“You might know Viswanathan Anand, but do you know Jennitha Anto? asked Swarnalatha J, managing trustee of Swarga foundation. “She is the woman international chess master, from Trichy, for the past five years in a row. See, people who are differently- abled are seldom recognised”. I was at the launch of the third edition of their annual calendar, ‘I’m special’. The theme for this edition is adaptive sports, and it features 12 differently- abled sports persons.
After a brief introduction of the foundation, the calendar was launched by Dr. T Balaji, Managing trustee of Coimbatore Cancer Foundation, S.D Yadev, HR head of NTF India Private Limited, Suraj Shantakumar, Director of Business Strategy of Kirtilals, and Anusha Ravi, CEO, Park Institutes.
The models posed with the calendar after the launch and singers Jaya Rajagopal and Sudeep Sangameshwar entertained the crowd, with old Bollywood songs. ‘Yeh raaten yeh mausam nadi ka kinara...ye chanchal havaaa...’ The crowd sang along as they rendered evergreen hits such as ‘Ajeeb daastaan hai yeh’, ‘Suhaanaa safar aur ye mausam haseen’.
The calendar is the result of eight months of work by the foundation. “We started in February. After choosing the models, we contacted them and assured them that their pictures won’t be used anywhere else. Some of the photographers who have taken the pictures are also differently-abled,”, said Swarnalatha, who herself has Multiple Sclerosis. S Suraj Kumaar, project co-ordinator of the foundation, who is suffering from limb- girdle muscular dystrophy, photographed the models from Delhi. “It took me five days to get the shoot done there”. It was not easy, he says. “There were people who let us down in the end. There is still a lot of stigma associated with the differently- abled”, he stated.
One of the models, Justin Vijay Jesudas, the quadriplegic swimmer and shooter from Chennai said, “I can move my shoulders, my elbows and my wrists to an extent. I love scuba diving and driving. I am happy and live my life to the fullest”. He has won four medals in Tamil Nadu state paraswimming championship and gold in 10m air rifle in national shooting championship. Sagar Baheti, a cyclist and marathoner from Bengaluru, suffering from Stargardt’s disease, where there is a progressive loss of eyesight, said, “I was diagnosed with this five years ago. I used to play cricket, but then there came a time when I could not see the ball. So, I turned to marathons and cycling”. He participated in the Boston marathon this year. “Life changed. I had to stop driving. I use voice assistance to read and binoculars to navigate,” he said. Baheti feels a lot more needs to be done in providing infrastructure in the country in order to bring the differently-abled into the mainstream. Hearing and speech impaired, Gaurav Ahluwalia the Deaf Badminton Champion of Delhi state was also there. His father said, “He has been interested in badminton from a young age. He uses gestures to communicate and loves driving”.
When asked about the infrastructure of Coimbatore, Swarnalatha said, “Most of the public buildings are barely accessible. There are either no ramps, and if there are, those are very steep.”
Sportspeople featured in the calendar:
Suvarna Raj, New Delhi, table tennis
Sagar Baheti, Bengaluru, cyclist and marathoner
Tejasvi Sharma, New Delhi, Yogasana
Pragya Ghildial, New Delhi, Javelin, Shotput, Discus and Yoga therapist
Jennitha Anto, Trichi, Chess
Justin Vijay Jesudas,Chennai, Swimming and shooting
Gaurav Ahluwalia, New Delhi, Badminton
Kartiki Patel, Mumbai, Badminton, basketball and swimming
Prathima Rao, Bengaluru, Tennis
Gulfam Ahmed, New Delhi, Powerlifting, Taekwondo
Pradeep Raj, New Delhi, Table tennis
Karamjyoti Dalal, New Delhi, Discus, Javelin and shot put.