The historic feat of an 18-year-old sprinter has fuelled hopes for the future of athletics in India. But it means much more in her birthplace, Dhing, that has been running from an “ominous” present after losing the race to save its golden past. On Friday night, Hima Das became the first Indian athlete to win a gold medal at a global meet: the IAAF World U-20 Athletics Championship 2018 at Tampere.

For Dhing, constricted by a land-eating Brahmaputra and an influx of migrants, it was the dawn of a new day. Hima has been at the forefront of a movement against illegal influx. The town and five of the last Assamese villages on its eastern edge had basked in a different sun — one with the cultural and literary glow — 55 years ago when Ratnakanta Barkakati became the 30th president of the 101-year-old Assam Sahitya Sabha, a moulder of opinions. One of those five villages is Kandhulimari, where Hima was born on the banks of the Leteri (dirty) channel of the Brahmaputra.

“Dhing has produced the likes of dramatist Basanta Kumar Saikia, actor Debananda Goswami and writer Anamika Bora. Yesteryear’s table tennis star Monalisa Baruah Mehta has her roots here. But Hima’s performance has given the place a new lease of life almost six decades after Barkakati lit up the place culturally,” Biman Hazarika, an archaeologist, told
The Hindu
.

Dhing, which sits off Assam’s axis of development along a national highway 30 km south, is at the centre of the State map. The place was the epicentre of a British-era movement considered the precursor to the BJP’s 2016 Assembly poll campaign — save
jaati-maati-bheti
(race, land, and homestead). Cultural activist Mahendranath M. Dekaphukan launched Khangrakkhini Andolan, a movement to save Assamese identity, when the British began settling Muslims from present-day Bangladesh along the banks of the Brahmaputra in 1936.

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