By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar
Panaji, Sep 7 (IANS) Olympic gold medal winner and intellectually-disabled Sonia Yellappa Patil, who got Prime Minister Narendra Modi talking about his love for swimming, gymming over video conference, is still unaware she quizzed the prime minister.
The 16-year-old does not really know who the bearded, smiling man she spoke to on September 4 on live television really is.
All she is aware of is that she spoke to a minister and that her friends and classmates are all praise for her performance on TV, when she asked Modi about his favourite sport.
“I spoke to a minister. He asked me ‘what did you get for India?’ I said, ‘I got medals’. Even people in my school saw me speaking to him. They congratulated me,” she said with a coy glee, as she interacted with mediapersons on Saturday after her live feat on national television on Friday.
In response to her question to Modi about his favourite sport, Modi had spoken fondly of his childhood in a remote Gujarat village, where he spent time swimming, working out in a gym, playing kho kho, kabaddi and climbing trees and hanging from their boughs for fun.
Born to Yellappa, a labourer, and Laxmi, a house-maid, Sonia has been at the Disha School for special children in Panaji for 10 years now. According to Anil Counto, chairperson of the trust which runs the school, its because of her inability to understand and analyse information that she fails to grasp the significance of her conversation with Modi.
“She is intellectually disabled, but look at the laurels she has brought for Goa and India. Who gets an opportunity to speak to the prime minister? She managed to do it. Thanks to her diligence and her love for sports,” Counto said.
According to Laxmi, the transformation of her daughter from a hyperactive girl, who would constantly fight with her classmates and tear up their books, has been phenomenal and her belief that specialized education would help Sonia has paid off.
“I never thought this was possible. I have never asked her to help me with domestic chores. I wanted her to study and get into a good school. I am so proud of her medals and that she spoke to the prime minister,” Laxmi, a mother of three children, told IANS.
During the 2015 Special Olympics World Games held in Los Angeles, Sonia won an athletic gold and silver medal in the 200 mts and 400 mts sprint events respectively.
With medals in her pocket, Sonia was one of the 10 students from across the country chosen to interact with Modi in his pre-Teachers’ Day interaction which was telecast live. But coaching Sonia for a tete-a-tete with Modi wasn’t as easy it looked.
“There were at least three rehearsals which she had to undergo. We made a list of mock questions which she could be asked, but she showed no confidence then. But when the prime minister spoke to her, she was at her spontaneous best,” Sandhya Kaloke, secretary, Disha Charitable Trust said.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)