While everyone’s running for a cause on Sunday, 68-year-old Bharti Patel is content to brighten up the run for eight special guests she will host for the marathon. Last evening, eight paraplegic jawans from the Indian Army arrived in the city from Pune to participate in the wheelchair segment of the Mumbai marathon. Patel will give each of them a token sum of Rs 5,000 and a gift kit, and host a soiree for them at the Cricket Club of India (CCI) after the marathon.
A social worker, Patel was an NCC cadet in her school days. Her industrialist father Jayanand Khira, after whose name Khira Nagar in Santacruz (W) is known today, was part of the Indian Freedom movement all those years ago. She says she imbibed patriotism and philanthropy from him.
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Patel says, “These young soldiers are the unsung heroes forgotten by civilians. We are safe because they have been guarding our borders. They need less of attention and more of love and affection.”
Fighting sundry sicknesses herself - liver cirrhosis, infection of blood and other ailments - she has not let her age interfere with her spirit to serve those who can do with her help. What’s in it for her? Fulfilment, she says. “I get satisfaction when I do something for people in distress and see the smiles on their faces. No medicine has been able to give me that,” she says.
Patel does not believe in sounding off her endeavours but lauds her friends Harish and wife Geeta Kapadia, whose son Lt Nawang Kapadia sacrificed his life fighting militants in the jungles of Rajwar in Kupwara district of Srinagar in 2000. The couple has played muse and facilitator in her mission to reach out to army personnel.
“With the help of some senior citizens, I had got around 250 mufflers made for the jawans of Gorkha Regiment three years ago. Since I did not have access to them, Geeta Kapadia helped me reach out to the Gorkha soldiers who were deployed in Darjeeling,” Patel says.
“It was during Geeta’s visit to the Paraplegic Centre in Pune three years ago that she was moved to see young soldiers in wheelchairs determined to do something different. Ever since, she has been encouraging them to visit Mumbai for the marathon,” Patel said.
Patel has a few surprises for her special guests, who are staying at the INS Ashwini hospital in Navy Nagar. They have a do to attend to at the CCI on Sunday evening, thanks to Patel, a member of the exclusive club. As a souvenir for the jawans, Patel has got jute hampers made at a centre for handicapped children, and packed them with a shawl, hand towels, handkerchiefs and soaps. She will offer them a cash sum of Rs 5,000, and give the helpers accompanying them Rs 250 each.
Patel thanks her family for the moral and financial support they have given to her efforts. Her son Rajan (40), an IT entrepreneur, says, “My mother has always been a silent worker. Her actions have spread cheer among the jawans confined to wheels at a young age. I am proud of her.”
The Paraplegic team
The Mumbai Marathon will witness an inspirational participation by the physically disabled, including Patel’s eight guests from Pune. Though on wheelchairs, all eight have abundant confidence, and will take part in the 2.5-km wheelchair segment of the event on Sunday:
Naik Phool Singh, 47
Joined Army on Feb 5, 1986 (Electronic Mechanical Engineer or EME Corp)
Mishap: On March 10, 1994, Bodo militants attacked me. A bullet hit my spinal cord and stomach during Operation Ifazad at Imphal. I was in the hospital for 4 years
On the big run: I ranked 2nd last year in Mumbai Marathon. I will make sure that my performance is better than last year.
Sepoy M P Thapa, 35
Joined Army on Feb 1, 1996 (attached to 4/3 Gurkha Regt)
Incident: On Jan 30, 2004, I was returning to the Indo-Nepal border when I was attacked by a gang of robbers who barged into our bus to loot passengers.
On the big run: I have participated in Mumbai marathon before and I am happy that such a huge platform has been given to us.
Lance Naik Thiru Kumaran, 32
Joined Army on Jul 12, 2000, (attached to 162 Artillery)
Incident: On Nov 15, 2008, my motorcycle brakes failed and I fell from a bridge at Rajapalyam, Tamil Nadu. I broke my spine. I was in hospital for 3 years. My marriage broke up due to this.
On the big run: I am happy with the competition. I thought my life was over after the accident but I have a chance to be normal
SWR Premkumar Ale, 25
Joined Army on Sep 24, 2005 (attached to Remount Veterinary Corp, nursing)
Incident: On 28 Mar 2009, I was returning from duty on my bicycle when a truck struck me from behind. I injured my spinal cord and am in the wheelchair permanently
On the big run: I am visiting Mumbai for the first time and am very happy to participate in the marathon
Naik Suresh Kumar Karki, 38
Joined Army on Sep 23, 1995
Incident: On Jul 7, 2004, I was taking an injured colleague to the hospital after Bodo militants shot him in Rangia, Guwahati. The army ambulance met with an accident, killing other soliders and injuring my spinal cord
On the big run: We are thankful to the marathon organisers for allowing us to participate at this big platform. I will put in my best to make my army brothers proud.
Sepoy Anil Lamkhade, 33
Joined Army on Jul 10, 2001 (attached to 4th Maratha Lite Infantry)
Incident: On Jan 6, 2008, I was in J&K when the army jeep in which I was travelling fell into the valley. My spinal cord was damaged
On the big run: This is my first marathon in Mumbai and I will try to at least achieve a place among the first four
Havaldar Mohammed Fayaz Alam, 44
Joined Army on Mar 30, 1989 (attached to Signals)
Incident: On Oct 28, 2008, as an instructor in the 1 UP Gulf Battalion NCC in Agra, I was to give a demo to check overhead cables. I climbed atop a roof and fell. I injured my spinal cord and was hospitalised for three years
On the big run: I will do my best to make the countrymen proud of the Army
Sepoy K Naga Reddy, 37
Joined Army on Feb 23, 1994 (attached to 21 Mechanised Infantry)
Incident: On Nov 18, 1994, the unit was in Pokhran for field practice when our vehicle, carrying 81mm mortar firing ammunition met with an accident and the ammunition fell on me injuring my spinal chord
On the big run: This is my third run at the Mumbai marathon, and I am coming to relish every moment.