G.K. Mahantesh and Nagesh met when they were students at Sri Ramachandra Maharishi Academy, where their love for cricket led to their becoming friends. The only catch - another thing they had in common - was that both boys were blind. It was the friendship between these two visually disabled boys that led to the foundation of the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled here in Bengaluru.
Looking back at their journey, Mahantesh said, "The early days were all about the challenges we both faced and how we overcame them." The guiding light for the visually challenged in the country goes on to say, "We want to make disabled persons confident, capable and strong enough to face what is thrown at them. We realise that these disabled kids have immense potential and we hope to help them maximise it and live up to their potential."
Cricket for the blind has remained the primary focus of the organisation, although they deal with a number of other issues as well, including a sustainable solid waste management model.
"I have been fortunate enough to have attended the 1990 cricket world cup final in Delhi and have met a number of cricketers along the way. I want every disabled person out there to know that the sky is their limit. This is my mission," Mahantesh explained.
"I have been lucky because my parents stood by me," he said. Born in Belgaum into an agricultural family, Mahantesh was afflicted by a fever when he was six months old, that cost him his sight. "My parents wanted me to have a good education anyway," he said. He was sent to study at the Sri Ramana Maharishi School for the Blind here in Bengaluru, where he developed a love for cricket and met his friend and Samarthanam co-founder, Nagesh, who passed away recently. "He was my friend, guide, mentor, philosopher, lifelong friend and companion," said Mahantesh.
In college, Mahantesh found he could no longer play cricket for the official, which spurred him on to give visually impaired youngsters a chance to follow their dreams as well. He and Nagesh founded the trust in 1997, which works with the disabled, the underprivileged and also the environment. They founded the Crickst Association for the Blind, which is now the apex authority for blind cricket in the country. The T20 World Cup for the blind is also organised by Samarthanam.
Despite the loss of his friend, Samarthanam has plenty to be proud of in 2016 and Mahantesh's voice fills with pride as he says, "The biggest achievement was our Indian Blind Cricket team winning the 2016 Asia Cup." The team received sponsorshop from Microsoft and Citibank and had Rahul Dravid sign on as the ambassador for blind cricket.
He hopes that Samarthanam continues to grow - "We should be present in atleast 25 countries and 20 Indian states," he says. "NGOs should have a bigger role in policy making and be able to access the most remote areas of the country."...