Two handicapped Mumbaikars for London Paralympics

Battling against all odds, two Mumbaikars, both afflicted with polio, will be competing in the 2012 London Paralympics.

The duo - Prakash Nadar, 35, and Bhushan Kasekar, 34, - will take part in the discus throw and powerlifting events.

Both hail from modest economic backgrounds and have struggled all their lives to finally achieve selection for the Paralympics, which will begin simultaneously with the Olympics Aug 29, 2012.

Born and living in a slum in Worli in southcentral Mumbai, Nadar runs a small stall, aptly named 'Swabhiman Communication Centre,' outside Mumbai's Regional Passport Office to support his family - mother M. Balasundari, wife Satya, son Hariharan (6, a student of Don Bosco School, Matunga) and daughter Varshini (4, student of Girls Convent High School, Dadar).

Kasekar, a graphic designer, has made international waves in the powerlifting 175 kg category and has bagged several medals at the national and international levels.

Polio has affected Nadar in both his legs, making him dependent on crutches or a wheelchar, while polio has affected Kasekar's left leg.

Both were thrilled last week when they received a confirmatory e-mail from the Paralympics Committee of India after the national selection trials in Bangalore.

Nadar is particularly happy as it would enable him to add to his medal tally of 81 golds, 29 silvers and 27 bronzes so far, besides several other awards and honours.

Nadar is also a national swimming champion who mastered the discipline in the grimy, stinking gutter waters flowing into the Arabian Sea near the Worli Seaface, which gets regularly flushed out by the tidal waters.

"I took part in an event in Mumbai several years ago when a senior police officer, Balasaheb Gadge (now an Assistant Commissioner of Police) noticed my swimming abilities. He made great efforts to get me trained at the professionally-run swimming pool in the Police Camp, Worli," Nadar told IANS.

Besides swimming, Nadar also trained himself in discus throw, the event for which he has been finally selected from 350 other hopefuls, along with Kasekar, in Bangalore Dec 16.

"Now, we shall be coached by the government and sent to participate in the London Paralympics-2012. We are confident that we shall bring honours to our country," said Nadar, who was forced to drop out of school after Class 6 due to financial constraints.

Engaged in a host of social activities, including giving jobs to four handicapped persons in his own stall, organizing blood donation camps in which over 16,000 bottles have been collected in the past few years, Nadar laments the "near total absence" of encouragement for any sports barring cricket in the country.

Nadar said that his first inspiration for swimming came from the legendary Mumbaikar, Rajaram Ghag, who became the second handicapped person in the world to swim the treacherous English Channel several years ago.

"He had come to the SEC Dayschool for Crippled for a programme. After seeing him and listening to his experiences, he became my idol and I decided to emulate him," Nadar said.

"However, many years later, a small gesture by ACP Gadge Sir helped me hone my swimming skills and enabled me win gold medals in national events. Why cannot the authorities encourage other sports equally? There are 2.20 crore physically handicapped people, men and women, in India as per 2001 Census, but where are the opportunities?" he asked.

Nadar pointed out that as an individual with little or no official backing, financial support, sponsorship and professional grooming he managed to get selected for the world's top international sporting event.

"The handicapped in our country can do wonders with a little support instead of mere sympathy, and understanding by the officialdom and the general people at large. They can start with ordinary things, like making all public toilets in the city handicapped-friendly," he said.

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