There was a palpable buzz in the air at Ghatkopar’s R-City Mall recently, as Kidzania, hosted 10 Special Olympians who did India proud in Los Angeles at the Special Olympics. The third floor airport (the entrance to Kidzania is called that) was full of excited chatter and banter as these mentally challenged athletes (that is why the label special) accompanied by guardians arrived for their havin’ a ball at the mall, day.

The Olympians rode in a fire brigade vehicle while learning the dos and don’ts of fighting fires. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi
The Olympians rode in a fire brigade vehicle while learning the dos and don’ts of fighting fires. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

The 10 Olympians divided themselves into groups and then went on to role play within the venue. It was the cookie trail for basketball bronze medal winners, Fatima Rodrigues, Kausar Pande and roller skating silver medallist Priya Gada who made a beeline for the biscuit factory. The trio learnt to make and bake biscuits. Rodrigues who suffers from mild retardation said, “I wanted to go to the beauty parlour first, but there was a long queue. I like eating biscuits, I am very happy that I learnt to make them.”

The Special Olympians at a day out at Kidzania, GhatkoparThe Special Olympians at a day out at Kidzania, Ghatkopar

It was mirror, mirror on the wall, the beauty salon at the mall for these athletes who proved that looking good was as important as playing hard. Next stop, the beauty parlour. “I enjoy putting nail polish and doing nail art. I am having a lot of fun and I want to spend the entire day here. Sadly, there is a time limit. I like having myself groomed rather than grooming others,” said Gada who suffers from microcephaly which is an abnormal smallness of the head, a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development.

(From left to right) Purushottam Thumbre, Mihir Soni and Nitin Singh put on their dabbawalla caps
(From left to right) Purushottam Thumbre, Mihir Soni and Nitin Singh put on their dabbawalla caps

Pande who suffers from border-line retardation had fun curling her hair, doing so gave her a new look. She said, “I like going to the beauty parlour. But my mother doesn’t allow me to do so very often. But here I got to style my hair and polish my nails for 30 minutes. I was so happy.”

The Special Olympians fight the fire with impressive precision and dedication
The Special Olympians fight the fire with impressive precision and dedication

It was enter the metrosexual man time as the boys too took to the salon. Long Jump and 200m athlete Pratik Shende, softball silver medallist Vipul Jain gave themselves a makeover. Jain who is moderately mentally challenged gave Pratik a French beard! He said, “I was first unsure of my skill, but now, I think I am too good. I had a lot of fun giving Pratik a new look.” Jain says he will now take his newly acquired salon skills home to try on his father and brother.

(From left to right) Kausar Pande, Priya Gada and Fatima Rodrigues learnt to make biscuits
(From left to right) Kausar Pande, Priya Gada and Fatima Rodrigues learnt to make biscuits

Pratik though remained unimpressed by his friend’s experiments and kept asking for the washroom, to wash off the fake French beard! Pratik is mildly mentally challenged and suffers from hyperactivity. “This look is making me look like an adult. I am a child; I need to look my age. My mother said that I look like Amitabh Bachchan with this look, but I don’t like it. I want to look like me and not like anyone else!" Yeeeeah, you go Pratik. Be what you want to be and not AB.

Disha Maru (right) and Sneha Verma flew a plane dressed up in pilot uniform. This is your captain speaking?
Disha Maru (right) and Sneha Verma flew a plane dressed up in pilot uniform. This is your captain speaking?

Swimming gold and silver medallists Sneha Verma and Disha Maru who are afflicted by Down Syndrome, let their imagination take wing at the Flying School. The facility allows children to role play as pilots and fly a plane on a simulator. Verma said, “I was very happy to make a plane take off and land. I always thought flying a plane was tough, but today I did it very easily.”

Vipul Jain (right) gives Pratik Shende (in the chair) a new French look with his uber cool French beard
Vipul Jain (right) gives Pratik Shende (in the chair) a new French look with his uber cool French beard

Maru who was her co-pilot said, “The landing was a little tough. But the instructors explained very well. Flying the plane was like playing a video game. My mother will be proud that I did not crash the plane and managed to take off and land with such precision.”

Softball gold medalist Mihir Soni, basketball bronze medallists Nitin Singh and Purushottam Thumbre were spotted wearing dabbawalla gear as they went around as tiffin delivery people. Soni who is mentally challenged said, “I have always been intrigued by dabbawallas. Now roaming with the cart, tiffin and address I can better understand what they do which is challenging and fun.”

Post the dabbawalla job, they played football. Singh who suffers from mild mental retardation said, “I love basketball, but playing football is fun too. This is much easier as the space is less. I struggle to play outdoors on a regular ground.”

“I scored three goals. My father was very proud to see me score. Also, Mihir and Nitin encouraged me. But in our little head-to-head I beat them,” said an ecstatic Thumbre who also suffers from borderline mental retardation.

Some athletes found it difficult to express themselves fully because they were mentally challenged. It was evident though that they put the same zest and zeal into this role playing that they must have done when playing for real, and flying the tricolour with aplomb in the USA.