November 4, 2011

Wait, WHAT?!?!!

From the website:

Budhia Singh’s life reads like a Bollywood movie scripted by Dickens. Born in India, next to a railway track, abused and beaten by an alcoholic father, he is sold at the age of three by his impoverished mother to a street hawker. Destined to lead a desperate existence as a beggar, Budhia is then rescued by a concerned local judo coach, who runs an orphanage for slum children.

It doesn’t take long for Budhia to reveal his remarkable talent for running. Biranchi seizes the opportunity to do something much more symbolic for India’s poor, as he has done so many times for other slum children in the judo arena. He embarks on a mission to turn Budhia into a running phenomenon. Within six months, Budhia has run twenty half- marathons. Within a year, he has run 48 full marathons. What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that Budhia is still only four years old. He’s become the darling of the masses, an Indian icon, and is mobbed everywhere he goes. Now Biranchi is convinced that he has the potential to become India’s greatest runner and first Olympic marathon champion.

But with the fame comes the controversies. At the end of his record-breaking 65 km run, he collapses. With the world’s eyes on them and an international storm brewing, the Indian government decide to intervene, accusing the coach of cruelty, and threatening to take his newly- adopted son into care.
Is Biranchi effectively enslaving the boy for his own gain? Has Budhia merely traded slum squalor for sporting slavery? Or is Biranchi the man who saved Budhia from a desperate future, a man who loves Budhia as his own son?

Even though they still don’t make trainers his size, an opportunistic tug of war is played-out by adults over Budhia’s control. He is caught in the crossfire of lawyers and politicians. Biranchi openly mocks his detractors while inviting the state government to his judo hall to see the food and shelter he provides for Budhia. He gathers all the slum children to protest outside the Child Welfare Committee, holding banners saying "What about us?" Biranchi relishes being a spokesman for the poor, lambasting the Government for their hypocrisy. The Media are whipped into a frenzy - headline stories and publicity strategies in both camps fuel the controversy.

In the midst of this furore, the biological mother who sold her only son to a stranger for $10, and who has for so long championed Biranchi as a saviour, dramatically changes tact. She accuses the coach of torturing her son. Biranchi is thrown into jail. Budhia is kidnapped by his mother; forced back into the slums as she demands her share of the spoils from her son’s achievements. Budhia is effectively held ransom, unable to see the adoptive father he loves, the debate and intrigue entirely beyond his control.

Without his son, Biranchi is a broken man. For the first time he ponders whether to go on fighting or to abandon the struggle which has brought him to the brink of a nervous break-down. He pours scorn on the accusation of torture and the perception that he is gaining financially out of the boy. He claims that the Minister for Child Welfare bribed Budhia’s mother to make the charge and that the government wants control over Budhia, and a piece of his reflected glory. Biranchi is acquitted of all charges. But before any solutions regarding the fate of Budhia can be found, a shocking event takes place. Biranchi is murdered by a gangster, shot with three bullets at point- blank range in a slum ‘mafia’ killing.

Budhia is woken-up in the middle of the night and is told the news by journalists. He falls silent, speaking only to tell the endless stream of reporters: “no more questions”.  His life has come full circle and, not for the first time, his survival hangs in the balance. For the world, Budhia has been spared his enslaver but for this small boy, he has lost his mentor and father-figure, the only loving advocate he ever had.

Who killed coach Biranchi Das - what precisely was the motive? And what becomes of Budhia Singh, India’s ‘wonder boy’, the world’s youngest marathon runner? As the investigation into the killing unfolds, Budhia is once again rescued from his humble beginnings and awarded a scholarship for sporting excellence from the very state government who claimed his running was tantamount to torture.
Wikipedia has little more to say on the subject. It does however confirm this child, now 9, ran 40 miles in just over 7 hours. Of course, both the movie website and Wikipedia are both sensationalized.

I wonder what the real story is, and whether this child really ran that far. If so, did he do so willingly? I understand his world is different than ours, but how does a 4 year old run for 7 hours, willingly?

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