The Samurai Tale

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  • Sidhartha with best friend Crayon

  • The Persistant II: A sports wheelchair designed and handcrafted by Sidhartha

How often do we say “why me” when life vexes us? How often do we want everything to get back to normalcy? Sidhartha Babu, National Champion Para Rifle Shooter from Kerala, India spells aloud the unnerving human spirit when he says, “try me”. Yasmeen Maqbool talks to the national record holder in 50m Prone Rifle Shooting who aims no less than a perfect 10

As I prepare my interview questions with the brief that Sidhartha’s is a story of a young man who has braved all odds and catapulted himself towards unseen horizons, I am told the champion shooter has arrived.
Accompanying him is his friend and neighbour Sonia Robinson, who stays by his side whenever he travels for competitions. I look up from my desk, and find a smile so serene, that immediately befriends me.

“People say I am a brave paraplegic who hasn’t confined himself to the limitations of his physical condition. But to me, I am still the same kid who used to run fast just to see his unbuttoned shirt fly and feel no less than a superhero himself,” says Sidhartha.

Like most boys Sidhartha loved playing with toy guns but unlike most of his peers, he decided to take up his fascination for guns to the higher levels. Initially he used inexpensive air rifles until later getting hooked up in target shooting after the jolting incident.

In July 2002, the then 22-year-old Sidhartha was thrown off his motorbike in a road accident and injured his spine. His 23rd birthday celebrations awaited him the very next day of his accident. Sidhartha was left paralyzed waist down.

The keen adventurer, trekker and kick boxer was confined to his hospital bed for a year and it was his mother, Kausallya, who kept him company. While in the hospital Sidhartha made friends with other patients in his ward and read voraciously. “I became answerable to myself. I decided not to deceive myself and be my life’s craftsman,” says Sidhartha.

He understood that his paralysis meant rethinking his goals and “changing track”. Sidhartha had trained in various martial arts and the national karate champion had been a professional karate instructor at Jawahar Bal Bhavan, Kerala before the accident. The discipline that the training in martial arts had imbibed in him unknowingly gave the rhythm he needed in life at the time of need. Above all it had taught him how not to treat the body as the most important aspect of life, as he was constantly putting his body to test during the martial arts competitions.

He decided to stop at nothing and allowed life to take its natural course with resilience. He decided to pursue an undergraduate and then a post-graduate degree in Computer Applications at the College of Engineering Trivandrum (CET). He also began working for technology firms in the city.

“I did everything I could and ‘stood’ unabated. Yes, I did emulate my heroes as I was feeling second to none and thought to myself that it would be a disgrace for a samurai to die with his weapons undrawn.”

Unfortunately, due to the dearth of shooting clubs in the city, Sidhartha had to travel to Thodupuzha to join the
District Rifle Association of Idukki, a shooting club. Initially, he was refused entry because of his physical challenge. After a long persistent wait he was offered to shoot with a pistol. But he refused because of his love for rifles. Sidhartha was inducted into the club straight after being tested by the range officer. He hit the bull’s eye on the very first shot. What followed led him to win many national titles and representing India at the global level.

Sidhartha believes, “Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself.”

To be a rifle shooter one needs to have certain qualities that Sidhartha learnt himself. “You need absolute stillness of both body and mind. The thought in the mind is the key. While other athletes reap the benefits of a pacing heart when they confront the excitement and the difficulty a sport gives them; a shooter has to calm himself down and make his heart go slower so that he gets a chance to pull the trigger between two consecutive heart beats. He also has to stop the chattering of the mind and just execute what he plans.

He explains, “When your body, mind and the whole you become one with the rifle and the target, the shooter can land a perfect shot on the dead centre at 10.9. This experience is a glimpse of the ultimate possibility of life, which is being one with the whole existence!”

The enlightened one said, “What you think you become!” A shooter experiences this as vividly as no one else can and indeed Sidhartha is a testimony of what he has manifested.

“To stay in such a state requires transformation of your life itself. I have so far had glimpse of such a state, which is evident with my national record. The goal is to stay in such a state.”

The 36-year-old sportsman creates clever finger-design creations; some of them (like an innovative knee brace) to help the physically challenged individuals.

“The knee brace has a lever release knee lock that helps the physically challenged to sit easily. Most of those available in the market are imported ones that cost Rs 80,000 (approximately AED445) and more. The one I developed costs about Rs2,000 (approximately AED115) and is simpler to operate than the imported ones. The invention is pending Indian patent as this article goes to print. This cost effective invention which will be very affordable he is planning to bring to the needy.

He has also invented a car hand control, which has been approved by the Government of India and he is using it in his car. Sidhartha has also designed and hand-crafted a sports wheelchair, the Persistant II and the Pebble Bed in which he sleeps. He is currently developing an assistive palm orthosis for a quadriplegic patient.

But Sidhartha is not all work and no play. He works out regularly at the gym, paints, collects stamps, creates things and plays the guitar. His interests vary from adventure activities to carpentry to sheet metal work or simply learning new things. He says he goes for deepsea fishing, angling and spear-fishing as well.

Whoever said a dog is a man’s best friend, must have had Sidhartha in mind. “Crayon and I live happily in my Bangalore flat and take care of each other. He has taught me to love unconditionally by showing me how he can still express love even if there are major disagreements between us.”

Sidhartha smiles his winning smile, and says, “My advice to young men and women who face adversities in life is that no adversity can affect or change who you are fundamentally. You should work towards going beyond the physical limitation of the body and achieve what you have set your mind to.”