29 Jun 2008, 0024 hrs IST,TNNTimes Review profiles extraordinary people who refused to let life-altering mishaps get them down
Earlier this month, a 20-year-old girl showed Mumbai an act of incredible courage. Sneha Kale, on her way home after giving an exam, fell off an overcrowded local train; her right leg, which was crushed under the wheels, had to be amputated immediately. The very next day, the spunky girl went to write her next paper. “And why not?” she asks, “I had prepared, and I was confident of doing well.”
Sneha is casual about her decision to not wallow in self-pity. “My parents are the emotional kind,” she says. “If I am not brave, they’ll break down. In any case, I need to live and to work. And in order to work, I need to get on with life. It is as simple as that.”
Joginder Singh Saluja, aka Bittoo, has won the Mr India national title in body-building and power-lifting pageants for three consecutive years. The fact that his powerful biceps completely obscure his lifeless lower limbs comes as a reassurance to many that nothing is impossible.
When he was barely ten months old, Bittoo contracted polio which left both his legs damaged. “I underwent 10 operations till the age of 14, after which I hit the gym,” he says. “People made fun of me when I held the dumbbells for the first time. The more they laughed, the more motivated I felt. I can now lift about 150 kg bench-press. Assi ta cheetein haan, kise toh nahi darde (I am as tough as a cheetah. I fear nothing). Just try really hard, and you can get what you want in life,” says Bittoo who now wants to set up a gym for the physically handicapped.
On September 3, 1996, 22-year-old Rathi Menon was thrown off a long-distance train when she was washing her face at the basin near the door. “I tried to grab the iron railings but my hands slipped. I fell right under the wheels,” she recounts.
Rathi’s spinal cord was ruptured when the wheels of the train ran over her right arm, severing it from her shoulder. And as she lay there unable to move, she saw another train approaching on the same track. “Unable to move, I couldn’t do a thing even as I saw it running over my leg,” she says. After the train passed, another train driver shunting an engine spotted her and shifted her to hospital.
“I had just finished writing my income-tax exams then. The doctors had given up hope, and said I would remain bedridden all my life. I don’t know if you can call it a miracle, but a few months after the surgery I actually recovered and began to live like everybody else.”
Menon acquired an artificial leg, and switched to using her left hand. Initially it was difficult, but she overcame every difficulty with her sheer grit—she wrote three exams after the accident, topped in all and went on to become inspector of income-tax.
—Prashant G N
Shruti has had to undergo 39 operations in the last six years. All because she rejected the advances of a ‘suitor’ called Rajesh.
The day is still etched vividly in the 22-year-old’s memory. “It happened on August 12, 2002,” she says. “Rajesh was my neighbour and I had rejected his advances. I was on my way to school when he threw acid on me. It burnt my face, head and chest. I lost my eye and ear in the attack.” The expense of Shruti’s surgeries almost crippled her father, a tailor, but they got by with funds from NGOs. She then worked with a bank as a telemarketer for a while but is now looking for a job.
Shruthi discontinued her studies because of her medical problems but managed to pass her tenth-standard exam with the help of her parents. “Initially I found it tough and used to be very upset but thanks to my family I have managed to deal with whatever came my way. Now I feel I am normal. All I can say is one should live in the present,” she says.
Forty-year-old Iva Athavia lost both her arms in an accident while attempting to cross a railway track on her way to college in Jharkand. She moped for a while, but her brother’s threat to deposit her in an ashram worked. With the help of prosthetic arms, Eva went on to do her post-graduation and a Masters in Social Work from TISS when she moved to Mumbai. Despite her physical limitations, Eva joined the Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA) in 1995, opened CPAA counselling centres and a network with eight city hospitals. She trains volunteers and coordinates all counselling-related work for cancer-afflicted patients.
“I remember when I was wheeled into the operation theatre I was hoping I wouldn’t come out alive,” she says. “I just didn’t want to live. But God had other plans for me.”