A Lost Chess Game Made Him One Of World’s Best Known Bodybuilders, And Yet He Faced Discrimination! The Unbelievable Story of Pradip Kumar
It is a bright morning in Imphal and the smile on the face of my host is just as bright and friendly. He greets me with his charming smile at the Khuman Lampak Sports complex at heart of Imphal city, the capital of Manipur the powerhouse of Indian sports. K. Pradip Kumar, the man I have come to meet is a sportsperson of international repute. The former Mr. Asia and Mr. World bronze medalist is an internationally renowned bodybuilder and trainer. Several bodybuilders have gained national and international fame under his guidance till now. But behind this story of success and fame, there is a saga of struggle and perseverance that motivates people to be positive about life. His story is as exciting as a blockbuster movie and a source of inspiration for people around the world. It is the story of a man who not just refused to succumb to the cruelty of fate and society but also emerged much stronger than ever both mentally and physically. Destiny tried to beak him but he had other plans.
A normal childhood
Born in Manipur, K Pradip Kumar’s childhood was just like any other kid. He went to school and spent time playing with his siblings at home. “I never skipped school and would often arrive home very late after classes were over. To evade punishment I would instantly come up with some stories. I was creative.” Says Pradip Kumar with his signature smile. Young Pradip would prefer the company of older boys rather than his contemporaries. The conversations and games of his contemporaries did not impress him. A few years later, this would change his life forever.
One little mistake
In the early eighties, Pradip started taking drugs when he was at 6th or 7th standard. At that time the drug peddlers had just infiltrated into Manipur and narcotic substances were made available at very low prices. People were still not aware of the dreadful consequences of taking drugs or sharing hypodermic syringes. Drugs had become the ‘in’ thing. Pradip too fell into this trap. He was lured into the world of drugs by some of his friends. One of his cousins was from a rich family and he had no dearth of money. They would frequently party along with other friends. Gradually Pradip started to realise that he is being addicted to drugs. He tried to get over his addiction but it was not easy. The more he tried to get rid of drugs, the more he was gripped by withdrawal symptoms. After completing his 12th standard he went to Odisha for graduation. He made new friends and some of those friends were into drugs. Soon Pradip found himself in the tentacles of Drugs again. “It was not easy to buy a syringe to inject drugs. We were scared that someone would suspect us and so we reused the syringes. The same syringe and the needle would be shared by many over and over again. We were not aware of the dreadful consequences then.” Pradip recalled the dreadful experience. After completing his graduation in Odisha Pradip Kumar went to Nainital to pursue MSc in mathematics. However he could not complete his studies because of his addiction.
Sometimes in the late nineties, Pradip Kumar read a newspaper article about the dangers of taking drugs and sharing the same syringe. He learnt about HIV AIDS for the first time. By then some of his friends had already died because of addiction. This article sent shivers down his spine and he decided to give up drugs at any cost. In 1997 he took the last shot of narcotics. He gave up drugs altogether but the deadly withdrawal syndromes came back and he found himself heavily dependent on alcohol. His alcohol addiction increased but the only solace for him was that alcohol was less harmful than drugs. He was hopeful that quitting drugs would save him from the harmful side effects of drugs as well the dangers of getting infected with HIV AIDS. What he did not know, however, was that it was already too late and he had already been infected with the virus and the disease was waiting for the right time to raise its ugly head.
The demon strikes
One day in the month of December in 1999 Pradip Kumar fell ill. It was an attack of viral fever. He also felt severe pain in the throat. The doctor prescribed him some antibiotics. As he reached the pharmacy to get those antibiotics he collapsed on the ground, unconscious. When he opened his eyes he found himself at home. Next day morning he went to the doctor with his mother. This time the doctor prescribed him another medicine but he decided not to take it. The pain all over his body and his throat increased and soon he was unable to eat or drink. His health deteriorated fast and within a couple of days he could neither rise from the bed nor move his limbs. Eventually he was admitted to the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences in Manipur.
