Dubai: Manoj Sarkar is the undisputed world No. 1 in the SL3 category of Para-Badminton. He is quite happy and content with his lot.
A two-room that he shares with his parents and brother in a slum in Indira Colony of Rudrapur near the mountain resort of Nainital in Uttarakhand State of India is what he possesses.
After winning a historic gold medal at the 2016 Asian Para-Badminton Championship in Beijing, the 28-year-old received an award of Rs10 lakh (Dh56,000) from the Federal Government and another Rs one lakh from the State.
I spent more than 24 hours at the airport doing nothing. But that gave me time to think about so many things in life.”
- Manoj Sarkar | Gold medallist
Sarkar used this money to build a badminton court and bought modern gear for the youth of Rudrapur, where he trains and coaches.
So far, Sarkar has won more than 25 medals on the international stage along with another 20 at the national level. But medals are not what motivate this youngster. He has an agenda, and it has all to do with playing the sport he loves with a difference.
Last week, Sarkar was in Dubai for the inaugural edition of the Fazza Dubai Para-Badminton International 2018, where he went on to win the gold medal ahead of countryman Pramod Bhagat in the men’s singles SL3 category last Saturday. But getting into the competition was an arduous task to say the least and the boy with a polio leg was nearly deported after landing in Dubai for a discrepancy in his date of birth.
However, organisers Dubai Club for People of Determination intervened and Sarkar was allowed to enter the UAE for the weeklong competition.
“I spent more than 24 hours at the airport doing nothing. But that gave me time to think about so many things in life. The more I think, the better I live,” Sarkar told Gulf News after his triumphant moment.
And one of the things he couldn’t avoid thinking about is the one involving the sad and tragic tale of eight-year-old Asifa Bano from Kathua, Kashmir who was raped and killed by a gang of eight men.
Recalling the incident, Sarkar weeps. “I just can’t understand how human beings can be so barbaric, and that too against an innocent child,” he broods.
“On the one hand I was struggling with myself after being detained at the airport, and on the other, I was feeling so helpless thinking about an innocent life cut short by men who are so sick in their minds. I was inspired to do something for the sake of this child [Asifa]. And my gift to her and her grieving parents is this gold medal,” he added.
Sarkar was struck by polio when he was just 13 months, but the youngster has taken the impairment well into his stride. Though he competes in the SL3 category — where players have disabilities in one or both lower limbs and poor walking/running balance — he actually started off competing against able-bodied badminton players out of sheer ignorance that there was something called Para-Badminton as well.
After winning the college title, it was his coach DK Sen who pushed him towards Para-Badminton. And that’s when Sarkar encountered Gaurav Khanna, the current Indian national squad coach for Para-Badminton. “I was someone who was used to playing against able-bodied players, and I started finding my category quite easy to compete in. My game improved and my coach [Khanna] pushed in me the belief that success could come provided I was keen on sticking to the basics in a systematic coaching regimen,” Sarkar recalled.
With a short span of three years, Sarkar was easily winning accolades at national, continental and international levels, while also maintaining his ranking among the world’s best players. “By 2012, I was at my best and I could feel success just coming to meet me,” he said.
And in 2014 came the dream announcement that Para-Badminton would be part of the Olympic programme starting with the 2020 Games in Tokyo. “That one move has changed everything for so many countries. The number of players has increased and we find the competition getting tougher each day. For me, as the world No. 1 from January this year, things are even more complicated as I have to work extra hard and maintain my position at the top,” Sarkar related.
“2020 is just two years away. Before that we have the qualifying process starting from January 2019. There is the Asian Para Games this year [in Indonesia]. Of course my full focus will be on qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, but there are other main events along the way that are equally important as well. It will be one step at a time for me. And for sure, the one thing on my mind will be to ensure that India can be proud of me,” he added.
Name: Manoj Sarkar
Age: 28 years
Place of birth: Rudrapur, near Nainital, Uttarakhand, India
Achievements so far:
Gold Medallist in 2013 BWF World Para-Badminton Championships
Silver Medallist at 2014 Incheon Asian Games
Gold Medallist at 2015 World Championships
Gold Medallist at 2016 Asian Championships
Current World Number one in SL3 category
Has maintained a top-3 world ranking since the past five years