Because Life is a Gift By Disha
Publisher: Srishti Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi
Year: 2014, Pages: 196, Price: Rs. 150
Reviewed by: Roshan
If someone gives you a gift, you could, if you don’t particularly like it, throw it in the garbage bin or lock it away in the loft. But if you value it, you could choose to use it in a way that would please the person who gave it to you—by treasuring it and making the best possible use of it.
Our lives, too, are a gift, too—as the title of this book underscores—and we are free to make a mess of it or to use it in a manner that is pleasing to the One who gifted it to us. Many of us choose the latter course, but there are others who, despite facing tremendous odds, go on to do some beautiful things with their lives.
This awe-inspiring book tells the stories of 15 people from across India whom the author has encountered who have refused to let the severe physical disabilities and accompanying traumas that they have suffered make them give up on life. They have chosen to respond to the enormous pain they have undergone in amazingly positive ways, bringing hope and cheer to themselves as well as to many others. For us, who often feel overwhelmed by the challenges that life inevitably throws up at almost every corner, these ‘disabled’ or ‘differently-abled’ people have a powerful and compelling message of hope: Never give up, no matter what the odds, for life is a beautiful gift!
The carelessness of doctors while conducting an operation on him when he was an infant rendered Sai Vishwanathan wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. But that did not stop him from receiving a gold medal from the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh for brilliant academic performance and later going to America on a research scholarship. Witnessing how the needs of the physically disabled were kept in mind in public spaces in America, Sai was inspired to help create awareness of the importance of disabled-friendly infrastructure. And what more dramatic way could there be to do that than by skydiving from a height of 14,000 feet, a feat that earned a name for Sai in the Limca Book of Records! How many of us could do something else that Sai did—spend 20 days in an expedition to Antarctica, being the only physically-disabled person of a 30 member-group?
Hearty Bhatti is still a child, and like Sai, is confined to a wheel-chair. This school student is India’s youngest patent holder, having designed a game for chess for six players. He is also the youngest disabled patent holder in the world. “The only disability is no self-esteem,” he says, “People who cannot walk can fly with their attitude.” “I cannot walk,” Heart says, “but I am flying today.”
He lost his eyesight at the age of 13, but that did not stop Suresh Reddy from becoming the first-ever 100 per cent visually-impaired person to graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. “I request people to treat us at par and give us a chance to be part of their world,” Reddy says. “People’s sympathy needs to change to a feeling of respect. If I am able to do that somehow, I will rest in peace when I leave the world.”
George Abraham lost his eyesight when he was less than a year, and he went on to do wonderful things for physically challenged people, including setting up an organization to promote cricket for the blind and a company to identify, groom and promote visually-impaired musicians. “Through all my efforts, I want to change the attitude of people around the world”, he says. “We have no control over our disabilities. That is given to us by God. But we do have a control over what we do with it. Do we sit over it and waste our lives? Or do we go beyond it and live a meaningful life? My parents have given me a life where I never felt handicapped. My mission is to pass on this legacy to millions of other parents. Only then can I be truly happy.”
Murali cannot speak, and nor can he hear. And it was this condition of his that inspired him to go on to work to help people like himself. Today, he runs a school for children who cannot hear or speak, providing then free education and skills training, and has helped set up a restaurant run and managed entirely by deaf and dumb people. He also helps people who cannot speak or hear get jobs and get married. Murali is widely recognized for his work, and has been invited to several international forums in a number of countries to give leadership training to hearing-impaired people.
He was once a senior occupational therapist in a hospital, but he has been immobile and bedridden for the last almost 30 years after he was shot at by robbers, resulting in a serious spinal injury, but Rajinder Johar today bubbles with enthusiasm and purpose. The organization that he has set up helps people in need in various ways. “All this gives me immense pleasure. Doing nothing was taking me nowhere. But now, I sleep in peace,” he says. “God has given me the responsibility of so many lives. He would not call me before I fulfill those.”
When she was a little child, Sheela Sharma’s mother escaped with her from their home, running away from an abusive husband. Determined to put an end to herself and her daughter, she jumped in front of a moving train. She died on the spot but the child survived, albeit losing both her hands. Brought up in a boarding school for the disabled, Sheela developed a passion for painting and trained her left foot to paint. She went on to become an accomplished painter, standing first in the entrance examination at the Lucknow Arts College. Her art works have been exhibited in galleries across the country. Like many of the other people profiled in this book, Sheela has won numerous awards.
Major DP Singh was badly injured in the Kargil war and had a leg amputated. He still has several dozen bits of shrapnel in his body. That has not stopped him from running several marathon races. “Everything in life has a purpose,” he muses. “The most difficult times are God’s way of teaching us, mentoring us.” Currently a manager in a private bank, he has started a social media drive through his peer support group for physically ‘disabled’ people and their families.
Each of the people Disha profiles has emerged from immense physical, mental, emotional trauma, and, in several cases, severe financial problems, as a much stronger and more courageous, self-respecting, determined and optimistic individual. In many cases, they have responded to the horrors they have undergone with a passion to help people placed in situations like theirs, for they alone can truly understand the immensity of their trauma. In this way, they have turned negativity into positivity, challenges into opportunities, pain into purpose. The joy they experience in helping others helps keep them going, as does, in the case of several, faith in God. Reaching out to people in need has given them a profound sense of purpose in life. They’ve learnt—and they teach us, too—that in the face of tough times in life, we can choose to crib, protest or simply collapse, but we can also choose to respond positively, by using these challenges, as stepping-stones for personal as well as social transformation. Helping others, their lives tell us, is a sure way to help overcome one’s own sufferings and heal one’s own wounds.
Drawing on the insights and transformative experiences that the close interactions with the people this book describes have afforded her, Disha offers valuable suggestions for how we, as individuals and as a society, should relate to ‘disabled’ people (who, she says, form 2.1 per cent of the Indian population). A transformation in the way we generally perceive such people is a pressing necessity. These people do not need pity. Instead, they need opportunities through they can flourish, just like the people this book describes have. ‘Mainstream’ society needs to recognize that such people can do astounding things, for themselves as well as for others. Public spaces need to be built to take into account the needs of such people. For its part, the government has a major role to play, and it needs to be much more proactive in catering to the various needs of the ‘disabled’.
Disha’s journey, of meeting and learning from these 15 courageous, optimistic and determined people, has been she says, the “greatest learning experience” of her life—and that is understandably so. “These people are not handicapped, but it is our thinking which makes them handicapped. If anything needs to change, it is you and me,” she stresses.
“Writing this book has made me a better human being”, Disha relates. “The journey”, she says, “has been enlightening, humbling.” And possibly ever reader who journeys through this book—which is definitely one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in my almost 50 years—will find it enlightening and humbling too.
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