How ‘Magic’ Johnson’ fought back AIDS?

Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson has the repute of being one of the most successful players in the history of the basketball game.

In November 1991, Johnson encountered the most challenging moment of his life. During a routine physical examination for an insurance policy, he was detected to be a carrier of the HIV virus. In order to undergo treatment, the team physician advised Johnson to quit basketball immediately. Johnson first shared his medical condition with his teammates and then decided to make a public announcement.

In a press conference held on November 7, 1991, Johnson acknowledged that he had tested positive for HIV and that he would retire immediately. He brought in on record that his wife, Cookie and their unborn child were HIV negative.

Johnson was determined to face this threat and dedicate his future life to overpower this fatal disease. His announcement led to rumors proclaiming Johnson to be gay or bisexual but he denied being either. Johnson’s confession stunned the Americans and brought him in the limelight right through the country. In fact, the ESPN declared it as the seventh most memorable moment of the past 25 years. The media praised Johnson for his courage and the U.S. President, George H W Bush called him a ‘Hero’.

Overnight, a basketball player became a spokesman for AIDS awareness. Johnson continued to speak out and raised millions for research to combat the disease. It was during this phase that he founded the Magic Johnson Foundation for HIV/AIDS education and co-authored the book, ‘What You Can Do To Prevent AIDS’.

Johnson retired abruptly in 1991 but still hoped for a future in basketball. He made a comeback to win the Most Valuable Player of the 1992 All-Star Game. His fellow players protested and forced him to retire for the second time. Johnson’s passion for the game got him to return once again in 1996 to play 32 games for the Lakers. By May 1996, Johnson formally announced his retirement – this time for good. He cited the other players’ concerns about the possibility of being infected while playing. Actually, he had discovered that the current players on the team did not look up to him and would not give the ball exclusively to him.

Johnson’s optimism and his desire to remain healthy for his family have astonishingly brought down the AIDS virus in his body to untraceable levels, as notified by his physicians in 1997. They accredited the improvement to the use of powerful drugs, including protease inhibitors. His wife, Cookie, of course gives the credit to God.

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Inspiring story of India’s Only News paper for AIDS

Maragatham, 35, is a daily passenger on the train to Chennai, which stops at Karur, a textile town, 430 kilometres south of the metropolis. She trades in readymade garments. Every 15 days, she waits eagerly for a newspaper distributed free on the trains she boards to get to Karur.

For Maragatham, the eight-page colour newspaper, Positive +, is interesting because for the first time she is able to read openly about HIV/AIDS in her own language. “I learn new things about this dreaded disease with every issue,” she says. After Maragatham has read the paper, she makes sure that she hands it over to someone else, even students of a college in Erode, who commute regularly on this train.

But, why would anyone want to start a newspaper in a country that has almost 62,500 registered newspapers, of which about 2,130 are dailies? Furthermore, a newspaper in the age of Internet newspapers and recession, that deals with just one subject and which is distributed free of charge seems a losing proposition.

So what made Asma Naseer, the person behind the great idea, take the plunge? “Well,” she says, “we had been thinking about doing it for several years, but never really put our minds to it. Now it has at last happened.”

Four months into operations – the first edition was out on December 1, 2008 – it takes about Rs 50,000  to print and distribute each edition of Positive +, as the advertisements are few. But money has been trickling in. The Tamil Nadu Aids Control Society has taken advertisement space for six months, which is worth about Rs 12,000 per edition, while some shopkeepers and well-wishers are now coming forward with small advertisements.Several generous friends have also contributed, which includes an initial private gift of $1000 that enabled the project to take off.

“The very fact that four months into the experiment, we are facing demands of up to 50,000 copies, which we are unable to print at the moment, shows that people find the paper useful,” says Asma, who is in her thirties. It will need at least Rs 400,000 every month to print and distribute 50,000 copies door-to-door even in the small area it now covers. That is Asma’s dream.

