Nayanmani Saikia had been a weightlifter all her life and excelled indeed in this bout with the sporting. A national level player who had represented Assam many times ever since she was inducted for training into the SAI Golaghat centre back in 2001, it however would be a recurring problem in her leg that would seriously challenge the future prospects of an immensely dedicated Saikia. With her performances continually deteriorating and her confidence waning, the ‘lesser sport’ of Lawn Bowl would be the savior that she did not quite expect or even know about.
It would be in a chance encounter with the game during the 2007 National Games held in her homestate that the fates of Saikia and the sport itself would come to receive a fresh lease of life, not just in this part of the country but in the entire nation itself where it used to be no any ‘sporty’ than its existence as just a leisurely pursuit of the rich and the sophisticated at posh ‘venues’ of clubs in the bigger metropolitan cities. Nayanmoni also isn’t the only breakout star of Indian lawn bowl at the moment- that is to say precisely the gold winning CWG moment of 2022, which unfolded as an unprecedented event of glory through a four member team of players, each as forced or at least lured in the game more by chance than by choice.
Even before this record scripting performance at the world stage would accord her greater recognition, Nayanmoni Saikia had still been making waves with her abilities in perfecting the game. Having represented both her state and the country at multiple events, Saikia’s medal clinching spree was initiated by as early as 2011 when she won the gold at the National Games. The following year saw a repeat of the gilded performance at the Asian Lawn Bowls Championship in the Girl’s U-25 event. Her next claim to the yellow metal would occur as a National Lawn Bowling Championship feat in 2015, even as the love affair with podium finishes would continue with a silver at the 2018 Asian Lawn Bowls Championship, a 2020 gold at the third Khelo India Youth Games, the all important gold at the 2022 CWG and a most recent 2023 gold claim once again validated in the international Asian event.
It is evident in all such mentionables of figures and statistics that the career transition that Saikia had to undergo due to an unfortunate encounter with something that is only part and parcel of a sportsperson’s life would not remain as a decision taken in obligation. That might have been the reality indeed but the way in which she went all out to command for herself all the lawn bowling attention speaks of the perseverance and practicality that Nayanmoni Saikia would boast indeed as her assets.
Finding oneself competing in a game that does not really rule so much in public popularity itself could be reason enough to be demotivated and specifically for Saikia whose identity had already courted an immense interest garnered by the demanding as well prevalence of the weightlifting sport, the dramatic shift in intensity might have been rather disappointing in fact. What however revealed in much pleasantness was the true character of a sportsperson so dedicated and determined in her pursuit that even a quantum jump as such could not break the discipline of.
So grateful has Saikia always been in this second chance that life granted her that she has made it a way of life to uphold the dignity of the sport that is currently her whole identity indeed. And thus it comes as no surprise that even after some mere nine months of giving birth, the proud mother and as proud professional would religiously travel some couple of hours of time to practice at the only available lawn bowl court in the state capital. It makes for as heartwarming a narrative that Saikia has received all support from her husband and in- laws’ that has thus urged her to continue and deliver her best every time, even overcoming the many financial other difficulties regularly encountered in this ground of sport less treaded.
That her efforts have paid off not just in terms of stupendous shows of success but also in ushering in a greater change in respect to both her individuality as well as in different capacities of the female representation in sports and the sport in particular as well is perhaps the greatest achievement made possible by a serendipitous embrace of lawn bowling. Part of the team that was honored with the BBC Changemaker of the Year award on account of their historic gold, Nayanmoni Saikia’s tale resonates all the more because of the ‘ordinariness’ from where she emerged to conquer the world.
Born to a farmer family in Assam and working as a Forest Officer of the state government when she started representing the country internationally, it wasn’t easy for Saikia to give up on her lifelong passion of weightlifting and familiarise herself with the unknown prospect of what lawn bowling held. But she still managed to do it with so much dignity and in such pride of herself that has led her team to be cited as symbols of hope by global sportspersons as distinguished as Sachin Tendulkar himself. Her many achievements in lawn ball also led her to be conferred with the prestigious Arjuna Award in 2022.
This kind of success while would be overwhelming indeed in its feel specially occurring as the aftermath of a hopelessness saved by fate and fortitude, the fact of the matter also asserts in another arena of Saikia losing out on quite some family time. The soaring spirits of her eternal sporting passion means that the wife and mother of one needs to travel extensively so much so that she does not even get to see her daughter often. Saikia however is not one to give in to such vulnerabilities, proclaiming and proving consistently her insatiable desire to perform well and honor the sport that has changed her life.
She has not yielded in as well to pressures and ridicules that she and other lawn bowlers like her have been constantly riddled with. From dismissing the very status of the game as one uninspired play of what is understood just in the rolling of balls to questioning also their sporting abilities due to a couple of medalless Commonwealth Games appearance, the stars had been as misaligned in wanting to drive Nayanmoni Sakia further from her destiny as they had conspired to bring her close to it. That they did not quite manage to meet the former ‘expectations’ of unexcellence has only asserted irrevocably the powerful identity of someone truly universal in the recognition of her sporting spirit.