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Under a flickering tube-light in a dimly-lit gymnasium in the heart of Imphal, 43-year-old Khundrakpam Pradip Kumar Singh flexes his biceps and peers into mirrors covering every inch of the peeling cream walls. He turns left and lunges forward, flexing now both his arms in an aggressive stance. Standing at five feet and three inches and weighing 65 kg, Singh defies stereotypes of what a bodybuilder should be. Last month, he clinched the Mr South Asia title for India in Ludhiana, where he was the only HIV-positive participant.
For the past decade, Singh has been the poster boy for people living with HIV in Manipur. He has been used in campaigns by the National Aids Control Organisation, the State Aids Control Society and the state government. But as Singh gets ready for the Mr World 2012 contest to be held in Bangkok this week, his future looks a little uncertain. With no government support or financial aid by any of the central or state AIDS societies, Singh is scraping together enough money to get himself a ticket to the contest. Even his participation in the South Asia contest was made possible by a tombola event organised by his neighbourhood to raise funds for him. His neighbours and community managed to raise about Rs 6 lakh, a sum that saw him through to the contest.
The Mr World contest is turning out to be a similar haphazard financial dash to the finishing line. "My well-wishers and friends have been contributing money. Some have given Rs 10,000, some Rs 20,000,'' Singh says. The biggest contributor so far has been boxing champion Mary Kom who recently gave him Rs 50,000 for the competition.
For Singh, it hasn't been an easy journey. Before he made it to international competitions, he had to battle his illness and shake off his weakness to become fighting fit. He also had to fight drugs.