Currently, 5,000 copies of the publication roll out of a small press to be distributed free in areas like Adayar, Besant Nagar and Thiruvanmiyur in Chennai by volunteers or newspaper boys for a token sum. Three hundred more copies are given out on trains in the Karur-Trichy section, mostly among vendors and daily wage earners.

There is also a free online version at

But what’s so special about this newspaper, one might ask. Well, besides the kudos due to a single woman’s effort, it is the manner in which HIV/AIDS is treated that is striking. What immediately impresses people as they turn the pages is the commitment it displays to building up a friendship with the reader. And it is bilingual. In fact, the newspaper design is quite innovative. Both Tamil as well as English material appear on the same broadsheet, which is then folded into tabloid size, with every reader getting access to both languages in a single copy.

The newsprint is grainy – it is composed and designed on a tiny laptop on a dinner table. But one cannot miss the bonhomie it exudes, issue after issue. And yes, with Tamil Nadu considered an HIV/AIDS hotspot, it is only appropriate that Chennai should be home to India’s first newspaper on HIV/AIDS.

However, Positive + is not a scaremonger, for it does not churn out dull statistics on HIV/AIDS, nor does it wave the red flag of fear. The reassuring phrase is: “It is not our concern how someone contracted HIV. We are only interested in seeing that the infected person has a life of dignity. And, in preventing fresh infection.”

In the very first issue, filmmaker and activist Ajit Hari, the managing editor of Positive +, put it this way: “Everyone – simply everyone – who is infected has just one refrain, ‘If only I knew’.”

With concerted nation-wide awareness campaigns, most people have heard of HIV/AIDS. But knowing about AIDS, coping with HIV, dealing with the associated trauma – that is an entirely different ball game, Asma points out.

“Even I, who thought of myself as a fairly intelligent, educated, well read and aware person, was surprised by how little I actually knew about HIV/AIDS and how it actually affects lives,” explains Ajit.

Yes, the alerts are all there in the paper. Little boxes containing the India and state figures of the affected; the long AIDS guide column; the hotlines to help; and the addresses of hospitals, blood banks, counselling centres, testing centres, ART centres and positive networks. It contains information about community care centres and outreach programmes, as well.

From publisher-editor Asma’s desk comes a little note. In a recent issue, it was titled boldly, ‘My AIDS Story’. In a chatty style, it took the reader through a journalist’s first encounter with HIV/AIDS and the typical warnings from friends and family, “Oh! You were covering an AIDS assignment…wash your hands, change your clothes…”

Week after week, the pages narrate the tales – of HIV-positive Padmavathy, who is president of Tamil Nadu Network of Positive People; of Anandy’s bold initiative (she sought an HIV test before an arranged marriage), making the reader believe there is hope and that it is always better to be safe than sorry.

The paper captures the story of India’s tryst with AIDS and wise words from respected community leaders. An early edition carried Mother Teresa’s thoughts on AIDS. On one cover there was a message from the Archbishop of Madras, Rev A M Chinnappa, on the occasion of Christmas, and from Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev on Pongal. There is sometimes anecdotal caution against stigma – a little story about Mary of Magdalene, with Jesus telling people, “Let one without sin cast the first stone”. One recent edition had the picture of the most powerful man in the US, President Barack Obama and the First Lady, taking the HIV test.

“There are 2.44 million HIV stories from India to write about,” Ajit says. “Each story is a lesson in what not to do, how not to let it happen to you.”

Inspiration needed, anyone? Take it from Asma, Ajit and their Positive + attitude.

Women’s Feature Service, April 2009

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Success story of physically challenged Chess champion

Her world has revolved around the black and white squares, for more than a decade now. For 23-year-old Jennitha Anto crossing hurdles in life is similar to making her way across the chess board — one square at a time.

This physically-challenged girl from Tiruchi, dreams of being a grandmaster some day and a chartered accountant. She has distinguished herself by earning the FIDE Women Candidate Master title with her performance in the recently concluded 39th World Chess Olympiad at the Russian town of Khanty-Mansiysk.

