Some years ago, we (Anjana my wife and I) went on a vacation to the Sariska Wild Life Sanctuary, about three and a half hours drive from our home in Gurgaon. We started driving down the excellent Jaipur highway before we detoured onto the state highway. To our surprise, we found the single road in quite good shape and made good speed. About 10 kms short of the sanctuary, the toll road ended and we fully realised we were in Rajasthan. There were more potholes than flat roads.
The hotel, Rajasthan Tourism's Tiger's Heaven, is situated just on the edge of the sanctuary. The hotel staff helped me up and we checked in. They gave us a nice room on the ground floor. The hotel staff was very friendly and helpful.
We took a short trip inside the sanctuary. As we drove down the narrow single-lane broken road we had our eyes peeled out for signs of any animals. After some time, we started seeing Chitals, Bara- Singha, Nilgai, Langurs, peacocks and other animals, crossing the road casually.
We returned to the hotel around sunset. It was a Friday evening, and the hotel staff regaled us with stories about the sanctuary. As is usually the case, the bathroom door was too narrow for the wheelchair. So we did what we always do. We remove the cushions and I raise myself up with my arms resting on the arm-rest. Anjana folds the chair narrower and then pushes it in (with me “hanging up” for dear life). Inside thankfully the bathroom was large and spacious. We always feel that bathrooms are the most difficult things to manage while travelling.
The next morning we drove down to the sanctuary gates. We spent in the day driving in the sanctuary. We saw jackals and wild boars, and several times we saw peacocks dancing with their feathers unfurled.
We climbed uphill to reach the famous Hanuman Temple. There were too many steps at the entrance, so Anju went in. We went up further to reach Pandupol, a pond where the Pandavas are believed to have taken a bath. Ah! The road
LIFE’S LIKE THAT
had been washed away in a landslide some years back. So Anju walked up the last kilometer uphill while I caught some forty winks. She came back an hour later, breathless, excited and tired. The way up was rocky and difficult to climb. Coming down was much more difficult, but she saw the place and the pool of water below the natural bridge. I had seen the place long ago during childhood but remembered it still.
Our next trip? Well, we drove to Ludhiana (about 400kms away) later that year with my family for a cousin's wedding. I took a week off and visited relatives around Punjab! I have driven to Shimla and to Agra, to Jaipur and to Patiala. And many more over the years.
Air travel has its own fun. No Indian airline is fully equipped to assist wheelchair users. Their airport wheelchairs have small wheels. Only Indian Airlines has ambu-lifts to raise us to aircraft levels. Usually none of the aircrafts have aisle chairs, usually. The staff is not trained. But what works is that they are helpful and well-meaning. We have to be patient (very) and instruct them properly and then we can manage.
The real fun is when we travel abroad. Have taken about a dozen trips to countries in Europe and South-East Asia. Each country and city and hotel has its own peculiarities. We get the fun of adventure sports just getting ready in the morning. In Europe, most bathrooms don't have a drain in the main floor area, and it's not exactly easy for a paraplegic wheelchair user to climb into the tub. More worrying - how will I climb out, without risk of hurting myself? Once in Geneva, I created a towel wall at the door, took a bath in the main floor area, and then rinsed the floor using more towels, squeezing the wet towels into the tub repeatedly. The cleaner must have really wondered what we did with all the towels.
Some cities have public transport which is accessible. Munich in Germany has accessible metro (train) and bus systems. In Paris only buses are accessible. Geneva (Switzerland) has accessible buses and trams. In Helsinki (Finland), only every third tram is accessible on a route, and you may have to wait for up to an hour till the next accessible one comes. Catching a train may mean a walk of half an hour from hotel to station and then across the underground metro station. Furthermore, you may end up at a metro station where the lift is missing or under repairs. A bus station could be 20 minutes walk away across cobble-stoned streets in sub-zero weather. Time is precious on a leisure trip abroad, and you may not want to spend an hour of walking and waiting for a 10-minute bus ride. Taxis are prohibitively expensive in Europe. A 2km ride could cost a thousand rupees.
