“Sir jee! Location pe aa gaya! Uth jao!(Sir we reached the location! Get up!),” shouts my cab driver.
“Hem Singh Bhati” – reads the nameplate outside the bungalow. With drowsy but curious eyes, I look through the window, get down and knock at the door.
He had asked me to come over by 7 in the morning but here I am five minutes early, contrary to my reputation. For a moment, the thoughts of an extended nap cross my mind. The very next moment the feeling of being inside a Paralympic bronze medalist’s house takes over.
A lady in her mid-30s greets me with a glass of water and a cup of tea. As I try to expand my comfort zone while sitting in the drawing room, my eyes glance through a cabinet carefully decked with numerous medals.
I see lots of Gold! and a few minutes later, I see a young man in a blue blazer, limping down the stairs, his head held high with pride and I notice a badge of Indian Tricolor pinned above his left pocket. Out comes the hero India awaited – Varun Singh Bhati, the 21-year old bronze medalist in the high jump at Rio Paralympics 2016.
Born in Jamalpur, a small village in Uttar Pradesh, Varun encountered ‘poliomyelitis’ at a very early age.
“When he was 6 months old, he started falling down whenever we tried to make him stand. We feared an injury and immediately took him to the doctor. He declared it was polio. We tried to get him cured by operation. That made things worse,” says his grandmother.
A decent basketball player during his younger days, Varun never let his disability come his way. He played basketball in ASISC tournaments, representing his school team. Thus a transition to high jump was not difficult for him when he was not selected to play for nationals in basketball because of his deformity.
I ask him where is he leaving for so early all dressed up since I have just arrived and he should be spending some time with me as promised. He asks me to tag along with him. Confused but excitedly I switch on my camera, fix the microphone on him and repeat the question while we are traveling along with the rising sun running parallel to us.
“We are going to my school - St. Joseph’s Sr. Sec. school - as they are having a felicitation ceremony for me. No one else played a role as significant as my school in my sports career. I thought you should start with that.”
I sense an exciting day ahead and smile for his thoughtfulness.
The day begins with a sight to behold when little kids greet him by throwing flower petals while he is being escorted to the stage. Following him with my camera, I take a pause and acknowledge the moment as I witness a star coming back to his roots and being embraced with tears of joy.
“Co-incidentally I met Nagar sir, coach of Delhi’s blind team during my visit to Delhi Railway Station once. I saw a few blinds waiting in the reservation queue. I asked them where they were going. They told me that they were going to take part in nationals for para-athletes in Bangalore. I exchanged numbers with Nagar sir and that paved the way for Varun towards glory,” says Varun’s PTE teacher Manish Tiwary.
Asian Games in Incheon were a major setback for Varun as he couldn’t even match his national record of 1.76 meters and failed to make a place for himself even in top 5.
“I wanted to quit sports and focus on my studies after that. It gets really difficult to change your schedule once you lose in a big tournament. At times you end up losing after almost reaching the finish line. I have worked hard after that incident keeping in mind that I am very close to my goals. I changed my schedule accordingly. I did whatever I could to get back on track.”
“The superhuman story has just started for me. And I would want to add more medals to my cabinet and for that I would resume my training soon. My parents are feeling so proud of me and that is a bigger achievement for me than a medal in Paralympics. My parents are happy and people are appreciating and recognizing them with my name. This is such a unique feeling and I am feeling proud of myself as well,” Varun signs off.