Gautam enkindles hope in the thousands of disabled
By Seema A Adhikari

KATHMANDU, Sept 8 - Sudarshan Gautam enkindles hope in thousands of disabled youths who look upon their disability sometimes as a gift when he will take Nepal to the Guinness Book of World Records for his ground-breaking mastery over driving without hands.

"If I were not disabled, I would only work for myself but not for my country," says Gautam who hopes to take Nepal to the Guinness Book of World Record this year.

He holds the steering wheel but with his legs, albeit partially using his both amputated hands. Sitting at the wheel of a brand new Toyota Echo 1300 CC, a four-wheeler and driving it at an instantaneous speed, Gautam, 21, a disabled from Ramechhap, whose both hands are amputated from elbows, defies all limitations his physical fitness had imposed upon him.

"He drives the latest Toyota car at the rate of any normal driver on earth," says the dealer of Toyota who sponsored the car-ride today at the Birendra International Convention Centre. He uses his half elbow for a grip of the steering wheel in the next few seconds you can hear the wheels rumble and then the brand new car moves ahead at a breathtaking speed.

Unable to believe their eyes, frenzied spectators overtaken by obsession for watching a rare event, almost closed about his car as policemen had a Herculean task clearing the way forward. Yet, he drove the car without losing his patience and control.
He drove for nearly an hour, covering Singha Durbar, King’s Way, Jamal and Koteshwor, finally coming back to the starting point. By this time, thousands of spectators who thronged the premises of the convention hall were convinced that he could indeed drive like any other normal driver.

His expertise is not limited to driving alone. He does a number of household chores and performs in the classrooms with the help of his legs. Gautam was born normal with an undying passion for flying kites and aspired to fly aeroplanes some day. But that was not to be. When he was a ninth-grader he fell into 11000-voltage live wire which left him permanently disabled. But the tragedy that struck him did not actually prevent him from doing what was so far considered impossible for all the disabled.

Bijaya Pratap Malla, Managing Director of ‘OnlyAtNepal Pvt. Ltd,’ a website that jointly organised the event alongwith the National Federation of the Disabled -Nepal, (NFDN) said the free website dedicated for the disabled has been launched. The site would link Nepal to the outside world. He added that it was aimed to present Nepal’s myriad facets beyond the national frontiers besides inspiring disabled like Gautam.

"The government will take every step to ensure that Gautam’s name will appear in the Guinness Book of World Records," Jayaprakash Prasad Gupta, Minister for Information and Communication said. He also assured that the eight-point-demand would be looked into by the government.

Another disabled Sanjaya Bantawa, the Co-ordinator of the NFDN spoke like a first-class orator. Holding the microphone in one hand he highlighted how 10 percent of the total people in Nepal have been trying to come up in life and wanted to play important role in nation building endeavours.

Gautam, a Business faculty student next wants to be a pilot. "But I need love and affection form you, which every disable wants as a moral support." His dream was one of becoming pilot even as he was a tiny tot. But as Gautam today sounds like he has a purpose in life irrespective of his disability, he may possibly become a pilot too.
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Sudarshan Gautam to Conquer Langtang

He became famous when he held a driving demonstration at the Birendra International Convention Centre (BICC) of Kathmandu in 2004. Similar displays followed in Butwal and Pokhara. One may ask: what is so special about a driving demo? Well, this one was pretty unusual because the driver was not steering the car with his hands. On the contrary, he used his feet! This then is the story of Sudarshan Gautam. Gautam got a severe electrical shock when he was 14 years of age and both his arms had to be amputated. He has been using his legs ever since. Learning to write and doing other things all over again, and differently, he put the accident behind him and went on with his life.

And now, at the age of 24, he is set out to do something extraordinary - scale Mt. Langtang. If the 5,732m mountain climb is successful, he will be cited in the Guinness Book of World Records. Langtang is just one of many challenges in his list. After this expedition, it will be Mount Everest, the tallest snow peak in the world. And then the highest summits of all the other continents will follow. “People look at disability in a rather pitiful way, says Gautam. “I want to prove that disability doesn't necessarily limit a person. I also want to encourage others like me and motivate them. Gautam has been undergoing training from Pemba Dorje Sherpa, the world record holder for the fastest time to scale Everest. Pemba will also be heading all of his expeditions. While a normal climber takes along a crew of 12 people, Gautam will require about 22 in his support team. He will be heading for Langtang on August 13. Sunil Timilsina, the coordinator for the expeditions, says, “The budget is about Rs 700,000.

