The name Rajeev Bagga may not ring a bell for most Indians. The Deaf and Dumb special player’s achievements speak louder than most able bodied sports persons.
These include a win over the great Prakash Padukone in 1987–his crowning glory came in when he was named ‘Deafalympian of the century in 2001. No other Indian sportsperson has been crowned with such a citation. ’The 54-year old Rajeev is currently based in London with his wife Rita Mistry after he moved to London in 2000. He isnow a coach and has been associated with helping out the English and Austrian badminton teams.
Rajeev, who was born in an Army background (His father was Brig SR Bagga), lost his hearing and speech when he developed meningitis as a 3-year-old. This would have shattered and broken the heart and minds of most –but not Rajeev. He soldered on and tried his hand at various games which included tennis, cricket, hockey and badminton.
Eventually, Rajeev settled for badminton and started making waves. Unlike most special players, he started competing with able bodied sports persons—which speaks something about his fortitude and character. ‘From the very beginning, I knew that I had to compete with the able bodied and triumph over them. I didn’t want to restrict myself to playing in the special category as that would have meant not competing against the very best.,” he said.
The most amazing part of Rajeev was his concentration and self belief. He played in an era where there were hardly any electronic scoreboard,. Since he could not hear the referee shout the points, he had to be very alert as he himself had to keep count of the scoring.. This apparent ‘disadvantage’ for most was turned into a advantage for Rajeev.
Slowly but surely, Rajeev started to make his presence felt at the local and national level. The highlight of his career came when he stunned All England champion Prakash Padukone in the Jammu Nationals in 1987. It was a red letter day for Rajeev as he had always idolized and wanted to emulate Prakash’s achievements.
Rajeev began his international exploits when he won the mens singlea and doubles title at the World Para Games in Christchurch (New Zealand) in 1989. Thereafter he won a record 14 gold and 8 silver medals in the World Para Games—a feat which not been broken in the annals of the sport. It was for this domination that he was adjudged the Deafalympian of the Century.
Even though Rajeev is a UK citizen now, his heart still beats for India. “I continue to support the Indian cricket team and closely follow their performances. I al also in touch with my friends in India,” he signs off.