They called him an idiot; What has he built with his life!
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THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The neighbourhood kids in Saji Thomas's remote Idukki village used to call him 'potten' (idiot) and not just because, as children often cruelly do, he was born deaf and mute but because he was also constantly trying to piece together junk into something new.
The 45 year-old 'potten' has come a long way. Thomas designed and built a twin-seater ultralight aircraft on his own from used parts and recycled material which got him into the record books and will see him featured on Discovery Channel in a programme called HRX Superheroes beginning on Monday. The programme is anchored by Hrithik Roshan and showcases nine people who overcame physical disability to achieve their dreams.
His ultralight aircraft, called Saji X Air-S, has already done several successful flights at a private flight training academy owned by Thiruvananthapuram-based SKJ Nair, a (Rtd) Wing Commander. Thomas's passion for planes was kindled when as a 15 year-old he saw a small aircraft spraying pesticides on nearby rubber plantations.
He mustered the courage to go and 'talk' to the pilots, one of whom gave the mute kid their Mumbai address. A few months later, Thomas ran away from home to Mumbai. Impressed by his enthusiasm, the pilots gave him some manuals on aviation to read up and put him on odd jobs.
Over the years, Thomas has had to undergo severe hardships to build the aircraft, even selling all five cents of land he owned. "First he could only construct the frame of an aircraft and the second one could not fly as an engine from a motor bike was used in it," his wife Mariya told TOI.
After Thomas sold the second aircraft's model to an engineering college, he bought an aircraft engine with that money and completed the work on Saji X Air-S last year. Thomas, whose name is mentioned in India Book of Records as the first differently abled person to build an aircraft, often worked as a rubber tapper, an electrician and band photographer to earn a living.
"It was when we lost all hope that support came from Nair who made arrangements for Thomas to test his aircraft and also helped him in flying the aircraft at Manimuthar in Tamil Nadu," Mariya said.
Thomas is now seeking a licence from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and plans to build a twin-engine aircraft. He is also seeking a job as an aeronautics mechanic and hopes that some reputed company recruits him.