By Quaid Najmi
Pune: Nine years after she lost her left leg in the infamous German Bakery blast here, Amrapali Chavan literally kicked ‘terror’ from the skies.
The 37-year-old plucky and adventure-loving woman has created history by becoming the first handicapped person in India to paraglide from the 2,200 feet high Kamshet Peak here, at sunset on Wednesday.
“It feels truly great and unbelievable. It’s difficult to describe the experience of free flying. When I actually took off, I felt ‘alive’ once again, at complete peace with myself. I regained my confidence and assumed full self-control,” she told IANS, in a voice delirious with joy.
Nine years ago, the trained nurse was full of life. On February 13, 2010, she went to meet a friend over coffee at the fashionable German Bakery in the posh Koregaon Park area of Pune.
“I was at my favourite table, under which the bomb was hidden, near my right leg. Somehow that evening, I felt very uneasy and so shifted to another table, and then called my friend. Barely minutes later at 6.58 pm, there was a massive explosion,” Chavan recounted the horror.
As many as 17 persons, including foreigners, were killed in the blast. A seriously injured Chavan was among the 60 survivors.
She lost consciousness briefly, then regained her senses to find herself in a pool of blood. The place was filled with smoke and debris with people screaming for help. One person with half his body blown away crawled towards her, crying for help, but she herself was grievously injured and lay motionless on the floor.
With over 55 per cent burns and 60 per cent injuries, Chavan spent the next two years on a hospital bed, virtually immobile.
Over the last nine years, her left leg was declared virtually useless below the waist. But she fought all attempts to amputate it and underwent seven major surgeries and 300 non-surgical procedures. She has hundreds of metal pieces embedded in her body and the treatment is still going on.
Pushing the nightmare behind her, on the 9th anniversary of the blast (which fell on Wednesday), Chavan prepared herself for the dream challenge and virtually kicked terror from the sky.
As she gracefully soared into the sky for over six minutes in the golden haze of the setting sun below the misty mountains, hundreds of onlookers clapped and cheered for Chavan.
Her coach Vijay Soni became emotional at Chavan’s achievement, a first by a physically-challenged person in the country.
“Normally, it takes around five days to teach a person paragliding. For Amrapali, I spent around 40 days. It was tough on her, but tougher on me,” the instructor with nearly 25 years of experience told IANS after Chavan landed safely following her brief flight.
The founder of OrangeLife Adventures, Soni recalled how they both had to be “extremely careful” during the training, and how he ensured that Chavan took off and landed properly, always on her right leg, or else she could again get seriously hurt.
“In December 2018, she just called me up out of the blue and insisted that she ‘wanted to fly’. Though it was something novel even for me, I sensed a spark in her voice and agreed to train her. She didn’t disappoint me,” said Soni, who didn’t charge his professional remuneration from Chavan.
During the training, she did suffer several minor injuries but Soni, another coach Sunny Kolekar and their team always kept boosting her.
After they both gained confidence, it was decided to hold her event in Kamshet, which is a popular paragliding spot at a height of 2,200 feet.
Not content with soaring into the skies, Chavan now plans to conquer the roof of the world, Mount Everest, and also has some other major adventure plans lined up.
In fact, in 2015, she climbed up to 17,000 feet in the Himalayas in Ladakh, braving sub-zero temperatures.
A few years ago, she founded the P.E.A.C.E. Association through which she organised the #TerrorDontTear paragliding event on Wednesday. She has also been selected for a 14-nation World Peace and Friendship Mission to start in April.
Pursuing her graduation in Social Work, Chavan lives with her parents Janardhan and Sulochana, five sisters and a brother, “all of whom were my pillars of support during those critical times.”
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at [email protected])