Popping gulab jamuns into his colleagues’ mouths was an expected consequence to the big news that Anil Kumar Dhingra received on Monday morning. It was “around 11.30 a.m.”, says Dev Anil’s father, when he received the news that his son had won silver at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea. Yet distributing the sweet dumplings was not the only thing Mr. Dhingra did. He also dialled his wife’s number and wept.
Dev, who has cerebral palsy, was part of the 79-member Special Olympics Bharat team and he represented India in the “Snow Shoeing” competition. Not only did he boldly venture off on a trip without his parents, but while he was there he met and shook hands with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
“I felt very good!” says Dev, after his mother Lata helped him understand the question.
“She said ‘All the best’ and wrapped a shawl around me” he says, speaking to The Hindu at the Special Olympics Bharat office in Lajpat Nagar here. The smudged teeka on his forehead is a reminder that it was only early on Thursday that the team returned and was subsequently felicitated and bombarded by journalists.
Krishna Gossain (20) was just the example of this media frenzy surrounding the athletes. “My son is giving an interview to Doordarshan News,” says his mother Varsha, looking a little tired from the early morning airport visit. “All the parents gathered at the airport this morning to receive them and it was just wonderful when I met my son!” Krishna won the bronze in the figure skating event, an achievement that came at a cost to the family.
Each day of practice at the ice rink in Gurgaon costs close to Rs.7,000, including transport and user fees, says this Rajouri Garden resident. “But if we don’t do it for him, then who will we do it for? He will just lose his confidence if we don’t encourage him….”
With 46 medals — 13 gold, 17 silver and 16 bronze — from among the 2,200 athletes from over 120 nations that participated, the Indian team, coaches, parents and Special Olympics Bharat staffers really have no reason to stop their celebrations.
“It was just too good!” says Neelam P. Motiramani, who was briefly in the Capital on her way to Mumbai. Neelam’s floor hockey team struck gold, but “we had to get it.” She heads back home with pictures of snow on her bare hands, memories of the Korean friends she made and a gold medal round her neck. “Now that I am back, I have to find out what my parents have been up to while I have been away!” she laughs.