Why is it that we often forget to celebrate a very important manifestation of diversity: the diversity of ability?
The ground began to shake. She frets in a state of shock. And a smothering, thick smoke poured over her room. It was the dreaded day of May 26, 2002, when Malavika Iyer, then 13 years old, was covered in a gory of blood, everything in the room fallen apart.
“I still remember the time it happened – it was 1:15 in the afternoon. I was outside my house – we lived in a colony. At that time, I discovered that one of the jeans pockets was torn and hanging out. Wanting to stick back the torn edges of my jeans, I was looking for a blunt object to apply pressure on the glued edges. What I didn’t know was that an ammunition depot in the locality had caught fire a few months prior to that and there were many pieces of bombs scattered in the area. Strolling through the house in order to look for a blunt object, I finally found one in the garage. Not knowing that the item I picked out was a grenade, I went back to the room to patch up the torn denim. I took the grenade shell and jabbed it to the pocket. When I repeated the action, it exploded.”
She was rushed into the emergency room. The blast had not only ruined her hands but her legs as well. There was little hope for her survival when she was taken to the hospital. She was conscious but in terrible pain. Subsequent to surviving that night, Malvika had to undergo surgeries across 2 years and was bedridden for 18 months. Malavika adds about a blessing in disguise of a surgical error:
“When the bomb blew up my hands, the doctors were under a lot of pressure to save my life so they made some surgical errors while stitching back my right hand, the stump has a bone protruding out which is not covered by any flesh. But that very mistake has proven so incredible that the bone acts like my only finger. That’s how I type”
Turning every stumbling block into an opportunity, Malavika used her only protruding bone as a finger to type her Ph.D. Thesis!
The bomb blast changed her life. And although it snatched her regular functioning of limbs, it failed to rob her of her remarkable resilience through difficult times. She even says she is glad for the blast as it saved her from a life of mediocrity. They say, you either make a heaven out of hell or a hell out of heaven. She sure did make a heaven out of hell and converted every opportunity of hers to define her own reality, rather than succumbing to the mockery of the disabled.
Today she proudly wears multiple hats – She is an award-winning disability rights activist with a doctorate in social work. She is the recipient of the ‘Nari Shakti Puraskar’, the highest civilian honor for women from the President of India. She is an international motivational speaker, a TEDx speaker, a model for accessible fashion and a global shaper at the global shapers community (an initiative of the World Economic Forum).
Blast from the Past: How did she manage to gather pieces of herself?
“I had a lot of inferiority complex as I had not met anyone without hands. There were days I didn’t want to live because the pain was unbearable. Also, I did go through the phase of people reacting sometimes sensitively and many times insensitively too when they would see me without my hands. My leg was considered by doctors to be amputated, but that they didn’t do that and I have managed until now. It took quite some time for me to accept myself and love the way I am destined to be in life. My family was grateful that I was alive and I owed it to them to get better. My mother was rock-solid support and she still is my inspiration”
At a tender age of 13, she still had a whole life ahead of her, she could have sat and wondered, “Why me” and been pitiful of herself and allowed herself to be bed-ridden. But she made her second chance at a life worth it AND how?
The world is my oyster, says Malavika.
The decision to run is not only a symbol of recovery, not only a symbol of redemption but also one of resolution. Of higher and higher goals set, of pushing herself to do more, conquer more, take advantage of every day more.
The most inspiring lines of Ms. Iyer from her excerpts of interviews: she says she lives by Scott Hamilton’s words,
“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”
“I have come to realize that I could be the President of India and people would still pity me. It’s in their nature. Now I concentrate on my own abilities and not people’s reactions towards me. That’s all it took to change my life”
All of us in life have our bouts of happiness, sorrows, failures, and rejections. But the story of Ms.Iyer tells us that, if she did not have an excuse, what are you waiting for? Gather your pieces, and restart. Reboot. Make your second chances count.
Also, the next time you see someone differently-abled, think about it – We are all people and we have to remember that at all times, those people didn’t choose to be born or have that disability, that is just how things go from time to time. Do not stand and stare, rather be empathetic, respectful and inclusive.
If you would like to read more about her story and work, visit her website www.malvikaiyer.com.
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