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Posted at: Mar 11, 2018, 2:16 AM; last updated: Mar 11, 2018, 2:16 AM (IST)

Recording a new challenge

By their sheer grit, these differently abled bravehearts have achieved glory by setting new records in some daredevil feats

Usha Rai

It is not just the physically fit who love taking up a challenge and setting records like climbing a mountain or pulling a truck with just their teeth or their moustache! Those with disabilities, too, feel elated and get a high when they create records in challenging activities like sky diving, running a full marathon with an artificial leg or driving a car with just their feet.

The Limca Book of Records features several such heroes in its 2018 edition. These heroes belong to different parts of the country, come from different age groups (nine to 50 years) but have similar gritty stories to share that inspire people to rise above their disabilities. 

Two of them, Sai Kaustuv Dasgupta and Raghurama Bhat live in Puttaparthi near Bengaluru. Bhat (30) is a quadriplegic having no sensation below the neck. But in March 2017 he skydived from 12,000 feet at Mysuru. Bhat, in tandem with his instructor Pavel, had a free fall of 5,000 feet and then came down with the parachute. Falling at a speed of 200 miles per hour was an amazing experience, he says.

The first-of-its-kind skydive by a quadriplegic was done after Bhat had a year’s training and various dry runs supported by a team of professional sky riders of Kakini Enterprises Pvt Ltd. Bhat is a radio jockey (RJ) at Sri Sathya Sai Baba Radio Station at Puttaparthi and also does voiceovers. Dedicating his achievement to all the disabled people, he says, “Disability is in the body not the mind. People with disability should live their dream.” He now wants to do paragliding.

At 19, this RJ was a cheerful teenager. But life changed for him forever in November 2005 when he went with friends to see River Chitravathi in Puttaparthi, which was flowing after a decade. It looked so inviting that he dived in not realising it was not deep enough. His head hit the ground and he felt his neck snap. He could not move his limbs. Fortunately, his friends pulled him out. 

Bhat was paralysed below the shoulders. The next two years went by in a haze of pain for him and his family. Apart from the physical pain, there was psychological and emotional upheaval as well. However, with the support of family and friends, his smile returned and life picked up. Though confined to a wheelchair, he first completed his B. Sc. and then MA in English literature. Bhat has also authored a book, Rainbows Over My Sky, which has been translated into Hindi.

Another such person is Dasgupta who is also confined to a wheelchair with 80 per cent disability due to a brittle bone disease and 50 fractures. He is a graphic designer, singer, composer and a motivational speaker. As his right hand is not functional, he does graphic designing operating the mouse using just the two fingers of his left hand. He types using a virtual on-screen keyboard. Like Bhat, Dasgupta has also written a book, My Life, My Love, My Dear Swami, which has been translated into many languages.

Last year, Dasgupta received the Cavinkare Mastery Award for excellence achieved against all odds. He has also received the Dishari award for the best child singer of West Bengal and has composed 140 songs. Recently a DVD of his compositions, Sai Sangeeta Sudha, and an MP3 audio volume on Lord Hanuman, Jaya Vijayee Bhava, were released. In July 2016 he won the wheelchair wanderlust competition for which he had to travel to Goa where he was driven in a wheelchair- friendly car. Winning this contest was a lucky break for him as he had been confined to a room since 2009. 

Travel options are still limited for the wheelchair bound, he says. Train journeys do not allow him to enter with his wheelchair and his condition does not allow him to travel by air. The disabled should be allowed to sit in their own wheelchair, says Dasgupta. 

Maj Avnish Bajaj (30) of the Infantry Brigade became the first Indian amputee to have run the full marathon (42.195 km) in January 2017 in 7 hrs 2 min and 16 sec. With a prosthesis on one leg, Major Bajaj was competing with 20,000 able-bodied runners in umder-35 category in the Mumbai Marathon.

