A 10-year-old boy has slipped and fallen into a tank near Medavakkam. Neighbours call the fire and rescue department. But the fire-fighters of the Tambaram fire station immediately make a call to Sundrarajan of Jalladampettai, near Pallikaranai.
The 38-year-old visually impaired Sundrarajan is their underwater operations expert. He rushes across with the team and dives into the tank. Within minutes, he has found the boy. Sundrarajan, who has been blind from birth, uses his sense of touch to feel his way around underwater and locate people, bodies and other objects.
“He uses his feet to ‘see’,” says a fire department officer. “He can dive into wells and tanks that are 60m deep and retrieve bodies. His sense of touch is so well-developed that he can even find chains or small coins on the bed of a water body,” he adds.
It usually takes him ten minutes to retrieve a body. “I can hold my breath underwater for more than one minute,” says Sundrarajan, who has retrieved 140 bodies and saved two lives since 1992. “But it is not an easy job as many of the tanks and wells in and around this area are quite dirty and polluted.”
Sundrarajan works part-time at a ration shop near his house in Jalladampettai, shifting and lifting bags of rice and wheat. Born as seventh child in a family of eight children, Sundrarajan hails from a lower income group family. “But I have always been independent and worked hard despite my disability. I have never lost hope,” he says. His neighbours say that Sundrarajan identifies them by their voices.
“Most people are afraid of diving into dirty water or are afraid of touching a dead body. I’m not afraid of water. I have no fear of diving in and searching for a body,” Sundrarajan said.
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