Polio is not the only handicap 26-year-old Kumar Manikandan had to overcome to win gold at the Paraclimbing World Championship in Paris last week. Born into a poor Dalit family, where the sole income was the daily wage of Rs. 80 that his mother earned, he had little by way of sponsorship in a sport that is widely associated with adventure hobbyists.
Now, as the city’s sport climbing fraternity prepares to welcome their newfound champion in style, his family is barely aware of the scale of Mr. Manikandan’s achievement. When The Hindu called her on Monday for directions to their house, Mr. Manikandan’s mother, Usha Rani, seemed not to understand what all the fuss was about.
But didn’t he leave behind 21 professional climbers from across the world to lay his hands on the gold medal? “Is it real gold?” Ms. Rani asked before passing on the phone to her son Kumar Murugan.
No bigger than two large cars, Mr. Manikandan’s house in the Srirampura slum takes some searching to find. In a neighbourhood where the main concerns are disease and poverty, nobody seems to have the time to take note of the young man’s achievement. “We are happy for him. Hope he can make some money now,” said his childhood friend Sarvana (30). As Mr. Manikandan was making his way up a wall in Paris, Ms. Rani was fighting battles more immediate.
To ensure that her family has enough to eat, she must roll 4,000 incense sticks, for which the local contractor pays her Rs. 80.
Ms. Rani and Mr. Murugan know little about what Mr. Manikandan has been doing in the last 10 years that he has been practising rock climbing. “I know he was into rock climbing.
He would bring home several medals and trophies. My father would often tell him to get a real job,” said Mr. Murugan.
Ms. Rani said, “Mani and Murugan are the only ones who give some money at home.” Her third son, Kumar Vinayak, is unemployed.
Adventure and climbing enthusiast V. Sachin offered some insight into Mr. Manikandan’s life as a sportsperson. “He supports himself by coaching climbers at the Sri Kanteerava Stadium,” he said. He said the champion’s gold in Paris might never have been. “He had absolutely no money.”
The Karnataka State Police Housing Corporation (KSPHC) paid for his flight. The General Thimmaiah National Adventure Academy contributed Rs. 50,000. “Friends and well-wishers contributed another Rs. 50,000,” Mr. Sachin said.
KSPHC executive director and Additional Director-General of Police M.N. Reddy said, “He came to me around two months ago asking for donations. Given his achievements, there was no way I could refuse…The government should do more for such people.”