Amidst loud applause, President APJ Abdul Kalam specially descended from the dais to felicitate him. For Rajinder Singh Rahelu, however, it was a gesture that could have been bettered by the President.
What the 32-year-old powerlifter from a village near Patiala could have rather done with is permanent employment. Rahelu was presented the Arjuna Award for excellence in powerlifting on Tuesday at a ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Egged on by friends to try his hand at the sport, Rahelu started powerlifting ten years ago. He started off by lifting 70 kg and today, he can lift up to 170 kg. He won the bronze medal at 2004 Athens Paralympic Games and a gold in the 2002 Asian Bench Press Powerlifting Championship.
However, all these achievements failed to provide his family respite from the struggle to make ends meet. "I gave a letter to the President and he has assured me a job," said a teary-eyed Rahelu. "Hope something will work out," he added.
Hope is all that Rahelu can take from here.
Meanwhile, the big audience gathered at the Darbar Hall was made up of people who had come for very varied reasons. For some the excitement of seeing the celebrated head of Indian State was very evident, while others were the proud parents and friends of the honoured sportspersons.
Even before the function got underway, the winners could be distinguished from the rest by their maroon blazers, the top pockets emblazoned with the words 'Arjuna Award' and 'Dronacharya Award'. Athlete Manjeet Kaur's father, Harbhajan, received the award on her behalf while Eric Rasquinha collected it for his son Viren.
An expectant silence prevailed in the hall as the President's arrival was announced, and then President Kalam walked in with his bodyguards in tow. The triumphant mood of the day was palpable once the winners got the opportunity to meet the President one by one after the ceremony.