This fisherman won't fall short in his bid to win parabadminton gold

Written By Unknown on Senin, 05 Januari 2015 | 22.23

MUMBAI: No one on Chimbai Road in Bandra is quite sure where house number 42 is. "Dharmai?" asks a woman in a nightie. "The short man?" She points to a statue of Mother Velankanni, behind which four-foot-tall Mark Dharmai is crushing jaggery on a grinding stone. The rolling pin is heavy but not as much as the heart of this fisherman, whose life shuttles between two types of nets. One that feeds him and the other that doesn't.

Dharmai, who was born with achondroplasia, a common form of dwarfism, is an international parabadminton champion. In the last four years, he has brought home to his 100-square-foot cottagestyle shanty , several medals and bouquets, but little money .Last year, in fact, the 30-year-old entered the doubles parabadminton world championship in Germany without a coach. On this Rs 1.5 lakh-worth trip, funded by friends, fellow fishermen and his parish priest, Dharmai played with a Russian partner whose instructions he could not fully comprehend but managed to win India a bronze medal. "I want to win the gold for India next year," says Dharmai, whose financial goal is now a pie chart on Catapoolt, a crowdfunding website. Like the jaggery he is breaking down, it divides Dharmai's target of Rs 2 lakh into little pieces --boarding, equipment, coaching and the biggest black chunk of Rs 65,000 for airfare for one of the four international parabadminton tournaments next year.

"I don't know whether I should call myself disabled or something else," says Dharmai, who travels in the handicapped compartment and started asking himself deep questions very early in life.When he realized he would never be as tall as his friends, the eight-year-old would often seek a corner of his shanty to cry . "I grew closed," he says. It was the principal of St Andrews school, Father Evans, who pushed the eight-year-old towards hockey and football. "Sports brought me out," says Dharmai, who posted a question on Orkut in 2007. "Is there any competitive sport for short people?" Beneath a pile of abrasive remarks, the player found Bangalore-based badminton coach Venkatesh Raman's advice to compete in the paralympic category of the racquet sport. "I didn't know head or tail of bad minton then," says Dharmai. "I decided to just keep knocking," says the 30-year-old, who won a gold medal in his first national tournament itself.

Such medals however don't impress his family which lost its only earning member recently when Dharmai's sister got married. "What is the government doing for you?" they ask the sportsman, who has to sleep in the tiny floor space between the fridge and the bed and has to wake up at night to let his family members pass.The room crams the kitchen, a cupboard, a chest, a bed and Jesus but has no television. Dharmai often hops over to a friend's house to observe his idol Saina Nehwal's footwork live. All his life, this champion, who passed his SSC through open school, has learnt by watching. At 14, he would accompany his dad in the boat every morning to lay out the net and even today , Dharmai's practise hours vary depending on whether he gets a catch that day . "If I don't, I go back out in the boat in the after noon."

Inside Dharmai's sponsored sports kit, there's always a pain-relief spray . "My leg gets twisted easily ," says Dharmai.He has to work harder than his "norma" friends at the senior citizens club and the Bandra Gym, that offered him a free membership. "If they take one step, I have to take two." Yet, when Dharmai--who has seen international players his size get diet advice, a free house with a badminton court and government jobs closeby--approaches the Western Railway headquarters in Churchgate, "I am told the sports quota is for normal people."

At the Mantralaya, when Dharmai seeks a cash reward, "they say we will look into it and then close the book." "This seems to be the case only in Mumbai," says Dharmai. His able-bodied contemporaries in Haryana and Chandigarh fetch up to Rs 25,000 for a national gold medal and more than Rs 1 lakh for international wins from the state government."Even in Satara, players get plots of land," says Dharmai, whose video plea expires in about 40 days and hasn't found any donors so far. For someone aiming to compete in four international tournaments next year, he understands why many of his "dwarf friends" are tempted to become clowns in movies but doesn't want to go down that road.

"The sports ministry has asked me to come back after Christmas," says Dharmai, looking at the Christian calendar in his home which marks the date, 25, in red.For that, he has his portfolio handy . In this thick self-made folder full of copies of his certificates, Dharmai has spelt badminton wrong. "Batminton," it says on every printout but perhaps the typo is his way of disallowing the "bad". "Short people," reads the title on the first page of his folder. "We have a great perspective on life. We are always looking up."

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