CHENNAI/JAKARTA: Hours before Sajan Prakash took to the pool on Sunday morning, he was forced to make an urgent phone call to his mother, Shanty Mol.
He had to know whether his uncle and grandfather were safe. His maternal family lives in Maniyarankudi, some 6km away from Cheruthoni, a small town that was one of the first places to be flooded when Idukki Dam’s shutters opened for the first time in 26 years.
The Kerala lad, who became the first Indian in 32 years to make the 200m butterfly final in Asian Games, had been unaware about the true extent of the damage back home. That would have been the case had he not come across that information on Saturday night.
“He doesn’t watch English news channels and he had not read the news. So he had no idea about the magnitude of the floods,” Mol, currently in Neyveli, told Express. “He knew there were problems and he would occasionally ask me. I would tell him that everyone was safe. But yesterday night, someone in Indonesia told him that Idukki was one of the worst-affected regions. He immediately called. I had to tell him the truth.”
The 24-year-old handled the truth well after tossing and turning the entire night. He finished second in the last heat with 1:58.12s. It was enough to take him to the final. But an athlete is like every other human being. Sajan began to worry about his uncle and grandfather to such an extent that Mol had to resort to hourly updates.
“My mom has been constantly sending me messages today. I think they are safe,” Sajan told this newspaper after the final, in which he finished fifth. Mol believes that his son may have performed better had he been in a better state of mind. “He was upset the entire day,” she said. “I heard he had a bad start. Obviously things will go bad when your mind is elsewhere.”
He did get out of the blocks alright, but he was seventh at the first turn, and lacked the legs and upper-body strength to take him through the field. “I am lost for words,” said Sajan. “I think I tried to move too fast at the end and went through too many rotations. I ultimately paid the price for that.” His 1:57.75s was almost two seconds slower than China’s Li Zhuhao, who took bronze.
What of Sajan’s uncle or grandfather? Even Mol doesn’t know their exact whereabouts. “As far as I know, there has been no flooding in Maniyarankudi. So no rescue missions have concentrated on that area. However, there have been a lot of landslides, and that area is completely cut off. I last heard from them three days ago, and then they went silent. I think their mobiles must have run out of charge. I don’t know what state they are in.”