So we improvise. We try to find a balance between effort, cost and time. We use the mode of transport which suits at that time, which we can afford and which the weather allows. It only adds to the fun! I don't need to go bungee jumping to get an adrenaline rush! Just wheeling across a cobble-stoned street in sub-zero weather without gloves is fun enough!
And when we travel outside the city, travel is just as challenging as in India. Inter-city buses and trains are not accessible.
The bottom line is, access is a challenge everywhere. I consider it part of the fun of travelling. Accessibility is not a concern that makes me think and plan. We reach and we improvise. We find ways of getting in and getting around.
So... when are you taking your next trip?.
ON THE MOVE
A n exceptional passion for tinkering with cars led Mumbai based Ferdinand Rodricks to come up with an invention that would change the lives of many people with physical disabilities, who have a zeal for driving.
The motto of Rodricks was to give everyone an opportunity to be independent. Thinking deely on this, he embarked on his mission 25 years ago when he modified a car for a friend who had lost both limbs in an accident. He first devised a hoist to get his friend into the car without difficulty. Once in the driver's seat, his friend could hand operate the brake, accelerator and clutch.
Two years later, after completing his degree Rodricks opened an automobile workshop in the backyard of his home and began modifying cars for people with physical disabilities. Back then, it was a strange concept even for the auto majors. Over time, word spread, and persons with disabilities approached him. Now, Ferro Equip, the only Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) certified car modification workshop has come a long way – in fact, far ahead of the times.
“Configuring a car is not an easy job. As disabilities vary, so the needs. I customise each vehicle in such a way that it gives the best comfort and independence to the driver with disability”, says Rodricks. For people with disability in their right limb, Rodricks attaches both levers to the handle bar, which when pushed forward towards the windshield, makes the car brake and when pulled, makes it accelerate. For a right limb disability, Rodricks modifies the gear stick – with the press of a button on the stick, the clutch is automatically pushed down.
With such innovative features in each car, Rodricks has so far modified over 1000 cars from over 49 types of all makes and models across the country.
All his modifications come with lifetime warranty, and Rodricks guides customers on how to handle the cars after they have been retro-fitted with the modifications. Ferro Equip's modifications ensure that a car's normal settings work alongside the new adaptation, so that it can be driven by a normal person as well. Modifications cost between Rs 17,000 and Rs 37,000.
OTHER ACCESSIBLE PRODUCTS AND SERVICES FROM FERRO EQUIP
Vehicle hand controls- Hand operated Brake, Accelerator & Clutch, to suit persons with right limb, left limb or both limb disability. This can be fitted on any car, automatic or manual transmission.
Swimming pool hoists - Motorised swimming pool hoist designed for lowering and lifting people with physical difficulties in and out of the swimming pool. Used for Hydrotherapy
Portable step ramps- Portable step ramps made in aluminium with anti skid makes it easy to encounter single steps
Telescopic and pull out ramps- Vehicles are fitted with a portable ramp to enable a person on the wheelchair to enter.
Lidwin lifter- Enables to lift a person independently from ground level to the desired height.
Bathroom fittings- (a) Folding handle fitted near the toilet seat to assist a physically disabled person to get up or sit. (b) Grab rails fitted to assist mobility in the bath room.
Rotary seat- The seat can be rotated so that the disabled person can be seated and rotated into position
Accessible Buses / transport - Accessible bus fitted with a folding ramp and steps, can accommodate people on wheelchairs with locking devices, as well as folding seats for others
Patient Hoist - Manually operated patient lift that can be used by a single person to transfer a patient from sleeping position on the bed to a sitting position on a chair or wheel chair.
Customised wheelchairs - Wheelchair customised with a keyboard stand with a side folding table and adjustable mirrors to enable the user to maneuver independently.
Wheelchair hoist - Electrically operated wheel chair 'hoist' enables a person on a wheelchair to load it independently on to the roof of a vehicle.
LOVE TRANCENDS ALL
We all want to find someone to spend our lives with, no matter what our situation.
