Tejas Jaishankar had just survived. An Innova had knocked him off his bike and had run him over twice on a Delhi road. He saw the car reverse, the driver clumsily bundle up his mangled body to the backseat and drive him to a hospital.
Jaishankar called his girlfriend, Sukanya Bannerjee. It was her birthday. She found him on a metal stretcher, conscious. "He saw me and said, 'some birthday you're having'," Bannerjee remembers.
That accident on June 17 two years ago left Jaishankar, 22, with 42 fractures, three shattered vertebrae and other severe internal injuries. Doctors said he would barely be able to walk. They were proved wrong.
In less than two years, Jaishankar not only walked but also won the title of India's Strongest Man, a competitive event organised by a private federation on March 29th and 30th this year.
He lifted his way to two golds and a bronze medal in the 70-90 kg weight class. This gave him the overall title.
The golds came in the deadlift (lifting a loaded barbell off the ground and standing erect with it before lowering) and the dumbbell overhead press (lifting a dumbbell off the shoulder and pushing it up above the head until the elbows are fully locked out).
Jaishankar cranked out 23 repetitions with 140 kg in one minute for the deadlift and lifted a 30-kg dumbbell 27 times in one minute. His bronze came in the bench press (lying on the back on a bench and lowering a weight to chest level before pushing it back) after he achieved 11 repetitions with an 80-kg log in a minute.
Tall and cheerful, Jaishankar is not your threateningly bulky neighbourhood weight-lifter. "I had an epiphany," he says with a dimpled smile. "You know, when you are lying in a hospital bed for days on end, there's not much else to do but think.
"I realised that the secret to strength is in its approach. I think there's hardly anyone who is able to become as strong as they can in their life. And when I say strength, I mean both mental as well as physical. I did not win despite my accident; I won because of my accident."
Within three weeks of the accident, his bones were healing "miraculously". Three months and he could sit up with the help of a back-rest. Four months and Jaishankar walked. At six months, Jaishankar returned to his first love, exercising.
He quit his job and decided to devote his time and money to train others, mostly athletes. His organisation Calisthenics 75 doesn't advertise brawny men or skinny women, but focuses on strength building. "The truth is most people who appear strong don't know how to use their strength. You would be surprised to know, many in the competition could not even do pull ups," he says.
He also trains school students. "This (the training) isn't like gymming. The younger you start building your strength, the stronger you remain."
"Training is an art," he says. "I train to change the thinking process first, from muscle building to movement." He doesn't believe in fancy equipment. The lesser, the better for workout, is the mantra at Calisthenics.
Jaishankar moved out of his parents' home after the accident so that he could resume his training--a task which would be painful. "I couldn't let them watch me suffer," he says. "There were days when I couldn't move my body at all."
Major General G Jaishankar, Tejas's father, says it was a big decision to let Tejas exercise again. "But when I saw him in less pain than before, I let go."
"Tejas's mother said that given what he survived, we must let him live as he wishes to," says Jaishankar senior.
So what kind of training does Jaishankar really do?
Tejas and his sister Kanchana Jaishankar pose for the camera.
"It's intuitive," he says. "I keep a training journal, read a lot and use maths to calculate exercise routines. Every trainee is different. I spend a lot of time understanding their needs."
He aims to "spread awareness about strength training in India". Strength training, unlike gymming, makes you stronger progressively, he says.
So how does the path ahead look for this gentle Hercules? He says he intends to win India's Strongest Man for five consecutive years and then attempt World's Strongest Man.