Jennitha bagged the silver medal in the women’s section at the eighth IPCA (International Physically disabled Chess Association) World Chess Championship in Wisla, Poland. In a tournament that had 70 physically challenged players participating including a number of International Masters, she managed to hold her own.

She was the only non-Russian invited to represent the women’s IPCA team at the 38th World Chess Olympiad in 2008, where she exhibited her prowess winning seven games in a row (against players in the general category), including one against a Woman International Master (WIM).

She stands testimony to the triumph of mind over matter. For the girl struck by polio at three, disability has never been a handicap in courting success. “It’s all in the mind,” she says. Uncomplaining and contented, her soft-spoken veneer conceals an invincible will power.

Notable is her father, G. Kanickai Irudayaraj’s contribution to her success in the sport. Her first coach and constant companion, he introduced Jennitha to the world of pawns, knights and queens.

“I happened to read the Will of Steel which records accomplishments of the differently abled in sports. It led me to believe Jennitha too can do it. I told her I would teach her a sport,” recalls the father, a retired school teacher. “She was reluctant and reminded me she could not run, let alone walk. But she was excited, when I told her she could play chess.” And that was how Jennitha got her first tutorial in chess. She soon discovered her talent when she won her first tournament at the district-level in 1996.

“During my first tournament, I was trembling all over; I was worried that so many people were watching me and I wondered what they thought, seeing me in a wheelchair. But after winning the tournament, I was all confidence,” she says with a bright smile.

And she did not stop there. She went on conquering opponents in a battle of brains. Jennitha was district champion under different age categories six times in a row. Her highest ranking in an open tournament at the State level was No. 5 while she was ranked 16th in the country in the under-15 category and competed in international tournaments to become a rated player by 2002.

Though she took a break to concentrate on her Board exams, Jennitha returned to her first love — chess — while doing a degree in Commerce through correspondence.

Lack of infrastructure or special arrangements have never been impediments in her way forward. But the only disadvantage she points out is missing chances to watch the games of other players during tournaments. “Apart from giving you a break, it can largely improve your game. I feel I have missed those opportunities,” she rues.

Coached by International Master and Olympic team captain, Raju Ravi Sekhar, Jennitha says he shaped not only her technique but also her temperament. Something that she has imbibed from her idol Viswanathan Anand.

The computer has been an asset for Jennitha to improve her game through online coaching and long hours of practice. The biggest obstacle that stands between Jennitha and her ‘Grand’ dream is the lack of funds.

“Jennitha is about to start coaching under a Grandmaster which requires Rs. 1,000 per hour. Besides, her travel expenses are more because she needs to be accompanied,” says her father.

Both father and daughter are thankful to private organisations and the Tiruchi District, State, All India Chess Associations and the State Government who have made the journey so far possible.

Jennitha’s hero, Bobby Fischer once remarked, “You have to have the fighting spirit. You have to force moves and take chances.” Jennitha has that and more. The sunniest of optimists, she also believes in miracles. Her life may be chequered but she has never been check-mated.

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Inspiring story of school dropout with a PhD

V Kathiresan had to drop out of school to support his family. Years later, working for A P J Abdul Kalam as his driver, he was encouraged to restart his education.

Today he has a PhD, has written two books, and is a college lecturer.

Anything is possible or shall we say nothing is impossible. V Kathiresan’s story proves that. This school dropout, who used to work as a driver for A P J Abdul Kalam, ensured that his dream turned into a reality at the age of 47.

A native of Vadachennimalai in Tamil Nadu, Kathiresan has come a long way with sheer determination. From being a school dropout, he went on to complete a PhD in history and was appointed a lecturer at the Arignar Anna Government Arts College in Vadachennimalai last year.

“I can never forget the role played by Kalamayya (sahib). I worked as a driver with him for five-and-a-half-years and during those long drives, I used to talk to him about my aspirations and dreams.”
“One day while driving, Ayya suggested that I should resume my studies. He told me that the best way to go about it was through long distance education. Ayya used to lecture several students about the importance of education. I used to listen to him speak and got inspired.”
It wasn’t easy for Dr Kathiresan. After working at a 10 to 6 job, he would come home and study to catch up on all those lost years.
His struggle against the odds has become an example for his students. Santhosh Mani, a student at the college, says his teacher’s story is like a fairy tale. “We complain so much about work load and the other burdens of life,” says Mani. “Today I look up to him and tell myself that anything is possible. It is just a matter of dedication and effort.”

