I remember the first day I looked at water with such love. I was
three or four and studying in kindergarten.
It was during one of the usual visits to our native place, near Erode.
I was sitting on the steps of the pond while my father, brother,
cousins and uncles were swimming. I was crying
because I couldn't enter the water along with them.
One of those days, unable to bear my wailing, my father pushed me into the pond.
I was very, very scared initially, but within a few minutes I
started enjoying the experience. I felt as if the water was my friend and
that was where I belonged.
During my second standard vacation, my father told me to learn
swimming, as that was what
I enjoyed most and wanted to do. It never
occurred to me then that swimming could bring me so far.
It was my coach who first sensed my ability. He advised
me to concentrate hard as he felt I had
a future in it. It was he who asked me to participate in a
short distance swimming competition. That was just twenty
days after my swimming lessons began. The
event was known as the Rippon meet. I did win a medal there,
my first medal! It
gave me confidence to move to higher levels of competition.
Simultaneously, I started practising in the sea, along with
the fisherboys. The huge waves and the high tide
never frightened me. When the waves came high enough to engulf
me, I tried to beat them. That was how my association with the
I prefer swimming in the sea. It offers such
challenges; fighting against the current, the tides
and the waves. Usually people are scared of waves, and tend to run backwards the moment
waves come towards them. Hence one
needs extraordinary mental strength to swim in the sea. That iswhy I prefer the sea to a pool.
The first swimming in the sea competition I participated in was a 5 km
event held here in Madras. I was ten. Meanwhile I had
participated in several short distance swimming competitions too.
I met the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu,
Jayalalitha Jayaram during that competition. I told her about my desire to swim across the
English Channel. She promised to finance my trip and also asked
me to swim the Palk Straits. The English Channel was my first
cross country swimming and it was sponsored by the
government of Tamil Nadu.
After swimming across the English Channel,
I saw a record in front of me: Mihir Sen's record of completing
five channels in a calendar year. I wanted to surpass that and
I did swim six waterways in the same calendar year (1994).
That was how my name and picture got into the Guinness Book of
All these were expeditions, but they gave me a lot of confidence.
Soon I started participating in various long distance swimming
competitions across the world. Australia, Turkey,
Italy, etc. One thing I noticed was that there were not many
youngsters from other countries who participated in sea events,
while in India we have so many young swimmers. They are
initiated into all this only in the later part of their lives.
But here, though we start very early we leave everything as we grow
older. The reason is, as we go on to higher classes, we have to concentrate
more on studies and less on other activities. Our sole aim in
life is getting a job! That is why we don't have many successful
grown up swimmers from India.
Of course, I like India. This is the country I was born in. But
it would have been better if I were born in some other country.
They have more facilities, you get more exposure there, you can
have the most technically advanced training programms and get
sponsors too. Till recently I didn't know what difficulties
my family faced, especially to collect money, to get sponsors.
Only now I understand all that.
I was to participate in a competition in Germany last July.
Everything from tickets to visa were ready. We were to
start at 5.30 in the evening. At 3 pm we get a call from the
sponsors. They said they could not sponsor me. My brother had
gone to Bombay to arrange for the visa. At the last moment
we had to cancel everything.
I cannot say how disappointed I was then. The government of Tamil
Nadu has not reimbursed the amount promised by them. Last year
I had gone abroad for a couple of competitions, and the state government
asked me to go ahead and collect the amount later on. Till today
we haven't received the promised money. All this
happens even after me coming first in the junior age group
category in Zurich, and fifth out of 216 participants in the open
I feel if we had a lot of sponsors to support us, we Indians also
can come up to the world level. We have real, raw talent in the
villages that know nothing of such competitions. We
too had no idea about these competitions until we entered this
field. In India only cricket and tennis get sponsorship, as these two
games are very popular. In my case also I love cricket and I adore
I think the government should come forward to tap real talent.
There should not be any push or pull in the selection process,
it should only be on merit.
Since I am in India, I have to concentrate more on my studies
now. I am in the tenth standard and I have to cut down on my tours.
You see, I have to write a board examination this year. I am told that my future
depends on this examination. Had I been in any other
country, I would have been able to spend all my energy on swimming.
In other countries, if you excel in some sports, you are eligible
for good jobs. But here unless you have a good academic background,
you will not get any job. So, I am forced to give more importance
to studies than swimming. Given a chance I would like to channelise
all my energy into swimming.
When I was very young, I didn't know once upon a time India
was under British rule. Only when I learnt history, did I
come to know this. I felt very bad and felt like kicking
all the Britishers! The first Independence Day which I attended
in school was when I was in the fifth standard. Before that I
never went to school on that day. I am happy
I was born after Independence.
What is the use of money, fame, etc., if you
don't have freedom? More than food and shelter, freedom is essential.
I have heard about the high level of corruption in our system. I think corruption is
there in almost all parts of the world, but it is more in India,
especially in the last couple of years. The fault lies with the
people themselves. Why do they elect such bad characters? Before
casting your vote, you should think. There is no point in complaining
about corruption after electing such people.
When I get a chance
to vote, I will definitely do this. I will look at the character of
the person, the manifesto of the party, etc. before casting my
vote. I don't like to read about bad things, so I don't read newspapers
My dream is to receive the Arjuna award and Olympic golds.
But if I want to win an Olympic gold, I will have to go abroad
for training as our training facilities are very poor. But I will go
abroad only to train, I will not settle down there. I belong
here. I have seen many countries, but there is no place like India.
Here, there is so much interaction between neighbours, people are friendly,
while in other countries, it is
not so. Normal days in Switzerland, Finland, look like
bandh days in India.
When I went to Italy in 1994, they
were very impressed with my performance and offered me all the
training facilities, provided I represent their country. They even
said they would train me for the Atlanta
Olympics but under the Italian flag! I declined the offer because
I am an Indian and I want to represent only my country. I want
to make my country proud of me, and not some other country. The
funniest thing was, they were pleased with my patriotism!
Kutraleeswaran, the boy wonder from Tamil Nadu who swam a
world record six waterways in a calendar year, spoke to Shobha Warrier. Kutraleeswaran's
photographs by Sanjay Ghosh.