Covering the tennis court on a wheelchair, Madhu Bagri is always eager to smash away sympathy, says Vijay Lokapally
She does not seek sympathy. “It’s an unnecessary factor, quite unnecessary,” she reacts sharply. Her handicap has developed her into a strong individual, who loves to live independently, drawing strength from her resolve to stand out in a world of deceit and ingratitude.
Madhu Bagri was barely 18 months old when polio struck. “Wheelchair and my inner-self have been my best friends,” says the Ahmedabad resident, set to leave for Bangkok to participate in her first ever wheelchair tennis competition. “I’m so excited.” She indeed is!
Personal investments have enabled her make this trip to Bangkok for the International Tennis Federation-conducted tournament. What after that? “Tough,” Madhu mumbles, “Unless I, and others like me, get the facilities to develop and improve.” Madhu not only plays tennis, she swims a lot as part of training and drives too. “I like to be known as self-dependent.”
Lack of steady sponsorship means added burden on Madhu. “I love challenges. From childhood, I’ve never really felt handicapped. Never felt that my movements would be restricted because of being confined to wheelchair. It hurts when I see general neglect of people suffering from crippling afflictions but then all this makes me more determined to strive, to win against all odds.”
Pramesh Modi is a caring coach at the Ace Tennis Academy. The coaching classes come for free. “Raising funds is the greatest challenge I’ve faced in my life but I’m indebted to Nirav Shah. His NGO (Wakeup 2 Dream) is a hugely inspiring organisation,’’ says Madhu. At 38, she has a world of ambitions to achieve but time and finances are grave impediments.
“I started tennis late, especially competitive tennis. But I will not stop until I reach my goal. I want recognition in society for the differently-abled sportspersons. Sympathy doesn’t help. We want to be treated with respect. I’ve many plans but that can happen when I get support from the society and the government.”
Madhu has steadfastly believed in her thoughts, on planning her dreams. “Yes, you have to plan your dreams and plan them big. Unless you have faith in your thoughts and dreams you will remain an underachiever. Recreational activities can become competitive passion if you keep at it.” Her options were limited but not her drive. There was intensity and there was devotion.
She asserts she is the first wheelchair tennis player from India to compete overseas. She has managed to raise funds for the trip all by herself. “My resources can take care of my living but how long can I support my tennis? I’ve been pleading for steady sponsorship not just for myself but many like me. This trip should show the way because I took the initiative for the sake of my friends on wheelchairs.”
Madhu is forthcoming in her approach. “Self-marketing is better than seeking sympathy and I want the disabled community to understand that. Why do they dress up in a weird manner to look different, to earn sympathy, why? My fight is to tell the world that we deserve and can earn a dignified life for ourselves. I want my friends to understand that it is their race and they have to run.”
Someday, Madhu aspires to have a centre of her own, where the differently-abled aspirants will get lessons in sports, arts and music.
Those interested can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.