R Venkatesh -- the master of Silambam arena

During his recovery from the amputation, Venkatesh wished that someone sponsored an artificial hand for him.
Venkatesh lost his left arm when he came in contact with a live wire dangling near his house  | Express
Venkatesh lost his left arm when he came in contact with a live wire dangling near his house  | Express

NAGAPATTINAM: It felt like he was forbidden from playing the role of himself in his own life. When others lived his dream, R Venkatesh, however, continued to attend the silambam training sessions, but this time as a spectator. On one such day several years ago, he spared a glance at his left shoulder from where a hand once swayed and wielded the mighty silambam. The silambam would dissolve into his hands and weave a web of defiance for the opponent. But those were the days Venkatesh possessed both hands. While wallowing in this misery, the practice session unfolding before him slowly began to borrow his attention. Something was amiss.

The whole action was mistimed. Venkatesh jumped up from his seat, clasped the weapon and redressed the martial art movement. Scores of practitioners on the floor stilled. From that moment began the illustrious journey of reclaiming his prowess and inspiring hundreds of silambam artistes.Weapons such as deer horns and silambam staff at his house in Sirkazhi in Mayiladuthurai district had engrossed Venkatesh since his childhood. These weapons were remnants of his grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s mastery of silambam. He began practising the martial art at the age of 11 under the tutorship of instructor Subramani.

He later secured a diploma degree in mechanical engineering. “I was never that bright in academics. It would be more right to say athletics and silambam received my undivided attention. Then the world came crashing down that day,” Venkatesh’s mind leaves for a woebegone place.

He was 22 years old in January 2016, when he came in contact with a live wire dangling from a transformer near his house. He was rushed to a nearby hospital. When doctors the next day told his family that Venkatesh’s left hand needed to be amputated to save his life, the youngster lost something he valued more than his life. “I thought I would no more be able to swing my silambam staff and take forward my ancestors’ legacy attached to the centuries-old martial art,” he added.

But that day at the training ground brought back his confidence and he began to practice like never before. “I won some tournaments and also began to practice with deer horns and blade swords. I contested in the ‘non-contact’ and ‘semi-contact’ categories of silambam at state-level and national-level events. I also contested in four categories at an international championship held in Malaysia and won gold in all of them,” Venkatesh said.

Upon his return from Malaysia, two young boys Aswanth and Adhavan approached him to train them. Thus began the instructor (aasaan) chapter in Venkatesh’s life. The number of students snowballed from two to 200 in just two years. He is a great inspiration for persons with disabilities, said Sirkazhi Municipality Chairman R Durga Parameshwari, who has been attending Venkatesh’s training sessions at ‘Ilaiya Veera Thamizha Silambatta Palli’ even amid her busy work schedule.

He also trains children from underprivileged families free of cost. He also wishes to become a silambam instructor at a government school. “The government should make more efforts to promote the martial art. At the very least, it should be introduced in the school curriculum,” he said. Venkatesh’s father S Raja is a barber and R Mahalakshmi is a homemaker.

His students have also begun to win big in state-level and international competitions. M Shanmugam (43), a silambam trainer from Chennai, said, “Venkatesh’s students’ performance is testimony to the fire in his belly. Even a lot of senior trainers are in awe of his skill set.”

During his recovery from the amputation, Venkatesh wished that someone sponsored an artificial hand for him. But since he was able to turn that loss into an inspiring story of fighting against odds, he now tells everyone, “Kai illena enna, nambikai irruku (what if I don’t have a hand, I have faith in myself).”

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