This is probably one of the things that almost everyone on the planet has in common, disabled
A spinal injury changes your life in so many ways... ways that can only be understood fully by those who have incurred the injury. What we must remember however, is that these changes are mainly physical and can therefore, with time, acceptance and understanding, be dealt with. More than this, many people with spinal injuries think that relationships and sexual partners, especially with able bodied ones, are somehow not open to them. This is a misconception, particularly when we consider the real nature of meaningful relationships.
Yes, in relationships where a partner is spinally injured things are different, with different obstacles... but is there anything wrong in that? It is the people who need to match, not their physical abilities. There is a great pressure to have relationships that are supposedly normal or even like those that we see on TV, and apart from the fact that there is a wheelchair involved and some physical difficulties to overcome – both personally and as a couple – there are not really any other differences.
I know many couples here in England where either the man or the woman is on a wheelchair, as well as where both partners are wheelchair users... and... all of them enjoy similar amounts of stress, arguing, love and happiness as any other couple.
When two people's eyes find each other in a crowded place, it is much more than an impartial recognition of a face. Rather, the two pairs of eyes find familiarity in each other and their gaze is fixed for a moment. The two people are compelled to move toward each other through the crowd. At this point, one notices a wheelchair and the other, the flight of stairs that hinders their meeting. For the disabled person, the problems are much more immediate and debilitating, though for the other, in a funny way, they are harder to get come to grips with. For the non-disabled person, there is a great deal more to understand.
The point here is that the more we can get out, engage and socialise in the towns or cities we inhabit, the less the differences become.
Upon going through the experiences of a spinal injury, for many, that flight of stairs is not what’s in the way... it's not having the self assurance of knowing one's inner self and considering oneself as attractive to others.
From my experience in England, knowing many spinal injured people, there is quite a positive attitude and encouraging spirit that people on wheelchairs share amongst themselves. This, it seems, is contagious and attracts a lot of non-disabled people who want to get involved with wheelchair users. The illusion that there is a huge gap between spinally injured people and others changes when time is spent together. Having been on activity courses and sports events myself, I've experienced close friendships and how these have evolved beautifully between people with and without disabilities.
An open and frank way can do wonders, so too talking to fellow injured people. The trauma that one has to go through when a spinal cord is injured, throws several insights and several aspects of life that were missed out earlier – spiritually and physically – thus presenting other refreshing views and a meaningful intake on life. This, coupled with the tendency amidst those who have gone through the ordeal, to have extra understanding and empathy towards others, inevitably can be attractive qualities to the partner, more so in a world that has become increasingly obsessed with the superficial.
The thing is to keep in mind that we all share difficulties in one form or the other which we have overcome and we still have more that need to overcome – whether these be hidden, visible or physical. We must also remember that we each have our role to play in life and we must always look for new experiences and new people to enjoy these with. This is how we accept ourselves, learn, teach and grow as individuals and it is surely no lie to say that it is a good indicator of someone's character. The thing to do is to look beyond the obvious and not let these come in the way of meaningful relationships. Sure, there are bound to be challenges but what's life anyway, without challenges?
LIFE & TIMES
THE SILVER JUBILEE ON THE WHEELCHAIR
Twenty five years have passed. They were beautiful years, challenging years, years of changes, of successes, of failures but always years of growth and development. Years before that were golden. From my childhood I had always excelled in life, be it academics, debates, music or sports. I was my parent's adored eldest child and my sibling's idol. My teachers, relatives, neighbors and friends doted on me. The pinnacle was having got into Indian Civil Services in my very first attempt. Then one day, my life took a somersault. My trials started with a road accident in April 1987 fracturing the spinal cord. In minutes I lost sensation of the lower body, within hours I noticed that the strength in my arms was going and within 12 hours of the accident, I was completely immobile but for the part above the shoulders. And… suddenly, even a society disappeared. It mainly made its appearance in the guise of sympathy, pity and condescension.
I spent two years in and out of hospital set ups. I still had not realised the full impact of the accident – I was in a state of denial. But the fact was that, I had a spinal cord injury and this, I had to deal with. This is the year 2012 and my paralysis is still complete. Life in a wheelchair is not much fun but I have made it enjoyable, not just for me, but for all people around me by my 'smiling at life' attitude.
