her to the playground every day. “My father used to take me to the playground every day for practice drills. He would tell me to aim at the top of a distant tall palm tree when I took the run-up for the javelin throw,” she said.
“I started learning the basics of discus throw by helping one of my cousins during his practice drills at the paddy field. He was a discus thrower and my job was to collect the discus and throw it back to him. “Gradually, I developed the power in my arms and started trying it out on the playground. It turned out to be quite interesting because I started improving every single day.”
In 1974, Tayabun upset a 12-year national record in discus throw in the XIIth Inter-State Athletics Championship at Jaipur. The gold she won was the first-ever medal won by an Assamese woman in sports.
She said: “It was a great motivation. It was a result of my unstinted dedication and relentless pursuit of making many sacrifices. The confidence I gained from this achievement helped me have bigger goals and it culminated in my participation in the Asian Games.
“I did my best in the Asian Games trials. The previous night I was suffering from fever and prayed the entire night to God for my recovery. The only saving grace was the presence of Bhogeswar Barua (Arjuna awardee athlete from Assam) in the selection panel. However, I knew even he would not be able to help me if I didn’t perform in the trials. When I threw my career-best throw the next day, PT Usha, my roommate in the camp, said ‘God has answered this girl’s night-long prayers. The entire night she prayed instead of sleeping’. After that, I was trained for two years in the national camp before the Asian Games. I missed a medal by a whisker finishing fourth. But, I don’t have any regrets about that. I gave my best,” Tayabun, who still keeps fit by engaging herself as a gym trainer at her residential complex in Guwahati, said.
Tabayun Nisha training young persons at her Gymnasium
Asked how she could manage her time with work as an NF Railway official, a housewife with two sons, her sporting career, and social commitments, she said: “I am an early riser. I have been waking up at 3 am since my childhood because it was my duty to take the bulls to the paddy field for ploughing. I never skip my namaz and Quran recitation before going out of the home. I am a go-getter all the time and I am not in the habit of banking on others. I manage everything by sticking to a rigid routine.”
About her inspiration to pursue her sporting career till the age of about 45 years, Tayabun said: “My childhood inspiration was my father and his teachings. And, after marriage, my husband the late Sahid Ullah kept me inspired. These two men have never discouraged me in my life.”
Tayabun continues to be actively associated with all kinds of sports as well as social activities in Assam and hopes to continue so till the time she could. Besides, she has been involved in philanthropic activities to aid the needy.