I did it because of my love for the sport, says Divyanshu Ganatra

On Wednesday afternoon, at Kamshet near Pune, a 36-year-old undertook his first solo paragliding flight. As soon as he landed, his trainers ran out and huddled around him. Amid cheers, one said, “We did it. You made history.”

Divyanshu Ganatra had just become the only visually-challenged Indian paraglider to have flown solo. “It was a spiritual high,” Mr. Ganatra told The Hindu before adding modestly: “I did it like everyone else does.”

A clinical psychologist who lost his sight due to glaucoma at the age of 19, Mr. Ganatra runs a counselling and corporate training organisation called ‘Yellow Brick Road’.

The flight was made possible by Templepilots, a paragliding club run by Avi Malik and his wife Anita Deshpande.

According to Mr. Malik, there are no official records of visually-challenged people having undertaken solo flights. A Master Instructor at the Association of Paragliding Pilots and Instructors, he stated that no other Indian had attempted this before. “There are probably one or two worldwide who have attempted this successfully,” he said. A hearing-impaired Belgian performed the same feat under his guidance last year.

For Mr. Ganatra, however, it wasn’t about the achievement or about proving a point to anyone. “I did it because of my love for the sport,” he said. For Mr. Malik and his wife, taking up his request was an “instinctive decision.” “The heart said yes first, the mind worked on it later,” Mr. Malik said.

What was most important was working together and having faith in each other. “I trusted them with my life. That is the only way I could have done this,” Mr. Ganatra said. Ms. Deshpande agreed. “It was about trust, and not about [never] flying anymore.”

The experience helped Mr. Malik stretch his own boundaries as a teacher as he sought to find new ways and means to guide Mr. Ganatra. “One way was using simulation, and working on other senses: touching, feeling and listening,” he said. To explain the concepts of aerodynamics, Mr. Malik asked Mr. Ganatra to use his hands to understand how the glider works.

In a ‘tandem’ flight with an instructor, he learnt what the experience could be like. An initial idea of using bells was discarded as Mr. Malik thought that audio signals broadcast through a radio would do the job. A quick and instinctive learner, Mr. Ganatra was ready for his flight after three days of on-ground training.

“The experience was an overwhelming mix of joy, fear and excitement. When you are in the sky, you taste freedom,” he said.

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