Kerala tragedy doesn't stop Sajan Prakash's historic showing in Jakarta

On Saturday, Sajan Prakash became the first Indian swimmer in 32 years to make the final at the Asian Games. FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images

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Sajan Prakash is wary of every call flashing on his mobile. He's not certain of who the bearer of grim news could be. Five members of his maternal family in the village of Maniyarankudi in Idukki, one of the worst-affected districts in the Kerala, floods have been missing for three days. Sajan learnt this on the eve of his 200m butterfly event on Sunday. This despite his mother's best efforts to shield him from any upsetting news until the end of his competition.

Sajan braved a sleepless night to make history on Sunday, becoming the first Indian swimmer in 32 years to make the final at the Asian Games. Sajan couldn't follow Khazaan Singh -- the last Indian swimmer to make the final and win a silver medal, at the 1986 Seoul Games -- on to the podium. But the silver lining was that he broke his own national record (1:58.08, which he set in May) with a timing of 1:57.75 on way to a fifth-place finish in the final.

"I didn't think of history or what the medal would mean when I stood on the starting blocks for the final. I was at least trying hard not to. But I guess I was nervous," Sajan told ESPN. "I couldn't catch much sleep since I heard my uncle and his family had gone missing. It's hard when your mind is restless and you're fearing the worst but still have to focus on the competition."

Sajan's mother Shantymol, a former international track and field athlete, says this was the reason she had chosen not to speak to her son for the past two days. "Sajan somehow found out, " she says, "While my mother (Sajan's grandmother) is at a safer location, my father (Sajan's grandfather), younger brother, his wife and their two children are missing for three days now. There have been severe landslides in their area, which has completely destroyed all houses. We heard that there are no relief camps in the vicinity either so we don't know where they are now and in what condition."

An employee at NLC India (Neyveli Lignite Corportation) Shantymol, who lives in her one-room government quarter in Neyveli, Tamil Nadu, often travels with Sajan for his training stints. It also means she has to forgo her salary for months together. "We don't have a house of our own. My brother's place was the only place we called home. Now we've lost that too and we don't know what news is next in store."