Mumbai, March 5 (IANS) A physically handicapped man from the Worli slum here will make an unprecedented attempt to swim the 21-km stretch in the Arabian Sea from the Gateway of India to Rewas in mainland Raigad and make a return journey.
Prakash M. Nadar, 35, has been afflicted by polio in both legs and can move around only on crutches or a wheelchair will swim 42 km March 8 as he plans a return journey back to Gateway of India, thus attempting to create a world record.
The Mumbai-Rewas-Mumbai swimathon in the Arabian Sea will be first ever attempt by any swimmer.
"It is International Women's Day so I have dedicated by record-creating attempt to my mother, M. Balasundari," Nadar told IANS here Tuesday.
After mentally preparing himself for the last 18 years, Nadar, encouraged by Swabhiman Sanghatana leader Nitesh Rane and Income Tax Commissioner V. Mahalingam is ready to take the plunge here Friday noon for the 15-hour effort, depending on the weather and water conditions.
"I shall enter the waters at Gateway of India, swim to Rewas on the mainland at Raigad and without a halt, return to the starting point, as per the rules. The swim is going to be extremely difficult as I shall be battling two different types of tidal currents all along," Nadar explained.
Born and living in the Madraswadi slum at Motilal Nagar in Worli, Nadar took his first swimming lessons over 20 years ago in the grimy, stinking gutter waters flowing into the Arabian Sea nearby.
"That area had claimed many lives, but that was the only place I could 'afford' to learn swimming free of cost," smiled the school dropout, and pointed to his swimming and other sports medals with an impressive tally of 81 golds, 29 silvers and 27 bronzes from all over India.
Seeing him perform at a local swimming event, a senior police official, Balasaheb Gadge (now an assistant commissioner of police) noticed the spark in Nadar.
"He made great efforts to get me trained at the professionally-run swimming pool in the police camp, Worli," Nadar, who has donated blood 66 times, said gratefully.
His first inspiration for swimming came from the legendary Mumbaikar, Rajaram Ghag, who became the second handicapped person in the world to swim the dangerous English Channel several years ago.
Besides his family comprising wife Satya, son Hariharan,6, and daughter Varshini,4, Nadar will be cheered for his attempt by scores of Worli slum-dwellers, Swabhiman Sanghatana activists and handicapped sportspersons.
Nadar laments the "near total absence" of encouragement for any sports barring cricket in the country, which makes it difficult for them to excel.
"A small gesture by ACP Gadge helped me hone my swimming skills and enabled me win gold medals in national events. Why cannot the authorities encourage other sports equally? There are 2.20 crore physically handicapped people, men and women, in India as per 2011 Census, but where are the opportunities?" he asked.
He said that the handicapped in our country can do wonders with a little support instead of mere lip sympathy, and understanding by the officialdom and the general people at large. "They can start with ordinary things, like making all public toilets in the city handicapped-friendly," he said.
On his part, Nadar has taken the first step by employing four physically-challenged people at his small stall, aptly named 'Swabhiman Communication Centre,' outside Mumbai's Regional Passport Office to support his family.