JAKARTA: Sajan Prakash became the first Indian swimmer to make the 200m butterfly final at the Asian Games since Khazan Singh won a silver in the event in 1986, but his excitement was muted. The 24-year-old Idukki native had no clue about the whereabouts of his maternal grandmother and his uncle’s family in the flooded district.
“I still don’t know where and how they are,” Prakash said. “All I know is that they are being taken to some safe place. I pray for their safety. My mother, who is in Tamil Nadu, thought it best that I not be disturbed by the news. So I was told of it only after my grandmother and uncle had been shifted. I still haven’t been able to speak to them, though,” he rued.
Swimmer Prakash admitted he spent a sleepless night on eve of his qualifier — worried about his family and nervous about the event. “I had trained very hard for this day. I was very nervous. But I guess the experience of performing under pressure helped me see this through,” he said.
Prakash only learnt of the devastating flood in Kerala on Saturday. His maternal home in Idukki – where his grandmother stayed along with her son’s family — is close to the dam on the Periyar river. The sluice gates of the dam had to be opened after nearly quarter of a century last week due to the rapid rise of water levels, causing heavy flooding.
In the final, Prakash set a national record of 1:57.75, but only finished fifth.Teenaged Karnataka swimmer Srihari Nataraj also qualified for the 100m backstroke final with a national record of 55.86 seconds, but finished seventh in the final with a timing of 56.19 seconds.
Sajan’s mother Shantimol, a former international athlete, says she kept the situation prevailing in Kerala away from Sajan but he realised something was amiss back home through his friends.
“I never told him about the real situation because I felt he would lose his focus. Since he kept probing me, I was forced to tell him about the landslip at Maniyaramkudy in Cheruthony. I came to know now that he finished fifth in the final. In hindsight, I feel if he had not known about the flood situation back home, he would have done better, maybe won even a medal for India,” Shantilmol, an officer with Neyveli Lignite Corporation in Tamil Nadu for the past three decades, told TOI from Neyveli.
(With inputs from Manoj SS)