At the hospital Pradip Kumar was subjected to various tests but his condition worsened day by day. Blurred vision, frequent incidents of passing out, inability to talk and eat and other symptoms became alarmingly severe. After several tests he was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the lymph glands of the neck. After some treatment his condition became better and he went home. But he was again hospitalised after a few days. At the time of admitting he was unconscious and in a critical condition. He regained consciousness after three days. He did not understand what the doctors around him were saying but one word was being repeated several times and his intuition told him that word was important. Sero positive. He asked one of the doctors what was the meaning of that word. The doctor told it meant detection of the presence of a disease in blood samples and in this case it was HIV AIDS. At that time he was only 30.
This information hit him like a thunderbolt. The hope of being safe against the disease was now gone. He could not evade it. The virus finally got him. He broke down into tears. At that time his mother entered the room. Pradip somehow controlled himself and told her, “Let’s go home mother.”
Pradip Kumar’s mother and other family members took care of him at looked after him at home. One day his mother said, “Tell me what you want? I will do anything for you.” Pradip said he wanted to go to Guwahati for better treatment. The same day his mother and sister took him to Guwahati and got him admitted at a government hospital. Unfortunately, this was a very unpleasant experience for him. He realised for the first time what it is to be discriminated against for AIDS. He was kept in confinement with mental patients. The patients around him had their hands and legs tied up to the bedposts. It was a very depressing environment. He was mentally devastated. But that was just the beginning. He faced a lot of ill treatment in the hospital. One particular incident hurt him deeply. A nurse, while removing a saline needle was so careless that blood squirted out of his veins and the bed sheet was covered in blood. The nurse did not even look back and left the room. The pain of this insensitiveness was much stronger than that in his veins. The same day they went back to Manipur.
Death! Not today! I am not ready for you!
Pradip and his family lost all hope as they went back to Manipur. It was imminent death that he was waiting for now. But just at that time, they met a new doctor. Dr. Noren, an HIV specialist. He told Pradip that an AIDS patient can also live normally with the help of medicine. But the medicine was very expensive and was not easy to get. At that time one dose of the medicine cost 36 thousand rupees. Yet the family decided to somehow bear the cost. The medicine was to be preserved in a refrigerator and they had no fridge. So they kept it in the fridge of a neighbour. His treatment started with this new medicine and by the advice of Dr. Noren, the medicine for TB was discontinued. Taking the new medicine was not easy either. Every time he swallowed the medicine his weak body reacted and he had to vomit it out. The medicine was too costly to be wasted and therefore the vomit was collected in a pot and then the medicine was recovered from it to be swallowed again later. Gradually he started to regain the strength to move a little. Pradip says- “Most of the AIDS patients think death is knocking at the door. Instead of thinking like this they should think about living a normal life.”
From 2000 to 2004 Pradip Kumar was confined to his house for almost three and a half year. During this time not a single relative or friend came to see him. Even those who once taught him to take drugs did not come to see him. He spent all his time with his family members. However , he was very careful that no one touches the blades used by him for shaving or that no one comes in contact with his blood in case there is any cut or injury. He maintains such caution till today.
A lost game that caused many victories
Soon after Pradip Kumar regained a little bit of strength his sister gifted him a flower plant. He looked after this plant and a thought came to his mind that this plant is an inspiration for him to stay alive. Soon he started to collect and look after more such flower plants. The collection grew and soon it became a nursery. He even started participating in gardening fairs. Little by little he regained the hope and energy to stay alive and he thought of doing some light exercises to maintain fitness. In 2004 he went to a gym named Eagle gym in his neighbourhood. At that time some friends were playing chess and the condition was the loser would have to lift some weights. Pradip joined the game and lost. That was the beginning of a new life. The defeat in the game of chess was the beginning of his international career in bodybuilding.
I am still alive!
