With one leg, Subedar Anandan conquers the world

Subedar Anandan Gunasekaran at the recently-held World Military Games.

“I heard the blast before I felt it,” says Subedar Anandan Gunasekaran. “I looked down and my left leg was shredded. Blood spurted out of where my knee cap used to be.”

He pauses to take a breath. “You have so much adrenaline in your system you can’t faint. I wanted to faint. I didn’t want to see it. I wanted to unsee what I had already seen. I screamed.”

It was June 4, 2008, five months after his posting at the Line Of Control (LoC). Gunasekaran and three of his Madras Engineer Group and Centre's colleagues were on a walk back from a fence inspection for land mines along the 150-yard LoC. They thought they had it all checked out and began to descend a steep slope in the direction of what is now a Union Territory of India. They laughed about the drink to be had and spoke about the dinner to be made, casually skimming over a layer of snow on mud in their spiked boots. Homestretch.

Off went a land mine. The colleagues, who had already come off the slope, heard a scream. They looked around to see only three. Gunasekeran, they knew, was in trouble.

Eleven years or so later, Gunasekaran stood atop a podium at the World Military Games in Wuhan (China), tears in his eyes and a blade for a left leg. He had won three gold medals for India in the 100m, 200m and 400m disciplines in the IT1 category. Those in the contingent knew what he had been through, they empathised with him, for they, much like him, were there after suffering injuries encountered on the battlefield.

“We swap stories when we’re training so everyone knows what everyone has been through,” says Gunasekaran. “Watching me on the podium, they all were crying and I cried too. I have seen so much in life and when I look back, I didn’t ever think I would get here.”

Just then he takes a break to watch a news clip featuring him on the television. He returns with a chuckle and an apology. “So sorry. I am not used to this. It’s strange but it also shows that hard work won’t go unnoticed.”

Born in Thanjavur in 1987 to a rickshaw driver, Gunesekaran, who eventually moved to Kumbakonam, was taught the value of hard work early. His first job as a newspaper delivery boy wasn’t a bad one, by his own admission, but it ate into his time to be a kid. He was fond of running from a young age. Perhaps why when he had a punctured bicycle tyre on his delivery route, he opted to cover the seven-kilometre route by foot. No mean feat for a 12-year-old.  

“I remember being late for school and I had 50 houses to deliver to. My cycle had a puncture so I left it there and ran. I took the cycle back home later but for the next two days, I just ran. It was great fun,” he reminisces.  

As fate would have it, his school Physical Education Trainer, who too was on his delivery route, spotted him and convinced him to participate in a school meet. “I didn’t do too well but I knew I could get better. I continued to time myself when I was delivering newspapers,” he says. 

Having spent most of his youth helping his family make ends meet, he enlisted in the army and started his career as an army personnel in September 2005. After three years in the Bengaluru centre, Gunasekaran was posted to Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir. He hadn’t had much to write home about until then. After that, he couldn’t. 

“After the blast, they carried me to the nearest post where they administered first aid. The base had a helipad so they flew me out to a military hospital nearby,” he explains. “They did a basic surgery at that hospital and then flew me to ALC (Artificial Limb Centre) in Pune to amputate my leg.

“I remember being calm after the blast, telling them (his colleagues) to relax and take me to a hospital,” he says. “On the stretcher, I thought life was over.”

The sentiment didn’t remain for long. He knew he had his parents and a sister to care for. Equipped with a wooden leg, he worked out while recovering to alleviate the sombre mood. All the while, people, even in the army quarters, called him ‘mad’ while he trained. “For close to six months, I barely kept in touch with people at home and I didn’t tell them about the incident. I didn’t want to feel more ashamed than I already did. Amputees aren’t easily accepted in our part of the world. I know that they didn't tell anyone in the neighbourhood once they found out,” he says. 

To add a log to the already burning family equation, he fell in love with his younger sister's friend and married Dhanalaxmi against the families wishes in 2013. “Both sides weren’t okay with it. We were made to feel ashamed about it for a very long time. I was far away from home but I was consumed by thoughts of home,” says the 2018 National Para Athletics champion in 200m and 400m. 

“I remember feeling alone every single day. I cried to my wife. She is the greatest thing to have happened to me.”     

Incidentally, it was the same year he acquired his blade. While recovering from the injury, he hoped for inspiration and found it on the back page of an ‘English newspaper’. “I turned the page and saw Oscar Pistorius. It was a picture of him and the copy said he was the ‘fastest man on blades’,” he recalls. “I only thought ‘if he can be this fast without two legs, why can’t I be the fastest without only one leg?’. I convinced my officer to buy me a blade, it cost Rs 5 lakh, after winning several medals in national events that year.”

The switch from prosthetics to the blade wasn’t an easy one. Gunasekaran says he spent many months falling and hurting himself before he got a hang of it. But as always, persistence paid off. 

“One of the things I had to face was shame. After you lose your leg in such an incident, people don’t think you’re capable of anything. They don’t treat you well,” he says. “After putting the blades on, I fell a number of times but I got back up each time because each time I fell down, I felt shame. Even now when I have nothing left in the tank, I push to get more out of me only because I have that feeling that I have to do something. I have to prove to these people who laughed at me that I can do something if not great things.”

And prove he did. It was writ on his face when MEG organised a felicitation for him in Bengaluru earlier this month. This was his chance to show his parents that losing a leg didn’t mean the end and that they should be proud of their only son, irrespective. This was his way of leaving behind a legacy for his two-year-old twins Dikshit and Dikshitha to carry forward. 

“I have one qualifying event to take part in May next and if I make it there, I make it to the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020,” he explains. “I have decided to take part in only the 200m event because that’s my favourite. I can’t focus on all three. I know I can do it. I want to do it for my wife and kids” 

Do you at all feel bad for yourself?

"Not at all. I lost only a leg for my country. I am willing to lose a lot more if given a chance!"   

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