At the young age of 22, T Ganeshan left home and arrived in the city in search of employment, only to stumble from one hurdle to another – from living a destitute’s life on the streets to being put away in a home for beggars.
Fifty-year-old Ganeshan, who suffers from post polio residual paralysis in both legs, has come a long way since then. Today, he is a guiding spirit for many disabled persons. And that he has embraced the city that was once cruel to him is testified by the fact that tomorrow, he will be participating in the ‘Champions with Disability’ chapter of the Mumbai Marathon for the tenth consecutive time on his wheelchair.
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Ganeshan, who hails from the interiors of Tamil Nadu, left home and family and landed in Mumbai 28 years ago with three friends, in search of a job. He was soon lost in the chaos, having no knowledge of the city or the local or national languages. Having nowhere to go, he slept on footpaths for days. The police, noticing a handicapped man on the streets, assumed he was a beggar and took him to a home for beggars in Chembur.
The two-year-long stay at the home was nothing short of nightmarish, as Ganeshan could not communicate with others in the home. The turning point came when a court order necessitated that he be sent for training at the National Society for Equal Opportunities for the Handicapped (NASEOH) as he was a disabled person. It was in course of this training that Ganeshan picked up Hindi as well as Marathi. NASEOH then hired Ganeshan as a welding and a fabrication trainer. He now teaches other disabled students to make bicycles, tricycles and wheelchairs.
Today, Ganeshan lives in Wadala with his wife and three children. The approach of the annual marathon in the city always buoys his spirits, as participating in it makes him feel like he fits in. He said, “I have been participating with my students and colleagues and seniors in the marathon for the past nine years and this will be the tenth year of my participation.
I can’t wait for Sunday, as the feeling of being normal in that environment along with others gives me a different kind of joy. I no longer regret coming to Mumbai as the city has done a lot for me. NASEOH was a pillar of strength for me in the two years of my stay at the home for beggars.” Yogendra Shetty, assistant director general of NASEOH, said, “He has been with us as a trainer for almost 25 years now and he has been participating in the marathon for the past nine years. His journey for me has been very important as I have seen him grow from nothing to being a trainer here and teaching other disabled persons the spirit of life.”
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The route to be taken by wheelchair-bound participants