CHHATTISGARH: Self-pity was not an option for Laxmikant Shirke, 59, after he lost his left foot and right hand in an accident almost a decade ago. Originally from Maharashtra, he worked at the Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP), a flagship unit of SAIL, after taking voluntary retirement from the Maratha Regiment of the Indian Army in 1996.
Everything was going well for Shirke till 2011. One day, while boarding a train at the Bhilai station in Chhattisgarh, he lost his balance and fell. Shirke lost his left foot and right hand in the accident. He remained bedridden for almost a year.
Shirke says almost everyone advised him to stay home. However, being in the Army for years, Shirke had learned to fight back. "How could I ever accept defeat? Despite my family and relatives opposing my choice to drive, I decided to give it a shot," he said.
Supported by his wife Chhaya and son Saransh, he bought a car with automatic transmission so that he didn’t have to shift gears manually. Since then he has never looked back.
"There are highs and lows in life, and at times, a disadvantage could pose an extreme challenge, my father told me. When I look at him, it is his courage and confidence that drives him," says Saransh.
"The accident posed tough challenges, but it also gave me a new direction, a sort of reinventing myself. I believe my life began only after embracing the challenges," says Shirke, who drives his car from his Raipur home to the Bhilai office.
After the accident Shirke, who was working as technician in electrical division in BSP's merchant mill got another job as a senior staff assistant in a library, considering his physical disability.
With the library job came another turning point for him. He read books on those who created world records by doing something extraordinary. "I had gone against the wishes of my family whom I could not convince as to how I would drive in heavy traffic. But I had made up my mind," he says.
Shirke broke the earlier world record held by the Australian physically challenged man Javier Stephens of driving 25,000 km in 2016. He later created a new world record of driving a total of 1.26 lakh km. He carved out his own niche in the longest aggregated car driving as a world record holder and was recognized by Limca Book of Records and Golden Book of Records.
He won five car rallies organised in Raipur. "I look forward to being part of the endurance drive car rally for the disabled from Kanyakumari to Dehradun," he says. Shirke performs his daily routine works without the prosthesis (any artificial body part) fitted, his colleagues at the steel plant say.
Whenever he gets time, he visits schools, colleges on the invitation to share how his struggle has made him stronger. "Never give up; keep chasing your dreams," is his mantra in his motivational speeches, says Hercharan Kour, a women's rights activist in Bhilai.