The government has given us Rs 200,000 while we're managing the rest of the money ourselves. He adds, “We're hoping to get more support from the government and financial companies in the future because Gautam's feats are something the nation should be proud of. And mountain climbing is not all. Sudarshan is also a singer and his Dohori album is set to hit the stands in a month. So 2005 is going to be a busy year for the enthusiastic Sudarshan Gautam. And we wish him all the luck as he sets out to give disability a whole new meaning.
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Look, no hands

Sudarshan Gautam has a message for those who have limbs intact: “It doesn’t make a difference what you have and what you don’t. If there is a will there is a way.”Sudarshan came to Kathmandu as a lad of 16 from his village in Ramechhap. He was flying a kite from his roof when he fell right on a high voltage wire. Rushed to hospital, doctors had to amputate both his hands. While recovering from the accident, Sudarshan taught himself to write, eat, and drink with his toes. He gave his SLC exams from his village in 1996, and passed in second division although the rest of his class failed.

“I felt as though I had conquered the world,” he recalls. Since then there has been no stopping Sudarshan. He is in his third year in a Bachelor in Business Studies program in Kathmandu. “I had no choice, I decided to teach myself to use my legs as my hands,” he says. But even with all his will power and strength, things have not been easy. There were many dead-ends, and days of despair. But now with Only at Nepal, a private internet outfit that promotes social causes (www.onlyatnepal.com) he approached Toyota for help.

On Saturday, 7 September, Sudarshan will take off in a brand new Toyota Echo from the Birendra International Convention Hall and drive along Baneswore using his legs to establish a record in the Guinness Book of World Records. “If others can do it, why can’t I?” asks Sudarshan who took a month to learn driving with his feet.

He doesn’t have a license yet, but Sudarshan already thinks the sky is the limit. His next goal: to fly an aero plane with his legs—something he has dreamt about all his life. “More than ever, I want to be able to do it now,” he says. Sudarshan wants to show he doesn’t really need hands and has rejected offers to try out artificial limbs. Sudarshan always had an activist streak, and he wants to dedicate his life to improve living standards in his village of Gunshi in Ramechhap. But isn’t having no hands a disadvantage? “No way. I don’t feel I don’t have hands at all.”
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Physically Challenged Scales Yala Peak

Sudarshan Gautam became the first disabled person to conquer Yala peak thereby recreating history for the disabled individuals the world over. If all goes well, his achievement will more than likely, be recorded in the Guinness book. He hopes that his accomplishment will be a ray of light for all the physically challenged individuals throughout the world. Twenty-five-year-old Gautam scaled the 5732 m peak at 3 a.m on Aug 24 with an expedition team led by the fastest climber, Pemba Dorje Sherpa. Gautam had lost his hands to an 11,000 voltage current. His dream is to scale the highest peak in the world in April or May next year if he manages to raise sponsorship for it. “For me, Yala peak is just a ladder to Everest, he said.

On reaching the summit, he hoisted Nepal’s and United Nations’ flags. “I felt that I was representing all of the world’s disabled population while climbing, he said at a press meet here recently. “My success is not just mine but it is of the entire 2.4 million physically challenged individuals, he said. In his own words, he is now happy and satisfied to be a disabled. “If both my hands were intact, I would have probably been more of a selfish person living for myself and not for the country, he added. Ang Tsering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said Gautam’s successful ascent of Yala peak “will help boost the morale of those with physical disabilities. According to him, it’s a tough peak to climb in summer since the rock melts making it all the more difficult for the climbers . On behalf of NMA, he handed over a certificate to Gautam for his success. On a similar note, Deepak Mahat, president of the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal, said Gautam’s feat is not only his achievement but also of the entire disabled community.
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