A narrow path canopied by towering trees leads to Commonwealth Games triple jump champion Eldhose Paul’s house in Kolenchery, about 25km from the Ernakulam bus terminal. The single-room, tin-roofed dwelling stands in stark contrast to the other fancy houses with elaborate driveways in the vicinity. “No TV, fridge, AC or washing machine,” says father Kochuthottathil Paulose as he picks up an old radio set to show his only source of entertainment.
Eldhose Paul has surely faced stiffer challenges off the field than on it. Paul, 25, was just four when his mother Mariyakutty passed away. His father, who used to work at a toddy (palm wine) shop, turned to alcohol to cope with the loss and could never mentally overcome the setback. Kochuthottathil’s meagre earnings were not enough to raise his two sons – Eldhose and his younger brother, a special-needs child.
The Paulose household found itself in what seemed like a bottomless pit. That is when Eldhose’s grandmother Mariyamma, now 89, decided to take matters into her own hands. She not only raised Eldhose but also ensured that not once did he feel the void his mother had left.
Even though Mariyamma has entertained countless interview requests since Eldhose finished atop the podium in Birmingham, she was more than happy to go through the drill again. Her eyes lit up at the mention of Eldhose. As she walked out to the porch, without any assistance, she had just one request: “You have to talk loud.” Her hearing may have diminished but her voice shows no signs of the frailty that one would associate with someone on the cusp of their 90s.
After his CWG triumph, Eldhose has not only become a household name in his region but in the entire state of Kerala. There are huge banners of him at the village bus stop and his uncle’s house, where Eldhose was raised, has become a sort of landmark. “Now when people order anything online they put “near Eldhose’s house” in the address,” says uncle Babu.
“Tell me, what do you want to know about him? Nyaan avende appanum, ammeyum, samrakshakkan aanu (I am his father, mother and protector),” Mariyamma says. She has an air of authority and is a revered figure. No one in the family wants to take even a little credit for Eldhose’s success. “Whatever she said is the absolute truth. I didn’t do anything. She raised him single-handedly,” says father Kochuthottathil.
Mariyamma was there for all of Eldhose’s school programs, parent-teacher meetings and picked him up and dropped him to school until he could manage on his own.
“I was too young when my mother left. I don’t even have any memories of her. For me, she (grandmother) has been my mother ever since I have known her. She has not once let me feel the loss of my mother. Whatever I am today is entirely because of her love and sacrifices,” says Eldhose.
Eldhose’s childhood was devoid of any luxuries but his grandmother ensured there was always food on the table. Mariyamma’s daughter, a nurse who worked in Ireland, sent enough to run the household and meet Eldhose’s sports equipment requirements.
“Mariyamma managed everything. The family would have been in very bad shape if she hadn’t taken control. She’s like an angel to their family,” says Babu.
Mariyamma has little idea about her grandson’s sport. She hadn’t even heard about a sport called triple jump until Eldhose decided to try his hands at it. After his schooling, Eldhose started focussing more on sports and that’s when Mariyamma got a little worried. “I asked why he isn’t concentrating on his studies. He promised me that he would clear all his exams and not drop out,” she says.
It was in July that Mariyamma first saw her grandson on television during the World Championships in Oregon, USA where he finished ninth. Eldhose called his grandmother immediately after the competition and told her not to feel dejected. “‘I lost but participating here is also a big deal. I will try harder next time’, he told me,” says Mariyamma.
Eldhose is not someone who gives up easily, a trait he has picked up from his grandmother. The biggest life lesson Mariyamma has taught Eldhose is patience. “I have learnt a lot from just observing her. She has taught me how to deal with troubles and remain patient and work hard,” he says.
Mariyamma has had her share of struggles. She was a bright student at school and was passionate about mathematics. But her family’s financial situation forced her to drop out of school and work in the fields. “My grandfather was an alcoholic and that also caused a lot of trouble in the family. She has struggled a lot,” says Eldhose.
When Eldhose’s mother passed away, Mariyamma, a woman of faith, says she wasn’t worried about his future. “I prayed a lot and god gave me the strength to get through,” she says.