EXCLUSIVE

Para is the New Able - Manasi Joshi conquers world badminton one rung at a time.

Manasi Joshi makes a slight straining sound as if to indicate her impatience. Not on account of the 18 international medals she has won in para badminton. Nor of the hours-long training she puts in daily. And definitely not on account of the lithe, bright game of badminton itself, a sport she has played since she was nine. What, then, ticks off the world’s second-best woman para badminton player?

Our platitudes, our well-meaning but misguided remarks, that fate made her a successful para-athlete, that fate orchestrated the road accident that sent her life on a different trajectory.

“I [am] like no!” she says, when people say that. “It’s just that I have used the circumstances I have been through in the best possible way.”

Joshi, 29, is telling her story over a coffee in a Starbucks in Mumbai after a meeting with the state’s sports minister. It’s a story that has been told many times with the relevant adjectives: inspirational, positive, resilient, never-say-die. This genre of against-all-odds storyline she is often stitched to custom-fit is referred to as “inspiration porn”, she tells me.

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Take the Humans of Bombay Facebook post that started it all off in December 2015. In that post Joshi tells the crux of the story: her accident, her recovery, her acceptance, her medals, along with a smiling photo of herself in shorts and sneakers and a prosthetic leg. It’s easy to see why this would get 81,000 likes and 15,000 shares (and at least one proposal: “I feel like marrying her” said one overeager responder). Its framing is pure Chicken-Soup-For-The-Viral-Soul.

In person, the woman who launched a thousand posts, cuts a commanding figure at 5 feet 8 inches, in her red dress and long, wavy hair. Today she is wearing dark blue Adidas sneakers and using a walking prosthetic on her left leg, which was amputated from just above the knee following a road accident in her early twenties. She is generally in fact only supposed to wear sneakers, a stylistic choice she doesn’t really mind. Because when you’re alive, and walking around and representing India at major championships you are not about to remonstrate against the universe for limiting your footwear options to shoes -- no heels, no chappals.

A few people at other tables sneakily catch glances at her prosthetic, then check themselves and look away. Joshi doesn’t seem to notice. Sure she thinks of herself as a person with a disability (PWD), but she’d rather people avoid the Hindi euphemism “divyang”, (literal translation: “divine limb”), a word that shimmers with the halo of good fortune and godliness. Not only because she isn't particularly religious, she doesn’t think of herself as particularly lucky either. “I was not a child of god but a victim of an accident or circumstances,” she says. “What I’ve done to reach where I have, is not by chance but by extreme hard work. When people are like God is helping you, I’m like no, God isn’t helping me. Nobody is helping me. I’m helping myself.” She adds: “No one tells Dhoni you are here because of God.”

Here in her case is a spot at the top of the rankings in her chosen sport.

But that was not the plan. The plan was to become an engineer. The plan was to earn well. The plan was to do an MBA. She candidly reels off the pit stops she made en route the Indian middle class dream. Then she had an accident. Then the dream changed. Then it expanded.

Now her real life is on hold. Now she wants to compete. Now she wants to win. This is the story of going from desk job to accident survivor to accidental athlete. There is a road from setback to success -- and for Mansi Joshi, that road leads to Tokyo 2020.

About the Writer

Bhavya Dore is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist. She has written for various national and international publications. She usually writes about criminal justice issues, culture and sports. @BhavyaDore

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