Dr Kathiresan lost his father very early in life and had no choice but to support his family. Though he was always fond of studying, financial problems compelled him to drop out of school. “It was one of the most painful decisions of my life, but I accepted it as a way of life.”

He trained as an electrician and joined the Indian Army in 1979. His first posting was in Bhopal, then Sikkim followed by Hyderabad.
He first met A P J Abdul Kalam at the Defence Research and Development Laboratory in the 1980s. Kalam was DRDO’s director at the time and Kathiresan was deputed as his driver.

I must thank the Almighty that I was given such an opportunity,” says Dr Kathiresan. “If not for Kalamayya’s inspirational words, I would have never been able to achieve this. Even after Ayya left DRDO, I continued to ponder over what he said about the importance of education.”

He started working towards completing his school education. He appeared for the Class X and then Class XII examinations privately and obtained a BA from Madurai Kamraj University through distance education. He then went on to do an MA in political science.
“I noticed that as the days passed, the urge to pursue higher studies started creeping into my system. I did my BEd followed by an MEd from Madras University and then an MPhil from Kamraj University. I then did law and finally a PhD from Manonmaniam Sundaranar University.”

In 2001, he passed the teachers’ recruitment exam, and was selected on merit. His first assignment as a teacher was at Kovilpatti where he worked for eight years. Apart from this he has written four books on history and a travel guide for the Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu.

“After completing my PhD, I called Ayya and told him that I had got a job also. The kind words and the appreciation that he gave me are more important than anything else in this world. He had faith in me and I did not let him down.”

Dr Kathiresan cannot forget the role his wife Kasthuri played in his entire struggle. A teacher herself, she was a rock through his difficult times. The couple have decided to ensure that their son Raghavan, who is in Class XII, gets sound academic grooming.

Grateful that he had Kalam as a mentor he now wants to help other students who have not had a chance to complete their education. “I would be only too glad if I could pass this on to several students who have the urge to learn and strive to be the best.”

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100-year-old freedom fighter pursues PhD

Freedom fighter Bholaram Das marked his 100th birthday this weekend by announcing that he was going back to school.

Das has enrolled in a PhD program at Guwahati University in the northeastern state of Assam – making him perhaps the oldest university student in this country of 1 billion.

“In my 100 years, I have done many things in the sphere of society, politics, governance and religion,” said Das, dressed in a suit, tie and white Gandhi cap at his birthday celebration Saturday. “I thought I must work towards a PhD that could satisfy my hunger for learning.”

Das was 19 when he was jailed for participating in a 1930 protest against British rule. He spent two months doing hard labour and went on to study commerce and law.

In 1945, he joined the Congress Party that led India’s drive for independence, achieved in 1947.

Das worked as a teacher, a lawyer, a magistrate and a district court judge before retiring in 1971. With his wife Mandakini, he had five sons and a daughter.

For his doctorate, Das plans to study a subject close to his heart – how his native Bohori village helped in the spread of neo-Vaishnavism, a liberal and monotheistic stream of the Hindu religion credited with breaking down social divisions in Assam, one of India’s easternmost states.

The centenarian said he wanted to pursue his interest and belief in the religion’s philosophies of one God and humanism.

“It is indeed rare to find a student who is 100 year old,” said the university’s vice chancellor, O. K. Medhi.

    “We are thrilled because Das can be an inspiration for the youth with his formidable spirit and dedication to public service.”

Das, who now has 10 grandchildren and a great-grandchild, is being advised in his studies by one of his granddaughters, a university professor, and other family members. His wife died in 1988.

“It amazes me that, 40 years after retiring from service, my grandfather is still mentally strong and wants to do new things,” said grandson Abhinab Das, an engineer. “This is indeed inspiring for all of us in the family.

