At North Delhi’s Pinnacle Table Tennis Academy, below a poster that says “Winning is not everything — the effort for winning is”, there’s a fierce match going on. Former Haryana champion Ganesh Ahuja is trying to negotiate a volley of forehands, unleashed by a woman on a wheelchair — Commonwealth Games probable Suvarna Raj.
For Suvarna, three-hour practice every afternoon while trying to ensure her wheelchair doesn’t topple over is the smallest of the worries. Her bigger challenges lie outside --- trying to reach Pitampura for practice across an inaccessible city.
The obstacles course that Suvarna negotiates through the by-lanes from her two-room Chajjupura home in East Delhi’s Shahdara would make Edwin Moses proud.
In the blistering heat, her mother-in-law steps out to hail a cycle rickshaw that would take Suvarna to the Metro station. The rickshaw-puller charges an additional Rs. 5 to help her get onto the rickshaw.
“Once at the station, there are days when the wheelchair does not arrive for 15 minutes. On Monday, when I had to change trains at Kashmere Gate, it took 45 minutes to arrive, and when it did, they took it to the wrong platform. I gave them a piece of my mind,” Suvarna says with a smile.
On Tuesday, the day HT accompanied Suvarna; the wheelchair arrived in record time of 10 minutes.
Afflicted with polio at the age of two after a vaccination went awry, Suvarna is 56 per cent disabled. But that hasn’t deterred her from carrying out her daily chores. She cooks breakfast for six, does the dishes, washes clothes and helps clean the house before practice.
Ever since she arrived in the city in 2008 after marrying national Paralympics table tennis player Pradeep Raj, Suvarna has had to fight for every small privilege that the able-bodied take for granted.
From missing ramps and wheelchairs at shopping malls, to locked toilets and rude bus drivers, this two-time silver medallist in the National Disability Games has met official apathy head on.
Even most ATM machines in the city are inaccessible, she says: “As I cannot climb stairs on a wheelchair, I have to depend on another person to draw money. It is humiliating.”
Suvarna has given up on Delhi’s bus drivers and conductors. “Unlike Nagpur (her hometown), I have never seen a conductor help a disabled person board a bus. Some of the drivers are so rude that I have stopped taking bus.”
That’s just the city, she even has to keep dogging the federation for aid. A few months away from the Commonwealth Games, Suvarna is still awaiting the table-tennis wheelchairs that federation officials promised her last year. “They cost between Rs. 50,000 and Rs 1.25 lakh. In its absence, I have taken out an arm of my wheelchair to facilitate movement.”
A post-graduate in commerce and a trained teacher, Suvarna taught at Nagpur’s MatraSeva Sangh Disabled School before she met Pradeep at the National Disability Games in Delhi in 2006 and fell in love. “He taught me table tennis and he is my role model,” she says about her husband.