Robert Kohli (February 2000)
Koramangalites and many a Bangalorean would have seen him at some time or the other. This fair-skinned gentleman, in a high-tech wheelchair can be noticed cruising along one side of the road, his chin resting on a tennis ball-shaped object attached to his wheelchair, which his how he manoeuvres himself around. Because, Robert Kohli is a paralytic, neck downwards and the only part of his body that can move is his head and neck. This is not a sob story. Instead, it is the story of a very determined man who, despite his inabilities has a great desire to enjoy life and the outdoors to the maximum.
Robert Kohli is not a Punjabi. That's perhaps the instant reaction when the name gets mentioned. The name "Kohli" is as much Swiss as it is Indian. And how did he happen to be in Bangalore, we asked? In a typical Swiss accent (sounds kind of German) says, "That story began sometime back in the early 70's. I was with Bharath Electronics (BEL) in Bangalore as part of a collaboration my company had with BEL, working on Radar systems. After 4 years I went back to Switzerland where I worked in Zurich and then my disease progressed. So finally I had to quit working. In my condition, life in Switzerland wasn't easy. It was then I decided to come back to Bangalore and give it a try living here."
Robert's favourite childhood hobby has been his companion all these years. As an electrical engineer by profession, he is a master in HAM radio. Listening and keeping in touch with friends all over the world through HAM radio is how he spends most of his time. "HAM radio is a very wide field and a community by itself. We can meet people, talk to people, sharing our experiences and knowledge with each other, wherever we are." Something like the Internet? "No," retorts Robert, "it's very different from the Internet where you need a connection and telephone line, that may not be available in certain remote parts of the world. But not so with HAM radio," adds Robert.
HAM radio is government controlled and HAM operators require a license, which fortunately, Robert has. His Swiss license is recognized in India. There is a code of conduct with HAM radio and one such is that you cannot do business on HAM radio. Just stick to sharing knowledge and communicating with people. That's what HAM radio is all about. Surprisingly, Bangalore is considered to be the HAM capital of India, though there aren't many users around these days. About 12-14,000 but just a few hundreds are active. One reason could be the high cost of HAM equipment, especially now, since HAM radio transmission takes the satellite route unlike the days of the short wave radio. But then, when one is addicted to a hobby like Robert is, nothing can change for him. He prefers listening to BBC on HAM via satellite and not through the cable network. Reason? "Well, firstly, the clarity of sound is better," says Robert. "Secondly, I can reply back to BBC through HAM radio, whereas through Television I can only watch and listen to the program."
He agrees that the Internet is a good medium to seek information and knowledge. He for one finds the Internet useful to keep abreast with latest technology changes concerning satellites and communications. "I can teach anyone who wants to build the latest in equipment for HAM radio." And how does he make all this intricate stuff, what with his disability? Well, he supervises while his wife and some helpers piece the equipment together. Sounds simple, doesn't it? In fact, his wife Teresa - whom he married 4 years ago and who is, also from nearby Berne - is interested in learning Kannada and wishes to get into the main stream of life here in Koramangala.
There's one thing about Robert you will not miss. His perpetual smile. Most people tend to gaze at the hi-tech wheelchair fitted with indicators, headlights, battery and what have you. They then cast a pitiful look towards Robert and pass by. But then, Robert seeks no pity from anyone. As a matter of fact, he enjoys himself much more - Koramangala, it's greenery, the traffic and the warmth of the sunshine on a cold day. Not to forget the delicious Chicken Kababs and Tandoori Rotis made occasionally from the clay oven installed in the spacious, environmental-friendly backyard of his house.
Determination and a gutsy will is what Robert possesses. Hard to find even in Koramangala, a place he believes is better than any other in Bangalore. It's people like Robert who give credence to the saying "When the going gets tough, it's the tough that get going."