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12-year-old aims for gold at CWG

She studies in class VIII, badly misses her mom, has fallen in love with chicken tikka and naan, and she wants a medal — not any, but one at the Oct 3-14 Commonwealth Games. Meet Khaaliqa Nimji, all of 12 years, from Kenya, one of the youngest competitors at the Games.

It is a dream come true for Khaaliqa as she marks her arrival on the international stage in India, a country about which she knows little but has taken a liking for its food. She is part of a four-member Kenyan squash unit comprising two men and two women.

“It feels great to represent Kenya. I know I am fairly young but walking around with the elder lot does not bother me. I am just thrilled to be here,” Khaaliqa said.

Khaaliqa is the number two squash player in Kenya and has defeated the higher ranked compatriot Safina Madhani on more occasions than one.

The young star inherited the sport from her father Sadri Nimji, who played for the country in international events in the 1990′s.

“I started playing when I was five and maybe my dad was also playing at that time,” she guessed.

“I don’t know whether squash is in my blood. All I know is that I love the sport,” she said.

“Khaaliqa started playing tennis at a training center in Nairobi,” her father Nimji revealed. “But now I have to force her to play that sport. She prefers playing squash all the time. It is so much fun for her.” he said.

The security for the Games scared her at first as the Village has been turned virtually into a fortress.

She almost panicked seeing police officials all around her as she entered the Village.

“It was crazy when I first landed. I was scared of the cops being everywhere but now I feel much better as I have started liking the Village. Everyone is so friendly here,” she said.

The little wonder that she is, Khaaliqa is sad at not being able to meet her father regularly as only players and officials are allowed to live in the village.

“I have met him only once since I came here. I can’t meet him at will, so I talk to him on the phone all the time. I badly miss my mom, brother and cousins and can’t wait to get back home,” she said.

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From studying under the streetlights to CEO of a US firm!

Here is the rags-to-riches story of an extremely talented boy from a small village in Tamil Nadu who has risen to be the chief executive officer of a company in Seattle, USA.

It is also the story of how Kalyana Raman Srinivasan, who was so indigent that he had to study under a streetlight, but then managed to score excellent marks, rose in life and became today’s Kal Raman.

At every turn in his life, he took the difficult path and it turned out to be the right one and in the right direction. His rise to the top is more dramatic than a thriller. Today, he is a very successful entrepreneur and the founder-CEO of GlobalScholar.

Read his extraordinary story of triumph and determination . . .

Difficult childhood

Kal Raman was born and brought up in a small village called Mannarakoil in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. It was a comfortable normal middle class life for him and his siblings as his father was a Tahasildar there.

But the sudden death of his father at the age of 45 changed everything overnight.

Kal was 15 then. “My mother got a pension of Rs 420 a month and you can imagine how tough it is to educate four children and feed five mouths with Rs 420?”

Hi life changed dramatically after his father’s death. The family moved from the rented house to a hut that had no proper water supply or electricity. Kal Raman remembers, “All of us used to study under the streetlight and, thank god, the streetlights used to work those days! MGR (M G Ramachandran) was the chief minister then. We had to sell the plates to buy rice to eat and my mother used to give us rice in our hands. That bad was our situation.”

But his mother, who had studied till the 8th standard, was very particular that her children studied. “All our relatives wanted my elder brother to stop studying and take up the small job offered by the government but my mother wanted him to continue studying.”

“Then they wanted me to learn typewriting and shorthand so that I could get some job after the 10th  standard. But mother said, ‘My children are going to get the best education I can offer. Education is our salvation.’ She was my hero for her vision and she still is my hero.”

What kept the family going? “We were sad but because we accepted our fate, we were at peace with whatever that happened to us. We knew our father would not come back to lift us up from poverty. We also knew our salvation was a long way away.”

He didn’t know why he used to tell his mother, “One day I will give you so much money that you will not know what to do with it!” Years later, he did exactly that!