With every passing day Pradip Kumar’s confidence grew and he increased the intensity of his workout. His doctor had advised him to do some light exercises and warned that his body was too weak to bear the intensity of heavy workouts. But Pradip kept on pushing his boundaries. In 2006 he participated in the Mr. Manipur contest for the first time and secured silver medal in the 60 KG category. He was elated. Just two years back he weighed less than 30 kg, was unable to move and today he was the silver medalist in 60 kg category in a bodybuilding competition. “My heart was racing. I had got a new lease of life. I was still alive. My life was not over yet and that made me rejoice.” He says. The oganisers, however, knew nothing about Pradip’s disease.
One morning in 2007 a friend had brought a journalist to Pradip Kumar’s home. The journalist was from a national newspaper. He said he wanted to write about Pradip if he has no objection. How HIV has not been able to stop him on his journey can be a great source of inspiration for a lot of people all over the world. Pradip agreed but put forward a condition that he should publish the article only after the Mr. Manipur competition 2007 is over. The stigma that he had faced, the insensitiveness and the emotional violence he was subjected to because of his condition was still fresh in his mind.
Pradip Kumar won a gold medal in the competition and the article was published as soon as the competition was over. This article took entire Manipur by storm. The media in Manipur went berserk. No one knew anything about Pradip’s condition. Everyone came running to him. “Is it true?’ They asked. His answer was simple-
“Yes! I am HIV positive. But HIV does not kill a person. It is the society that kills with its insensitiveness. I am an example.”
National and international recognition
In 2008 Pradip Kumar participated in the Mr. India competition for the first time and secured fifth position. In the same year he participated in Mr. India competition 2008-09 held at Aurangabad and secured fourth position. In 2010 he won silver medal in 50th Mr. India competition. That was the last time he participated in Mr. India. In 2012 he won bronze in Mr. World competition held at Bangkok. He also won Mr. South Asia title same year at Mr. South Asia competition at Ludhiana.
In 2008 an NGO had provided financial assistance to him to participate in Mr. India competition. Apart from that he has got no assistance from any organisation or from the government. Bodybuilding is an expensive sport and his mother and sister have been helping him even by selling their ornaments. However, he has not participated in any competition after 2012 because of side effects of the Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) to control HIV. Moreover, he is currently undergoing the second line of treatment under ART and during this time he has to be more cautious. So by doctor’s advice he has refrained from participating in competitions. Still he is continuing regular exercise. Presently he is a Physical Training Instuctor under the Manipur Sports Department.
Much has been written about Pradip Kumar and several documentaries and TV programmes have been made on him. Prominent among these are documentaries Mr. Manipur by Aribam Shyam Sharma, the father of Manipuri cinema and Mr. India by national award winning film maker Pawan Kumar.
Yet the stigma continues
Despite all the recognition Pradip Kumar is still subjected to discrimination and stigma. “Most of the people do not like to use the bar that I touch. They even hesitate to touch my water bottle. Most of the gyms do not want me to go there. Therefore I prefer Eagle Gym in my locality. It does not have all the facilities but that is where I started bodybuilding and I feel at home there.” He says.
Another aspect that often pains Pradip Kumar is that he sometimes feel that his achievements as an international bodybuilder is often eclipsed by the fact that he is an HIV positive.
Apart from discrimination and stigma Pradip Kumar has been subjected to apathy as well. In 2008 Manipur State AIDS Control Society appointed him brand ambassador for a remuneration of 6000 rupees. But they were never prompt in releasing that amount and according to him he had to request them every month for his remuneration.
Pradip Kumar is a source of inspiration not just for Manipur or the country but for the entire world. He is an example of indomitable human spirit. His philosophy of life is clear-
“Life is a journey and we have to keep going. Death is inevitable but we cannot stop. We are not immortal but we should do some good wok so that we can become an ideal for others.”
(With Imomacha Heisnam)