Indian Cricket captain Virat Kohli and world champion weightlifter Saikhom Mirabai Chanu were conferred with the country’s highest sporting honour- Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award- by President Ram Nath Kovind at the annual National Sports Awards ceremony. Besides the Khel Ratna Award, 20 sportsperson were awarded the Arjuna Award. Star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, junior world champion sprinter Hima Das, Asian Games gold medallist Jinson Johnson and promising golfer Subhankar Sharma were among the prominent winners. Also there were shuttler Nelakurthi Sikki Reddy, Table Tennis player Manika Batra and G Sathiyan, Tennis veteran Rohan Bopanna and some other known faces of Indian sports. But in that list there were two other sportsmen as well- not known, very much away from media coverage but are world beaters- Ankur Dhama and Manoj Sarkar.
Ankur Dhama is a silver medallist in 800m and bronze-medallist in 1500m and 5000m at 2014 Para Asian Games. In total Ankur has 8 medals to his credit while representing India in various international Athletic meets.
The other sportsman, whose name was last in the list, is Manoj Sarkar. Manoj, a para shuttler, has won numerous medals in national and international circuit. Having been affected by polio since he was 13-months, Manoj Sarkar played his first nationals in 2011, where he won gold in the Singles category and a Bronze in Doubles. His first international competition was in April 2012 at France where he clinched gold in both the Singles as well as Doubles events. In November 2013, Manoj bagged gold in the men’s Doubles category and a bronze in the Mixed Doubles at the BWF World Championships in Germany. In Asian Para Games at Incheon in 2014, he won a silver in the men’s singles SL3 class. He emerged winner in the World Championships in 2015 in England and was also crowned the Asian Champion in 2016.
It is always an encouragement and inspiration for any sportsperson to get recognized by the country’s highest authority. Manoj Sarkar is not an exception. So, after being conferred with the Arjuna Award in 2018, Manoj seemed content. He spoke to Sportsavour about his life and game after returning from Delhi to his home at Rudrapur in Uttakhand.
ELATED AFTER RECEIVING THE WELL-DESERVED ARJUNA AWARD
Manoj Sarkar: It is out-of-the world feeling. When I was receiving the award from the respected President, it was a different kind of emotion that was running inside me. Arjuna Award is precious to every sportsperson and it is everyone’s dream to win it. I achieved it and I am very happy. But I would have been happier if my father was here to see me become an Arjuna awardee. He left us last year and I feel his void. But my mother and my coach were there to share the precious moment with me.
INSPIRATION BEHIND SUCCESS
Manoj Sarkar: Though I was a child with disability, my family never let me feel it. They treated me as a normal child and encouraged me in studies and sports. I used to play Badminton with able players and even sometimes had beaten some. When I was in 12th standard, I represented my state team and went to play in Almora. At that time sports expert DK Sen first gave me the idea that I should try in para games. Till then I didn’t know that there was something called para sports. He gave me the number of my coach Gaurav Khanna. And from then onwards, Khanna sir is my inspiration. He is my guide throughout my Badminton journey. He always motivates me and works on my weaknesses. And the main thing is that, sir never asks me to defeat someone. He always says to give my best and that will earn me wins. In this way he has moulded me both as a player and as a human being. Also here I want to mention that I get inspiration from ignorance too. Those people who have never trusted have helped me to perform better.
KEEPING THE SPIRIT HIGH AND NEVER GETTING DEMORALIZED
Manoj Sarkar: I never let defeat rule me. I always start a new tournament from zero. This attitude helps me to think that I haven’t achieved anything; so I have to work harder.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ABLE AND PARA SPORTS
Manoj Sarkar: In the last couple of years many things have changed and our government is coming forward to promote us. Still there is a lot of disparity between able and para sports. The first thing is the provision of facilities. We are not fortunate enough to get all the facilities like able sportsmen. Moreover, media coverage is very rare. If someone in normal sport rises to No 1 spot then it is well covered by the media. But that doesn’t happen in para sports. Take my example. I have been in the No 1 spot for some 10 months. But nobody knows it. Even, para coaches are not awarded the Dronacharya award, though there are so many highly-respected coaches in this field. Why this difference happens I don’t know. But I have immense respect for our authority. Things will definitely change totally.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT
Manoj Sarkar: Memories are always sweet. I have so many of them. But the incident which is emotionally quite memorable is the medal ceremony during the last Para Asian Games. I was happy to win silver medal there but at the podium when the national anthem of another country was being played, I couldn’t hold my tears. I thought how I could miss such an opportunity of singing my national anthem on an international platform? There only I made a promise to myself of winning gold in the next Asian Games. It was a learning experience. I am practicing hard this time to win a gold in this year’s Asian Games.
PROUD TO BE A SPORTSMAN
Manoj Sarkar: I take pride in myself for being a sportsman. I think, in our country, every disabled person should be in sports. This is the field where there is no inequality among people. Nobody here is rich or poor; there is no cast and class division here. Whoever performs well is bound to get recognition. And this is very important for people like me. Often in the society we get discriminated but in sports there is no such chance.