Parasports: going beyond limitations

Photo: Prashanth Muniraju

Until Roger Bannister ran a mile under a minute in 1954, it was thought impossible for humans to run that fast. Today most international runners can meet the target. If sport is about overcoming limitations, para athletes are some of the greatest mindbenders: for instance, how does a knee amputee play badminton, or a visually impaired person remember all the game positions in chess?

ASTHA, an NGO working for persons with disabilities, organised a sports meet for persons with and without physical disabilities st Devanahalli in the outskirts of Bengaluru on Tuesday. Close to 70 people participated in blind chess, wheelchair tennis, para badminton and para table tennis.

Sunil Jain, a wheelchair athlete and the brains behind the event, feels sport can empower the differently abled. “Think of how a person without hands would do archery,” he says.

As I rack my brain for an answer, he explains, “In the last two minutes, you’ve thought outside your body and its limitations. This is what a person with disability does every time they pick up a sport.” His goal is to offer differently abled athletes opportunities to train and hone their skills.

Sheryl, an M.Sc. Biology student, played badminton for the first time at the event after losing her leg in an accident in January. “I used to play for fun earlier, but now I’m thinking of playing professionally,” she says. As she and other players pick up the racquet, the game is slower than usual, they pause to bend and pick the cork when it hits the floor, or stop when the shot is too far to attempt. But a few minutes into the game, the prosthetics seem to  disappear: there are only a bunch of players giving their best on court.

In the chess room, a group of visually impaired persons from Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled in HSR Layout blitz through the chess board as they feel and move their pieces. Playing against sighted players makes no difference to their game. It’s not just chess, Basavaraj, Prashant and Thimmaiah also play blind cricket, and being differently-abled has done little to quell their sense of humour. “He’s the Dhoni of our group,” says Prashant, pointing to a friend, “maybe you can join his fan club!”

Although the winners were announced in the evening, every participant wears a look of accomplishment, from the wheelchair athletes playing lawn tennis to the visually impaired swimmers, many of whom were trained to swim for the first time on Tuesday by international para swimmer Sharath M. Gaikwad.
And to answer the question posed in the beginning: one archer Sunil knows grips the bow between his legs and pulls the arrow with his lips. Because few things are unattainable if you put your mind to it, and every para athlete can testify to that.
(An edited version of this article appeared here in The Hindu)

The Booksellers of Bangalore – 2

Back again with more haunts for those of you who get high on the scent of books:

1. Goobe’s Book Republic: A short walk down from K.C. Das Sweets on Church Street, you can spot an intriguing sign on the pavement:

Goobes final

Haha. Cracks me up everytime. Goobe’s is cool: a funky little store in the basement, with quotes on reading pasted at random places. The wall rack when you enter the basement and the graphic novel posters give it a happy vibe. They were bringing in piles of Narcopolis when I last went, as Jeet Thayil was coming over for a music session and would be signing books. Thayil or no Thayil, it’s a fun place to rummage for books. After all, there are “so many books, and so little time,” like it says on the ledge.

2. Atta Galatta, Koramangala: One of the few bookstores in Bangalore which promotes books in Indian languages. Set up by Lakshmi Sankar and Subodh Sankar, the bookstore stocks Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi books, as well as Indian writers in English. When its not being a quaint brick-red store with a tiny little cafe, with comfortable seats that invite the reader to settle down with a book, the store plays host to dozens of book readings, workshops on topics ranging from dance and theatre to candle-making and paper quilling, as well as various events for children. You can sign up for their newsletter to get updates on weekly events.

3. Eloor Library, Infantry Road: Eloor is one of Bangalore’s oldest lending libraries. It’s so familiar to Bangaloreans that most subscribers seem to think a book from Eloor is intended to be kept waaayy past the due date. Customers pay 10 per cent on each book borrowed, over a flat membership of Rs. 800 a year. They have a pretty good collection of adventure novels and fiction. And not to forget, a huge stash of Mills &  Boons. Just saying. 😛

4. State Central Library, Cubbon Park: A gorgeous library in the middle of a lush green park; doesn’t it sound like a dream? The Central Library is reference only, meaning you can walk in and pick a book off the shelf without a membership. Goes without saying that you have to leave the books back when you go. A striking building that represents much of old Bangalore, the Central Library celebrated its golden anniversary recently. It is generally occupied by students preparing for examinations of one hue or the other. The collection of books on world history, politics, etc. is impeccable, though a little more seating area would have been appreciated. Also, nice people who enabled free WiFi on Brigade Road and other hangouts in the city, how about bringing wireless connectivity in here, where someone might actually use it?

While we’re on books, the ten-day Bangalore Book Fest is back after a year’s gap at the Elaan Convention Centre, JP Nagar. Definitely worth a visit.

(The first part of this series can be found here.)

Kashmir floods: reporting without bias

I work for a national daily. It’s a hard thing to admit to when you’re in the midst of something as sudden and shocking as a natural calamity, because there is a truth few reporters will say aloud: journalists thrive on tragedies. But when the tragedy becomes personal, when for days there is no news of friends and loved ones because all communication lines are down, I struggle to understand what we’re doing here. One reporter wanted to add details to his story about how a mother was living on her baby’s Cerelac as there was nothing else to eat. To me, it seemed like feeding on someone’s private suffering. But isn’t that what journalists do every day? Take personal sorrows and play them up on national TV?

