Pradipkumar, a mentally & physically wrecked 39 year old HIV Positive youth in Manipur northeast india, rose up to win 'Mr.Manipur' and the silver medal in the recent 50th National body building championship in India. Imphal, India. 27/05/2010
After a spate of enthusiastic phone calls, I went to see Mr. Pradipkumar in Imphal; a conflict embroiled town in northeast India. The location is Callisthenic Health Circuit where he goes through the strenuous daily grind of building his muscles and also train aspiring youngsters as well. As I trail my photographic eye for the right camera angles and pose, I noticed Pradip the 39 year old HIV positive youth lifting heavy weights and looking more healthier than the rest of us or anyone in the gym. The gym has about 30 attendance most of them youths in their early 20’s.
Honoured with the ‘Mr. Manipur’ title in 2007, the silver medal at the 50th senior Mr. India at Goa in April 2010 and many other analogous medals, who can dare to say that he is carrying the universally unconquerable HIV virus in his body. According to Pradipkumar living with HIV means ‘my immune system is weak’ and he says he has never been affected with any form of malady since he started body building. The only sickness he had experienced was the ‘mental depression’ caused by the untoward remarks of people about his HIV status.
In the early 8O’s, the Manipuri youth were enticed by a new fad of drug coming from the Golden triangle through the porous India-Myanmar border. It was cheaply and easily available in every street and corner of Manipur. According to L. Deepak, the president of Manipur Network of Positive People(MNP+), in the beginning he and his friends were lured by the purveyor known to them that it was the most hippiest thing happening in America and was dolled out without charging any money.
And of course later on, they were forced to buy. So the early 80’s were also an era when crime increased in manyfold in the Manipuri society as the loony drug addicts hunting for their daily dose started stealing, robbing and snatching gold earring from small kids occasionally killing them in the process.(note: it is a custom for meitei boys and girls to wear gold earrings until they reach adulthood). Due to this incidents during that murky era, it was even rumoured that drug addicts are vampires who suck blood.
Like any ordinary youth of that era, Pradipkumar also felt prey to the illusionist which he now confess nobody wanted to be a drug addict or HIV positive. Their innocent minds were swept by the alluring tornado of the time. In March 2000 when he came to know of his HIV status, he completely broke down. He remained aloof from the world, from the indivisible society confining himself only to his house. ART (anti retro viral therapy) at that time was not freely available as of now and every month his family has to cash down about INR 35,000 a month by procuring from the local pharmacies. Inspite of that, his health was failing from bad to worse and literally he started crawling. That’s when he decided to start body building in July 2003. In December 2007 he won the Mr. Manipur title in the 60 kg category. The celebrated days was also the time when he made a crucial stirring decision to stand up for those living with HIV/AIDS. Consequently, he bluntly and boldly announced to the world that ‘he is HIV Positive’. He thought by revealing his status to the world, the discrimination and stigma towards the HIV+ people would eventually decrease.
Henceforth followed a frenzy of media and public attention. International award winning filmmaker Haobam Paban wanted to make a film. But A Shyam Sharma, a highly respected multi national & international award winner did it first with ‘Mr. Manipur’ produced by Doordarshan which travelled film festivals around the world. It was followed by Manipur media mogul Sunzu Bachaspatimayum with the film ‘Shingnaba’(challenge) that won the National award in the sports/adventure category. Paban’s film ‘Mr. India’ was the opening film at the Mumbai International film festival 2010 and already got a distributor who would be in France for the Cannes film market. ISTV, the largest local television network in Manipur also made another short film ‘meirilaksida’ (in the fire) while hordes of national television news network and newspapers has prepared stories on him.
Today Pradip may be a famous HIV Positive but also a disgusted man with the attitude of some of the agencies and especially the Manipur state government. The Manipur State Aids Control Society made him their brand ambassador for two years from march 2008 to march 2010 paying him
INR 6000/month. But he was not happy with the way they were functioning or using his HIV status. Pradip strongly believes in propagation for real change and not just table or paper work. What he intrinsically wanted was to touch the lives of those living with the virus so that they would not spread farther.
Secondly, a few months back newspapers in Manipur gave front page headlines with pictures of a giggling Pradip and the chief minister of Manipur Okram Ibobi handing him an appointment letter to their sports department. Months after all the media frenzy and blazing hope among the HIV/AIDS circle, Pradip has been blankly told that the job is not regular. And when he approach the sports minister, he was told to lobby a few more ministers to discuss it in the cabinet meeting. Now he has been made a scapegoat to chase the impossible government which he feels is another form of discrimination meted out to him.
Pradip’s body building daily grind of lifting heavy weights requires that he takes everyday a healthy diet and nutrition which sucks in a lot of money. He says he spends a minimum of INR 20,000/ a month and since his parents are pensioners now, he has to run around every nook and corner asking for a little from friends, relatives, NGO’S and prospective donors. He strongly affirms he doesn’t ask for an expensive trouser or a glitzy gadget, he is only looking for money for his nutrition(which has to be mailed from New Delhi) and keep up his passion alive. In April this year when he had to participate for the senior Mr. India body building contest in Goa, he was mentally wrecked due to absence of finance. Finally he had to mortgage his sister’s gold ornaments. While interviewing him for this story, he fervently requested me to give his contact details so that any prospective donor who wish to support him with his nutrition can do so, which I am including here. email@example.com
Every morning till noon in the Callisthenic Health Circuit, Pradip makes sure that other than the complimentary physical fitness guide he gives to the young trainees; he also fortify them with moral support by sharing them his personal stories. He is also happy that one of them took the courage to reveal his HIV+ status to him and has showed the zeal to build up his body like the master. Pradip is presently preparing for the Mr. Asia body building championship and the world championship in 2011 to be held in India. In spite of the lack of finance for nutrition and indispensable weight training equipments in the gym which are locally made, he has decided to think ‘Positive’ other than his ‘Positive’ status.
Sometimes Pradipkumar feels like an HIV+ animal exhibited in the zoo for the world to see. He only wants ‘the society to be his walking stick’ and expects all HIV+ people to be treated fairly. He affirms again, ‘nobody wanted to be an HIV+’ and that it is not HIV/AIDS that kills the person but the discrimination of the society.
His message for those who are living with the virus is ‘body building is the best medicine”