First turning point in life

Kal Raman believes that God played a hand in all the major turning points in his life. The first turning point in life was after his 12th standard. He got good marks in both the engineering and medicine entrance exams, and for engineering, he got admission at the Anna University in Chennai while for medicine, it was in the Tirunelveli Medical College.

“While going in the bus with my mother to join the medical college, I told her, “If I join for medicine here, the high probability is that my life may begin and end in Tirunelveli. I really want to see the world.’ She agreed with my decision to go to Chennai and join Anna University and study Electrical Engineering and Electronics.”

So, he stepped into a new world outside Tirunelveli, and that was Chennai. Though he had got merit scholarship and a lot of good people helped him pay the initial fee, the scholarship amount never used to reach him regularly or on time.

“The mess fee was Rs 250 a month and I used to be a defaulter in the mess at least six months in a year. Till you pay the mess fee, you cannot eat in the mess. So, I used to live on day scholars’ lunch boxes and also use to fast. That is when I learnt to fast ! I must say a lot of friends helped me with money and food.”

Scarcity of money was so bad that he had no money to buy food just before the final semester exams. When he gave his final semester exams, he had not eaten for a day-and-a-half. “After finishing the exam, I almost fainted.”

The day after the exams came all the scholarship money that was due and it was around Rs 5,000. “So, I went home a rich man and that helped us repay some loans.”

First job

Like opting for Chennai and joining Anna University instead of a college in Tirunelveli, Kal Raman took another risk with his first job also. His first job was with Tata Consulting Engineers (TCE), and he had a choice of joining either Chennai or Mumbai.

Although he knew nobody in Mumbai, he chose the capital of Maharashtra.

He remembered the first day. “It was interesting. With bag and baggage, I went to the TCE office after taking a shower at the railway station as I had no money to go to any hotel. After the first introduction at the office, the manager noticed that I was wearing slippers to the office. He called me and said, “I don’t care which college you are coming from but this is not acceptable. You should come in shoes tomorrow.”

I said I couldn’t come in shoes the next day and this the manager construed as arrogance. “How could you talk like this?” he asked me. I said, “Sir, it is not that I don’t want to, but I can’t afford to buy shoes. Only after I get my first pay cheque, can I buy shoes. Sir, I request you not to terminate my job because of this. I and my family need this job.”

Shocked to hear the explanation, the manager asked, “Where are you staying?” and the reply was, “Dadar Railway Station.”

So distressed was the manager to hear Kal speak that he immediately released a month’s salary in advance and also arranged for him to be at his friend’s place till he could find a place to stay.

“He bought me a pair of shoes and those were my first shoes. The next day, I sent Rs 1,500 from the advance to my mother.”

From electrical engineering to programming

Kal’s rise in career was meteoric in a short span of time. Within a month, he got a chance to move to Bengaluru (then Bangalore) and also to programming.

Soon, he was in Chennai with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). Within a few months, he was sent to Edinburgh, UK.

From Edinburgh, his next stop was the United States. In 1992, he went to the US as an entry level contractor with Wal-Mart. In two years, he was a director running a division.

When he left Wal-Mart after six years, he was a man running the information systems for the International Division of the retail giant.

In 1998, he joined Online Pharmacy as the chief information officer and in 2001 at the age of 30, he was the CEO of the company.

He was at the right place at the right time. “God was there at every step guiding me to take the right decisions. I was also willing to take risks and tread new paths,” Kal says.

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‘You can bounce back from anything’ – Story of disabled men climbing mountain

The three American veterans from three different wars had only one good leg among them. But that did not stop them from summiting Africa’s highest mountain.

The three soldiers veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam scrambled, clawed and plodded to the top of Tanzanias Mount Kilimanjaro, hiking up the domed mountains scree-filled paths on one human leg and five prosthetics made of titanium and carbon fiber. The three amputees were from three different wars and two different generations with literally one good leg.