In times like these, what media channels and publications say and do and the manner they say it affects thousands of viewers. What the media chooses to focus on becomes news. For instance, focusing on angry residents pelting stones at rescuers: this is difficult terrain. Residents becoming angry at rescuers is not something strange or unexpected. When you are living without food or water for days, with no idea whether your loved ones are safe or even alive, anyone would become agitated. In Uttarakhand last year, angry residents heckled the Chief Minister and blocked roads, furious that rescue efforts were focusing more on pilgrims then local residents. But when it happens in Kashmir, many shades get added to this. The internet is swarming with trolls ready to latch on to such pieces, to spew vitriol even at the worst possible times. Should the media not report that angry residents are thwarting rescue efforts? Hardly. Such actions should be condemned as they help no one. But the tendency to take refuge in numbers (the Army has airlifted so many rations, the government has donated so many billions) and to reduce personal losses to giant marquee banners can mean other pressing matters get missed out.

There are other stories trickling in: journalists saying that residents have been doing most of the rescuing efforts, that the State administration is nowhere to be seen. The Indian administration remains poorly-equipped to deal with natural disasters, even a year after the flash floods which ravaged Uttarakhand. Flood warnings where not issued in time. As the waters recede and the full extent of devastation becomes apparent, many more issues may come to light. Now is not the time to pick faults or create rifts. Let’s not forget our basic humanity and pray for our friends struggling through this unimaginable period of difficulty.

Child abuse: Starting a conversation

We got cable TV when I was around nine. Suddenly, SONY and StarPlus were being aired right to our homes, and with that, the 4 to 6 p.m. slot was booked for a bunch of American sit-coms from the ’80s: Small Wonder, Bewitched, Silver Spoons and Diff’rent Strokes.

Even if the story line was flimsy (rich white man taking in two orphan boys from Harlem), Diff’rent Strokes, which aired on Indian channels in the nineties, won audiences on the strength of endearing performances from its young stars.

The sitcom’s trademark was a number of “very special episodes” on raging social issues. One of them dealt with something not often portrayed in the cotton-candy world of situation comedy: child sexual abuse. First aired 30 years ago, The Bicycle Man still horrifies in its portrayal of Mr. Horton, the unsuspecting child molester. It throws light on some pressing issues: that abuse can come from the least-expected quarters, be they relatives, neighbours, or people who seem so nice. And how easily children can fall into the trap, and be shamed into keeping quiet.

It’s not perfect. There are parts where you want to wring the director’s neck for trying to inject laughs in places where someone with the slightest bit of integrity would cringe. And the less said about the horrid timing of the laughter track, the better. However, in spite of that, in spite of the ‘lecturing’ it slipped into towards the end, this special was a start.

In India, we’re yet to see TV serials (with the notable exception of Satyameva Jayate) take on the responsibility of raising awareness on child abuse. Even today, sadly, many parents shy away from telling their children what constitutes an improper touch, or that their body belongs to them alone.  Sex education is viewed as  something shameful, not “part of our culture”.

If that be the case, it’s a sorry culture we belong to. India has the world’s largest number of sexually-abused children. A 2007 report by the Department of Women and Child Development, based on interviews with 12,500 children in 13 States, found that two out every three children in India were physically abused. At least 53.22 per cent of child respondents reported facing sexual abuse in one form or the other, of which nearly 22 per cent said they faced severe abuse. In 50 per cent of the cases, the abuser was known to the child or in a position of responsibility. Most children did not report the matter to anyone.

The report adds: “In India, a child below 16 years is raped in every 155th minute, a child below 10 every 13th hour and one in any 10 children sexually abused at any point of time.”

Boy, we really need to start the conversation.

(Read about CRY’s Child Rights Manifesto here.)

Further reading:

1. Study on Child Abuse India 2007 – Ministry of Women and Child Development

2. Breaking the silence – Human Rights Watch

3. Status Report on Child Rights in India – CRY

4. Tulir – Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse


The Booksellers of Brigade Road

Bangalore is no Dilli when it comes to old books. You don’t find hawkers selling yellowed paperbacks outside every gully and metro station. (Which is hardly a big deal, considering techno-wallon ka sheher has exactly six stations at the moment. :P) You’d be hard put to find something like the Daryaganj Sunday Book market here.

But what it does have, and in plenty, are bookstores with character, run by people who genuinely like books. Where you can walk in and ask for a book, and not have to wait for an attendant to type the name into a computer to tell you it’s out of stock.

Continue reading “The Booksellers of Brigade Road”

The “other” Nobel Prize contender

The Indian press heaved a collective sigh of regret when Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Prize for Peace. Every newspaper and TV channel loves a good story, and Malala’s offered everything. A courageous girl ready to fight to death for her right to education, and a chance to gloat over Pakistan’s abysmal human rights record. All was well, except for one tiny matter that was washed over. One of the contenders for the Peace Prize was Indian, and surely as deserving to be called an apostle of peace. She was Irom Sharmila, who had been nominated for her twelve-year long fast to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, a draconian law that gives the armed forces immunity from prosecution in “disturbed” areas.

Continue reading “The “other” Nobel Prize contender”

Why do we blog?

Ok, so ten thousand people on the big bad Internet have answered this question, in words more eloquent than I can ever churn.

But I need to answer, because in this case, the only answer that matters to me is mine.

I blog because I love words, and fancy myself as a bit of a writer. Also because for years I’ve written things and hidden them in drawers, tying whimsical ribbons on the top and letting them die under the dust.

BLF-2013: A balmy afternoon and some book-time

Why do people visit lit fests? That was the question in my head as I stepped into the spacious lawns at Crowne Plaza, where the Bangalore Literature Festival 2013 was on in full swing.

I walked into Mysore Park (Stage 1) in time to hear the moderator accusing William Dalrymple of being elitist. (Wonder how that conversation ended!) A girl was gushing over the phone about a couplet recited by Gulzar. Damn, missed it. Blame it on the ghastly distance to Electronic City and my unearthly work schedule.

Continue reading “BLF-2013: A balmy afternoon and some book-time”