Prakash Nadar (35), a differently-abled man is all set to mark International Women’s Day tomorrow, March 8 with a difference. This polio-afflicted Worli resident who walks with the help of crutches, and moves about in a wheelchair, is to attempt to swim from the Gateway of India to Rewas in Raigad and make a return journey. The distance is 42 km and estimated time Nadar would take is approximately 15-16 hours. If he is successful Nadar says, “It would be a record distance for open sea swimming in the handicapped category.”
Nadar will take the plunge at 1 pm (tomorrow) and has two boats as support following him and recording his swim. His coach Shekhar Damodar Surve would be in one of the boats. “I want to dedicate this effort to my mother, M Balasundari on Women’s Day. She is the one who encouraged me hugely through my childhood and actually helped me live true to my belief: I count on my ability, not my disability,” says Nadar. The physically challenged swimmer who has won numerous medals at several meets for the disabled across the country and is also a Shiv Chattrapati award winner, has made battling adversities part of his life.
Born and brought up in Madraswadi at Motilal Nagar in Worli, Nadar said, “Money was always short in our home, so were all the opportunities and avenues that money brings. Yet, our hearts were big. I remember my late father telling me: You do not have much to give people, but you are healthy and strong so you can donate blood. I became a regular blood donor, having donated blood more than 60 times in my life.” Nadar says that this record attempt should have been, “Done at least 15 years ago. I should have attempted this swim but I did not have the funds then. Now, Nitesh Rane of Swabhimaan Sanghatana is giving me financial help.” Rane explained, “I am helping Nadar because I think his attempt is an important one in raising awareness about the abilities of those disabled. Women’s Day is particularly apt,” adding that Nadar heads the wing for the differently-abled in his party.
Nadar learnt his swimming in the sea adjacent to his home, “We used to swim at Worli Sea Face, my friend Selva Kumar used to literally carry me towards the sea as I could not walk and throw me into the water. The tides were unpredictable, currents were rough but I swam using my arms. My family would chide me and warn me that people have been washed away in the sea here, stronger swimmers than I have perished, but I continued undeterred. I could not afford a pool membership then, so the sea it was.”
Through the years, a number of benefactors helped Nadar hone his swim skills at a pool in Shivaji Park and Worli. “I cannot move my legs so I swim with my hands - freestyle and backstroke too though I also do the breaststroke at times. My love for swimming started many years ago, at my S.E.C. School for the Physically Handicapped at Agripada. I remember handicapped swimmer Rajaram Ghag being felicitated at the school for something. He distributed sweets. He inspired me. I even earned the nickname Junior Ghag,” laughs Nadar. Just like Ghag inspired him, Nadar himself became inspirational for a number of physically challenged persons. “With the Swabhimaan Sanghatana, we have helped numerous disabled persons,” says Nadar who runs the Swabhimaani Communications Centre at old passport office in Worli. He employs four physically challenged employees in his centre.
Nadar adds, “I want to tell the Govt. that it always announces cash awards for our international athletes post-medal wins. In fact, there should be monetary help pre-Games. For instance, let the Govt. reward those who reach the qualifying marks for the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro (Brazil). That money would help them in preparation and give their best at the Games.”
Nadar says that all his life, “I have worked to make the physically challenged get the courage to come out of their homes. We do not have the infrastructure to make life easier for disabled people - where are the ramps in our public buildings? Can the handicapped use public toilets? How do they get into buses? These are the factors that deter them from going out of their homes. They may get out for a day or two, one bad experience shatters their confidence and they are back in their homes, the next day.” Nadar who is married to an abled person, Satya, has two children, son Hariharan (8) and daughter Varshini (6). Both his children go to school, “because as a school drop out, (I left school when I was in the fourth standard), I know the value of education. I know what I missed,” he says.
Tomorrow, he says his family along with a slew of supporters would be at Mumbai’s iconic Gateway of India to watch him take to the waters at 1 pm. “I do not have the legs to propel me but I have the spirit. I said earlier, that I dedicate this swimathon effort to my mother. As a father of a small girl, I want to in fact dedicate this to all girls. Women, especially from a certain strata in society, do face huge challenges, in a way they may be as handicapped as people like us. I want to give them the courage to break those barriers. I hope the world is listening and men especially when I say that there is a lot of talk about preserving the world for Generation Next. Fear the future is our mantra. We talk about conservation or global warming. Yet, if we treat women badly, subject them to discrimination overt or covert, indulge in violence, there is no future. “I do not want any record against my name with this swimathon. I simply want to prove that every person can break out of his or her limitations imposed on them to be more than they thought they could ever be,” finishes Nadar with a flourish.
Post the 26/11 terror attacks in the city, a Mumbai swimming champ wanted to swim from Dharamtar to the Gateway of India as a tribute to the 26/11 attack victims. Accomplished swimmer Vinod Ramchandra Ghadge, who had planned this tribute, tragically got entangled in the fishing nets along the route and drowned. He had swum the 36-km stretch from Dharamtar to Gateway earlier. Ghadge was a Worli resident.