They skidded. They fell. They removed their legs to adjust their shoes. And after six days, they stood at 19,340 feet Africa’s highest point. The message they were trying to send back to the USA is no matter what disability you have you can be active, said Kirk Bauer,the executive director of Disabled Sports USA and a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran who lost his leg in 1969. Bauer, of Ellicott City, Maryland,was one of the triumphant climbers. If three amputees with literally one good leg can climb Kilimanjaro,our disabled friends can get out and go hiking or go biking, can get out and lead a healthy life, he said. The youngest of the veterans,26-year-old Neil Duncan, lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2005.The Denver, Colorado,resident tried to summit Kilimanjaro last year ,but poor planning and a fast ascent schedule doomed the trip.

While one was a Vietnam veteran, the other lost his limb in Afghanistan and the third veteran,Dan Nevins,a 37-yearold from Florida, lost his legs in Iraq. He developed a pressure boil on one of his legs stumps,which may have lead to his developing of a high fever, coughing and congestion.

This time a different guide planned a route specifically for the veterans. The group took six days to ascend, instead of three or four, and a special permit for the disabled allowed them to spend the night in tents at 19,000 feet. Last Saturday they made it to the top.

Climbing down was no easy task for the amputees  After reaching the summit and descending to 15,000 feet, Nevins was evacuated down on a wheeled stretcher. Kilimanjaros lower paths are flat dirt, but higher trails turn to a rock and scree blend difficult for prosthetics. In the loose rock the artificial legs slid backward, leading Duncan to feel like he was climbing the mountain twice.

Its an incredible amount of work as you can imagine but one of the most difficult portions of the whole deal was the ascent from 15,500 to 19,000 feet, said Duncan,a student at the University of Denver.The rocks were real loose, real steep. With having no feet or ankles I was lacking the ability to grip into that dirt. Going down the part many climbers say is the hardest on the body was no easier for the amputees. Duncan lost his footing and somersaulted. Bauers artificial leg fell off. I have only one real knee, and it takes an incredible amount of stress from falling, Duncan said.

It was evidence that with the right planning and right preparation and right execution anything can be done, Duncan said. That was why I was so set on coming back. I knew it was attainable. It was proof that you can bounce back from a failure in anything. You can regroup, replan and use your previous experience and be successful.

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How a candle-seller became a multi-millionaire?

His is an amazing story. He learnt invaluable lessons of entrepreneurship from each of his failed endeavours.

As a teenager, Naresh Gulati was labelled as a failure by his family and relatives for he spent time selling candles and cloth in the streets of Chandigarh. Later, he was even duped by unscrupulous travel agents who promised him a lucrative career in Australia.

At 15, when boys of his age were playing around, Naresh Gulati had to really struggle to make money. After he failed the tenth standard examination, the pressure only mounted on him to work harder.

“My family members were not so highly educated. So they wanted to me to study hard and do well. But I was not interested in anything they taught at school. My father wanted me to study in an English-medium school. I did not know the language neither did I want to learn it. When I failed the tenth standard exam, I got thrashed by my father and was locked up in a room. It was really humiliating,” Gulati recounts.

Everyone thought he had ruined his life but he never thought he was a failure. He did what he thought he was good at: business. So what if it meant selling candles or cloth on the streets?

“My father had a cloth business that suffered a huge loss at that time. Since I was the eldest, I had the responsibility to look after the house along with my father. Even as a young boy, I wanted to do something different. I started by selling fancy candles. When others sold ordinary candles, I sold fancy ones, and made more money. This way I could earn pocket money and help my family as well,” he says.

For him, this unfortunate turn of events, was a stepping stone to future success. Little did anyone realize that this young boy would one day become rich and famous.

Naresh was compelled to join school again. His father wanted him to become at least a graduate, and he obliged. Later, he went on to do a computer course. “My first job was at Aptech as a lecturer. The rest like they say is history,” Naresh says. Naresh now heads a group of companies in India and abroad. The OCA Group he founded is a holding company for three businesses: Oceanic Consultants, BPO Intelligence and Object Next Software.

Naresh Gulati shares the joy of being a true winner despite all odds..
How was the experience of working as the street vendor? Were you happy doing it?

