Parasports: going beyond limitations

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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)
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Under Bengaluru’s trees

Did you know the tamarind tree came from Ethiopia two thousand years ago? Or that the vast majority of Bengaluru’s avenue trees are native to South America? In fact, so many commonly-used plants have come from that continent, the famous botanist and Kannada writer B.G.L. Swamy wrote a book called Namme Hotteyalli South America (South America in our stomach).

If you’ve ever stopped tree.jpgin the middle of the road to admire a gorgeous Pink Shower tree in bloom, a tree walk is right up your alley. The tree walk I dropped in for took place at Rest
House Park on Museum Road. We were led by our guide Arun, who, while not tree hugging or bird watching, runs a restaurant near Brigade Road. As for the tree walkers, they were an eclectic bunch, ranging from an editor of an e-magazine on sustainable living, an architect with a keen interest in permaculture farming, and a Ph.D. researcher from Los Angeles.

The walk nearly did not happen, because just as our guide began with a brief history on Bengaluru’s gardens, a security guard took umbrage to our “meeting”. After we convinced him of our harmless intentions, he reluctantly agreed. And then we set off.

“This here is the rain tree,” our guide began airily. The rain tree is a native of South America, its name possibly a shortened form of rainforest tree. It was once a popular avenue tree due to its leafy canopy, but of late municipal authorities have stopped planting it as its branches fall during heavy rains. It is a fast growing tree, says Arun, its soft timber a perfect choice for nesting barbets.

All the way from Madagascar

Next in line is the Gulmohar, a native of Madagascar; the mast tree (also called the False Ashoka!) with its tall, skinny frame and drooping leaves, and the Cassia Javanica or the Pink Shower Tree.

There are old favourites, the east India almond tree, the soap nut tree, the cannon ball tree. Fruit trees: mango, jackfruit, avocado and fig. Thin reed-like golden bamboo and stately silver oaks and mahogany trees. There are gorgeous flowering specimens like the flaming-red African tulip and the purple Jacaranda, waiting for spring to burst out in colour. It is astonishing that a space so concise can host more than 22 different species of trees.

Arun also identified a staggering variety of birds in the area, sometimes by just their call. Green enclaves are like magnets that draw the birds in, he stresses. The talk veers to current conservation methods, and how for various reasons, trees the city was known for are no longer being planted. Fast-growing trees are often adopted in sapling drives as they make for “good figures.”

We come to the end of our walk, each lingering in their own thoughts. There is a deep satisfaction in learning the names of trees and birds, it’s almost a feeling of groundedness. We talk about the altercation with the guard, about how ‘public’ our public spaces truly are. Someone fondly recalls the trees from their childhood, and reminisce how their beloved city is fast losing something that defined it for decades.

“It’s easy to learn about trees,” says our guide, before parting. “They aren’t going anywhere soon.”

Now that’s definitely a thought to take home.

(This piece first appeared in The Hindu Metroplus)

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 thebookstore@attagalatta.com 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.)

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”