Around the time PV Sindhu turned world champion in August last year, Manasi Joshi watched her social-media following quadruple. The 30-year-old won a gold medal in the women's singles SL3 category (impaired in one or both limbs) at the World Championships in Basel.
She was soon in Vogue India in a blush-pink thigh-high slit gown, her left limb prosthetic resting uncovered, in full view. It was also a way to bring conversation around the needs of para athletes beyond the social-media applause over medals.
Manasi's left leg had to be amputated after a truck rammed into her two-wheeler while she was returning home from work in 2011. Prosthetics since have been part of her life, limb and carry-on baggage. She has two of them, one for walking and the other for playing. While the former is usually safe and strapped on her person, her playing prosthetics are often in the red, running the risk of being misplaced and she has her "heart travelling with it" every time she shuttles between cities, countries and continents.
"Since it's quite large and looks nothing like a typical piece of luggage, it tends to get overlooked or lost," says Manasi. "Every time I board a flight, it's the only prayer going over my mind. They're also delicate and can be damaged if not handled well." Manasi puts in a lot of thought into planning her travels. The primary attempt is to check for flights of the shortest possible duration. If she does have to book herself on a long flight, she usually removes her walking prosthetics off her limb during the journey and tackles an unwieldy number of transit hours by getting herself a visa for the country of the layover and checking into a hotel. "Most aspects of travel that usually go unnoticed for a regular flier," Manasi says, "could be the ones I need to obsess about and plan to the very last detail."
At the 2018 Asian Para Games, Manasi's prosthetic charger broke and she had to move around in a wheelchair and only her playing prosthetic was functional. In another instance earlier, the airline carrier misplaced her playing prosthetic in transit in Singapore and she was forced to get on court with her walking prosthetics, which makes for a difficult substitution since it's heavier, doesn't come with a knee socket and doesn't bend. Her shoe had been attached to the misplaced prosthetic limb, so she also had to borrow a fellow player's shoes to be able to compete.
Travel risks aside, prosthetic costs too are far from modest. A chargeable unit made from carbon fibre and requiring a replacement every five years, her walking prosthetic costs her Rs 22 lakh, which she's forced to fund herself, while her playing prosthetic costs roughly Rs 6 lakh and has a sponsor to cover the expense. "It [walking prosthetic cost] is what I have to pay for a quality of life," says Manasi, "to be able to move around on my own. It also makes me think that fending for such huge costs beyond my playing career could look like and how urgent the need is for the government to work on an insurance scheme for people with disabilities that would cover prosthetic costs for life."
Training at the Pullela Gopichand academy since 2018, badminton wasn't a post-accident sport that she picked up. It was one that she always loved and played in Ahmedabad with her brother serving as a sparring partner. Since her category SL3 isn't part of the Paralympics, she will be pairing up with Rakesh Pandey in the mixed doubles event and a top-six ranking should suffice for qualification. Despite the blur of recent successes, Manasi takes time to step back and review what has carried her so far.
"After the accident," she says, "I had to relearn pretty much everything, starting from walking to doing things on my own. But playing any sport as a child teaches you an important life skill, that everything is conquerable. That nothing is the end unless you will it to be so. It's what I kept telling myself and less than a decade since I lost a limb, it helped me return home a world champion."