LIFE & TIMES
I have lived a successful life. The challenges a spinal cord injured person faces are very hard to understand for people who enjoy the normal use of their legs. So by ‘successful’, I mean being able to efficiently manage the activities of daily living (with minimum assistance), have a smiling persona, and essentially living a happy life.
This 14th of April, I completed 25 successful years on the wheelchair. Though I use the wheelchair for as long as 12 hours or more some days, I advise others not to. It pushes one into a whole cycle of spasms and fatigue that can make you dull, aching and drowsy for days. A good education, bladder and bowel management, control of UTI and a good meal have helped me be on the wheelchair with ease. Blessings of the divine, our elders and good wishes of all around facilitate this journey.
Education and earning a good living are major keys to living happy when you are disabled. With money, comes freedom of opinion and courage which nothing else can substitute. Society accepts you as a peer and respects your opinion. This I inherited from my parents. From our childhood it was ingrained in us that education is the key to a life of dignity and riches. Our holidays were spent in the lavish lap of grandparents. But when we returned home, discipline was quick to arrive, and, punishments harsh. My anthropologist father and doctor mother taught us both the art and practice of good living.
Bagayam is the place where I re-learnt to live. Bagayam Rehabilitation Centre in Vellore taught me life skills. As I had, and had, severe spasms which do not allow me to separate my legs often, my mother was taught to combine different techniques for bowel discharge like the use of laxatives, oral medication, suppositories and digital stimulation. I'd never had constipation prior to my accident. So I was baffled by this. My doctor, Suranjan Bhatacharjee told me that around 40% of people with spinal cord injury experience constipation because the SCI changes how the intestines work.
In the early years, I suffered several bowel accidents. I discovered, early in my rehabilitation that bowel accidents occurred the day after I took dulcolax tablets. So I stopped taking them. My mother ensured a fibre rich diet and till today green vegetables and saag and other fibrous food are part of my diet. She also gave me isabgol husk with water or warm milk, as required, before bedtime. This has helped me in leading a normal life. Bowel incontinence ( the inability to control bowel movements) occurs but is limited to one or two episodes a year. I have also learnt to understand my body language. When I feel a constant urge to pass urine and my urobag is unclamped, I know that it is an unplanned bowel movement. So I retire to my room and evacuate.
Many SCI persons with whom I have interacted do not have a regular bowel habit. They just wait for the bowel to discharge itself in 2-3 days and get cleaned. This leads to complications. Mother's insistence on maintaining bowel regularity has helped me remain healthy, with no or little intestinal/digestive problems, healthy appetite and a healthy skin. My advice to all SCI persons is to maintain a regular bowel habit.
LIFE & TIMES
I experienced bleeding from my anal region after about five years after my SCI. Mother said it was nothing to worry about as it was from fissures (cuts or cracks in and around the anal opening ). With a decrease in digital stimulation the bleeding in my case disappeared. However, it is always advisable to remain alert and consult a doctor in case of rectal bleeding.
Bladder care is equally important for healthy and active living. After spinal cord injury, the bladder, along with the rest of the body, undergoes dramatic changes. Messages between the bladder and the brain cannot travel up and down the spinal cord, so SCI persons are taught various techniques of voiding.
I underwent a bladder management program that allowed me to plan for bladder emptying in an acceptable manner when it was convenient for me. This helped avoid accidents and prevent infections. The level and type of injury affect the choice one can make for the bladder program. Because each person's injury is different, doctor's conduct some tests to see how the bladder functions. You also need to consider your hand function. How easy is it for you to do your own bladder program? Can you manage alone or will you need help? During your rehabilitation you learn different ways to empty your bladder.
Intermittent catheterisation is a safe and effective method of completely emptying the bladder. The purpose of the process is to improve or eliminate urinary incontinence as well as to control bladder and kidney infections. Most people are able to catheterise themselves. But because of the severity of spasms in my case, my legs often became stiff and there was difficulty in separating them so I was assisted in the process.