After losing his leg in a grenade accident, he met a retired major who was India’s first blade runner for half marathons. He encouraged Major Bajaj to take to running instead of agonising about being unable to do his bit for the Army or the nation. 

Hardly able to walk after 19 surgeries, running a marathon seemed a distant dream, but he hung on to it. Despite injuries, blisters and bleeding, he continued running and received a lot of support from the surgeon who operated on him. After completing a half marathon, he could feel some sense of achievement. After completing the full marathon, while his stump suffered several injuries his spirits remained high. Major Bajaj now works as an instructor with the Army Education Corps at Pachmarhi. 

Vikram Agnihotri (47) of Indore is the first handless person in India to be issued a permanent driving licence by the Madhya Pradesh Government in 2016 for a four- wheeler, which he drives with his feet. Agnihotri lost his hands at the age of seven in an accident but his grit and determination kept him going. Agnihotri drives a modified Maruti Celerio AGS (automatic gear shift) and has driven over 22,000 km without any incident. He also chauffeurs his proud parents around. 

In 2015, he bought the car and as there was neither a driving school nor a trainer for hand amputees, he used to watch foreign videos on handless driving. In just three months he learnt to drive using his feet. His effort was appreciated by the Indore Road Transport Office but his application for a licence was rejected as there was no provision in the Motor Vehicle Act to issue one to a bilateral amputee. After a year of chasing the government, the Act was amended and Agnihotri got his licence. He now plays football and swims. A successful businessman, he operates the computer using his toes. 

Geeta S. Rao (39) of Ahmedabad had 45 per cent disability in her polio-affected left leg. The girl who had to be carried to school, through her sheer determination and help of physiotherapy became an athlete in 2016. Rao completed the triathlon (1.5 km swim, 40 km cycling and 10 km run) in the open category at the Chennai Trekking Club in less than seven hours. In the same year, she also completed the half triathlon (1.9 km swimming, 90 km cycling and10-km running) below the stipulated 10 hours.

Geeta’s athletic life began in February 2016 when her parents gifted her a cycle. Her first cycling event was a 14 km green ride, followed by the 115 km ‘the impossible ride’. She participated in the 375 km cycling tour of Aravallis and has completed 6000 km in cycling. 

Geeta recalls her parents carried her to school since there was no wheelchair. When she was in the eighth grade, she overheard a woman, “It’s better not to have a daughter than have one like this.” The remark crushed her. She even contemplated suicide but it also ignited a spark in her. She decided not to depend on people. 

Overcoming her low self-esteem with physiotherapy she began to stand and walk with the support of crutches and shoes for the handicapped. Geeta worked as an IT manager in a corporate company, with her brother in the family’s travel business and even started a hotel business of her own. But it was the gift of a cycle that changed her life!

Baburaj T Divakaran (53) of Alappuzha, Kerala, despite 40 per cent disability in his left hand, swam 26 km from Champakulam to the Alappuzha Punnamada finishing point in January 2017. He did that in 7 hrs and 10 min only. It was to create awareness on global terrorism and water pollution. 

An LIC agent and part-time swimming instructor, Divakaran was accompanied by a doctor during his marathon swimming which was witnessed by the district sports council president besides a large crowd.

Divakaran’s left hand was damaged when he was 12. He had fallen off a tree and suffered a fracture. Medical negligence compounded the problem. Divakaran learnt swimming when he was eight. 

Disturbed by photographs of the drowned refugees from war-torn areas, he started an awareness drive on global terrorism. He felt that they could have been saved if they knew swimming. His second focus on water pollution stemmed from his own experience of being entangled in plastic bags thrown in ponds and rivers. At least 50 species of fish have disappeared from Vembanad backwaters at the mouth of the Pamba because of pollution. This spurred him to take up this cause. 

The gritty stories of these heroes should inspire not just others of their ilk but every one for they have not just made a diffrence to their own lives but are doing their bit for others and society as well. 


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