Till the morning of 26 November 2008, Praveen Teotia was just a marine commando, but when the Mumbai attacks operation got over he was a national hero as well.
Praveen was part of the marine commandos (Marcos), one of the best anti-terror forces in India, which were sent into the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai to neutralise the terrorists. The 'Operation Black Tornado' was successful however during the operation, the then 23-year-old Teotia suffered several serious injuries in the combat including his left ear being blown off by a bullet and his right lung being ruptured from another shot.
The Bulandshahr native was in ICU for 19 days and it took multiple surgeries to keep him alive. A process that was termed as a "miracle" by doctors who were attending to Praveen. However, Praveen suffered partial hearing impairment. Later, he was awarded the Shaurya Chakra for his bravery.
Despite being pushed to the doors of death, Praveen says he wouldn't hesitate to do the same for his country, again.
"I was doing my duty. I was fighting for my country. Agar zaroorat pade toh main phir se karoonga (if required, I will do it all over again)," says Praveen.
Yet, you can sense that the ex-serviceman, who quit his job in 2017, is not very keen on talking about the 26/11 attacks and the story of his survival. Maybe, it's because people felt Praveen's utility had diminished after his role in the operation.
"I have moved on from the 26/11 attack. It’s a thing of past for me. I have forgotten it. I am not just about the Mumbai attack. I have done everything I can to move ahead from that incident," says Praveen.
"People don't care about the so-called national heroes. Ek selfie lenger aur social media pe dalenge, buss itna hi (they will take a selfie with you to just post it on social media). They take out the candle march and later forget you."
Praveen also felt that his identity was reduced just to the heroics of the 26/11 operation. Due to the impairment, Praveen was forced to join the desk job on his return to the Navy in March 2009.
"When I rejoined my work in March 2009, there was nothing good about it. I was asked to do menial jobs. My colleagues also made fun at times of my hearing impairment. Mujhe behra kar ke bulate the (some even called me deaf)," says Praveen.
The ex-commando felt he was unwelcomed in the Navy, he was alienated and what he considered normal days earlier were long gone. For a guy, who was the 'pointman' of his troop, a desk job was 360-degree change.
He was not interested in living off his past, instead, he wanted to rebuild his present. To resurrect his today, he applied for a mountaineering course but his application was rejected on medical grounds. This worked as the last straw. Praveen was determined to change the status quo, he wanted to "prove" to himself and others that there was more to him than his glorious past.
Praveen began with making small sprints despite knowing the dangers it posed due to the lung injury that he had suffered. In fact, his body still has multiple bullet splinters around the chest. But Praveen had made up his mind, running gave him the taste of life. In 2015, he participated in the 2015 Mumbai half marathon, finishing the race in 1 hour, 53 minutes. In 2016, it was a full marathon. In 2017, it was the 72km-long Khardung La Challenge in Ladakh, the highest ultra marathon in the world.
Just last year, Praveen conquered the grueling Ironman Triathlon Championship in South Africa in which one has to swim 3.8km, cycle 180km and run 42.2km. He was also one of the most notable names in previous Sunday's IDBI Federal Life Insurance Mumbai Half Marathon, which he finished in 1 hour and 54 minutes.
For Praveen, running has a larger meaning. It's not just a medium to once again experience the thrill of life, but it has been a fight for "existence".
"This is a fight for myself, it’s not a marathon, Ironman competition. For me, it’s a fight. A fight that I am fighting since 2008. Since the time I was forced to lie on the hospital bed. From the time I lost my confidence, lost my credibility. Nobody had confidence in me that I could bounce back after taking the bullets. These things don’t happen," says Praveen.
"It has been a fight for my existence. I wanted to show the world that even someone who had taken bullet injuries to the lungs can still run and participate in marathons. Someone who has a hearing impairment can also run. It was a fight to remove all the question marks that were hanging over me."
Praveen has been an inspiration for his former colleagues as well, who have started to follow his steps.
"I didn’t want people to show me sympathy. I didn’t want to sit idle. I wanted to show that I am not finished. I wanted to set examples and it has worked. The recent IDBI Mumbai half marathon had 18,000 runners included over 2000 people from Navy. This is a big victory for me. I have been able to teach some that you can push the envelope and stretch your capabilities. Earlier, less than 100 used to turn up. But, I have been able to show them a way."
Does he still feel the need to prove himself? In his own words, there's nothing more to prove, but running is now a passion: "Now I have proved them wrong. Now people know who I am, what I have done and what I can do. No, I don’t have anything to prove. Now it’s about a matter of health. When I was in the navy, I was serving the nation but for me, I was just doing my duty. I feel now I am serving the nation.
"Good health is a necessity, most integral aspect of your life. Now I want to inspire people to take up exercises, running, swimming, and everything that can help us lead a healthy life. If I can do it, everyone can."
Updated Date: Aug 28, 2019 16:36:17 IST