Mother and all the nurses who attended me performed CIC with great care. This minimised infections. The golden rule she used was to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water and clean the vulva and urethral opening with betadine lotion. She never pushed in the catheter in one go. Similarly, she withdrew the catheter in small steps to make sure the entire bladder emptied. She was very watchful when my care givers did it, ensuring the cleaning of the catheter with soap and water after use and putting it in a jar of antiseptic solution.
UTI is a pertinent problem. Again my mother worked out a lovely plan. I take lemon juice or citric drinks for a week. Then change over to alkaline drinks or simply alkasol. I suffered 10-12 UTI every year, now it is hardly once a year.
After a long day, my care giver always turns me face down and gives a good dry massage, in summer a shower of body talc, after checking for sores and redness. Prolonged pressure on the skin can lead to the skin becoming damaged, and if left untreated to the further complication of skin pressure sores. These can be life-threatening if they get too bad… as was in my case in the very early years. It took three years to heal!
My mother, Dr. Annapurna Devi, and my care givers have taken very good care of my body. I have had a series of personal attendants in these 25 years, but the one who stood by me for over 14 years, and is still going strong, is Seema. Exercises and pranayama are necessities. I ignored this and I
LIFE & TIMES
suffered very badly.
The new change is that biologically, the body is growing old. In fact, a lot of us are getting older. I look around, and I notice that a lot of us are getting gray. As I observe the elderly, I realise that disability is just a part of life. I am increasingly losing the use of my hands and the little fingers. I am also starting to feel the effects of spasticity in my arms which is at times quite marked. On days I now have problems sitting for more than five hours at a stretch (I continue sitting but would strongly advise not to). The back muscles tire very quickly and once fatigue sets in it takes me hours to recover my normal strength.
My condition has slowly but inexorably declined. I only really realise this when I try and do things that I haven't done for a while to find that I can't-like holding on to a paint brush. The spasms seem to be getting worse again and are of a slightly different nature. Instead of one extension it feels like several extensions with jerks in between. They don't really bother me yet - it's just that I try to hold my head still, and breath deeply, so it will heal.
The aging individual experiences a natural decline in cardiorespiratory endurance, muscle strength, flexibility, and body composition. For individuals with SCI, however, these changes can have an immense impact on their ability to achieve activities of daily living. My doctors said upper extremity pain is common in long-term SCI and most frequently affects the shoulder and wrist. So my management techniques are hot and cold fomentation, as per the requirement.
I know from experience that upper extremity pain is because of transfers, wheelchair propulsion (not in my case as my attendant takes care of that) and push-ups for pressure relief. And when your injury is at a higher level, like mine, the hands take a lot of pressure due to poor trunk balance. As a mid-cervical tetraplegic, I have a muscle imbalance that has resulted in relatively increased pressure and sudden jerks, causing pain. I am also suffering increased spine pain, weakness, new onset autonomic dysreflexia and loss of sitting balance because of long-standing SCI.
A few things which I have done and may help you are, throw away the splints and accessories for upper hand, try and eat with your own hand (I struggled for a year), bathe with alternate hot and cold shower, drink water, do not hanker for food, keep away from alcohol, smoking, drugs; and if you are to get addicted get intoxicated with love. Life is not a competition, no one is your competitor, we are each unique and a loving creation of the divine. My competitor is the 'not so good' me in me – one who fusses, frets, cribs, gets an inferiority complex, inflates an ego or judges others. My strength and my success is improving my 'not so good' me. Life is beautiful only if we can open our eyes to the beauty around and ignore that which is not so beautiful.
Over the last two years, I am observing slowing down of activities and a recurring bout of fatigue. Neither the newspaper, nor my TV channels attract me; neither my terrace nor the blue sky entices me; neither music nor books draw me to them. But I am not sick. What I love most is sleeping. Sleep and work. Closing my ears to the ticking clock, I leave time behind. In short, not doing a lot of things I never could dream of not doing. Is life coming to a standstill? Or is this the beginning of the inevitable biological process called 'Ageing?' I do not know. And I do not seek answers. I am happy to be like this presently. When nothing is permanent in life, this is also a phase. And it too will pass away. So till then I'm happy working…. And happier sleeping!!