I enjoyed working. There was nothing else I could think of doing to be independent. I advised my father that the way he was doing business was wrong. I did everything myself, instead of sourcing cloth from vendors, I went and selected the cloth I wanted to sell and made sure it worked. It was a tough life. I had started the business by borrowing Rs. 5,000 from my uncle during Diwali. At the end of the first year, I could pay off the debt and still had Rs.10,000 with me. I continued to do the business even when as I started studying again. After classes in the evening, I used to turn into a vendor. Once during my college days, one of the girls in my class passed by and I felt very embarrassed.

Why did you decide to start studying again?

There was a lot of pressure from my parents that I should have a degree. So I went back to school. I passed the tenth standard but I failed again in the 11th standard. My family had given up all hopes on me. They thought I was useless and was wasting time. However, I tried again and cleared the exam. Finally, I graduated in political science. Then I got selected to do a course in electronic data processing from the Regional Computer Centre. After this, I joined Aptech as a lecturer.

But I always wanted to start a business of my own. So I started a computer centre in Chandigarh, followed by a cosmetics company. But the business was not doing very well. Then I came to know from an agent that Australia offers a great opportunity for professionals. The agent painted a rosy picture of things. He misled me to believe that everything will be taken care of while I pursue my further studies. My parents took a loan of Rs.2 lakh to send me abroad.

When I reached there, I realized that I had been duped. There was no way I could afford to live there and study. I even slept outside on benches many nights not knowing what to do. But I was not ready to give up.

I knew I should not let my parents know about my suffering. I studied during the day and spend the evening working hard, washing dishes at restaurants, doing all kinds of odd jobs. I soon met many people who were duped by such unscrupulous agents. This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It struck me that a good service to guide the Indian students to join the universities abroad would be an excellent business opportunity.

After the post-graduate course in information systems from RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, I got a job as an analyst programmer. I worked for one year and came back to India. I had saved enough to pay off my parents’ debt. I wanted to start the overseas education consultancy business.

How difficult was it to start the company?

It was a tough decision. There were many things against me. I just had 143,000 with me after I cleared the debt. I was entering the market when there were about 100 companies offering similar service in Chandigarh. When I began there were many people with expertise in this field. I had limited number of institutes in my list. I did not have enough funds. But I never feared anything. I started Oceanic Consultants all by myself. It was a one-man show. It was really difficult to manage things myself. I could not afford to advertise or hire more people. Luckily, business started picking after people realized that I was honest. My aim was to see my clients happy. So word spread about us and things started looking up.

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Surat office boy becomes CA

This diamond city has a Phungsuk Wangdu of the ‘3 Idiots’ fame in 24-year-old office boy, Shailesh Ghule, who has cleared his final CA exams with flying colours.

Unlike Wangdu aka Aamir Khan, Shailesh did not impersonate anyone to pursue his love for studies, but does have the same background. Living in a 12×25 room in a slum in Limbayat with a family of five, he has successfully stepped in the world of chartered accountants. He cleared his CA final exams with 220 and 210 marks in both the groups and ultimately plans to set up his own consultancy firm.

Shailesh, youngest son of housemaid Nirmala and textile loom worker Arun, a migrant Maharashtrian family, studied in Sarvajanik High school in Marathi medium and did BCom from IGNOU. While doing BCom he came in touch with Jay Chhaira, his tutor and employer, running the Institute of Professional Studies in Athwalines. He joined the institute as a student-cum-office-boy so that he doesn’t have to put any financial burden on his father and elder brother.

Many have seen Shailesh sitting quietly on the third floor steps of Tirupati Plaza engrossed in studies. Many have also seen him riding 7 km every day from Limbayat to the institute. “With a monthly income of Rs 6,000 I knew I could not expect money from my family. So I decided to work and earn for my education,” Shailesh told TOI. He did lose heart in between and left studies completely for two years, only to return with more vigour and clear every exam. After clearing his initial exams, he served his articleship and internship at Sushil Banadhiya and Sons and Kaniya Asava and Company. Chhaira, his tutor, said, “This boy always had the will to succeed”.

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