My life changed the day I lost my parents and woke up in a hospital. When the whirlwind of operations, doctors and physiotherapy ended, I was faced with having to re-evaluate my entire way of life. Living with a disability is an endless struggle to perform even the simplest of tasks. For most people, dropping a pen is an inconsequential event. When you are seated in a wheelchair, with limited mobility, the pen is often out of reach. Being forced to constantly ask for assistance from others is depressing, especially when I used to be so active before.
This is my story. It tells you how I combated this depression and focused on the passion I have had since a younger girl.
FOLLOWING A DREAM
Being around animals always fascinated me. Whenever I was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would instantly say, “I want to be a vet'. I was not very good at academics and my parents thought I would change my mind after my Class X exam and maybe decide on something I would be able to do. However that did not happen. I told my mother that even if it took me 10 years to be a vet, that was what I was going to be. They both gave in, but God seemed to have something better in store for me.
At this point in my life I must say that I believe that we are all where we were meant to be. After my accident on 17th April 1995, I thought my world had ended. I lost my parents, my independence and my life. I would never be the same again. I thought I would be stuck at home, on the surgical bed and would never see the world again. I was so wrong!
The turning point in my life was a trip to the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC). That is where I learnt that being in a wheelchair wasn't the end of the world. My life changed drastically after my three-month rehabilitation program at ISIC. When I saw other people who were in situations much worse than I was in, I realised that there were some things that I could still do. That is when I made up my mind: I would continue to live my life - one day at a time - and see where I landed up.
When I got back from ISIC, some friends helped me to get into a college and continue my education. I knew my parents would have wanted me to do it. I enrolled into the 11th standard at the BJPC College, Mumbai where I was allowed to skip lectures and just go to college for the mandatory attendance to appear for my examinations. I completed my graduation in Commerce in 2004. Throughout my time in college, I was supported by my younger sister Ayesha and my close friends.
Once I completed college, I started doing some data entry work from home for a pharmaceutical company. India not being wheelchair accessible, always posed a hindrance to my mobility. But I did not let that stop me. I got a lot of motivation from my friends who always stood by my side. We would find new ways to tackle obstacles and, slowly but surely, I started going out more often. That's also when I met my husband Suraj through a common friend. Suraj walked into my life and has changed it like no one else could ever have. We both fell in love with each other and although we knew we would have to make a lot of compromises and adjustments, we knew we were meant to be together. Suraj
FOLLOWING A DREAM
made me happy and continues to do so every single day. His love, encouragement and understanding have helped me become the person I am today.
I was featured on the cover of the Bombay Times and that was another major turning point in my life. In fact, I feel that it is that article that helped me pursue the career of my dreams.
Shirin Merchant, an animal behaviorist and dog trainer who runs the organisation 'Canines Can Care' called me after reading the article in Bombay Times. She explained to me that ‘Canines Can Care’ was the only organisation of its kind in India that would train an assistance dog to help me with my daily tasks. Shirin explained that they would place a dog with me and he would be taught various tasks such as fetching dropped objects, opening and closing doors, switching on and off light switches and much more. At that point of time I wasn't aware of assistance dogs in India and had only seen them at work on television. I was overjoyed and needless to say I immediately agreed.
The day Magic, my assistance dog, entered my life the world became a sunnier place to live in. He has become my companion when I am alone, my laughter when I am sad and most importantly, my best friend. I always refer to him as my “Magic'al Angel” because that's what he is for me. The first time I saw him, I fell in love. He has brought immense happiness and love into my life. He does not judge me for what I can or can't do, Magic just loves me unconditionally. Sometimes when the two of us are home alone, he just sits by my side and keeps me company and I feel safe. When I am sad he licks away wounds no one can see and his gentle spirit calms and comforts me. He has brought back confidence and hope once lost, and since the day I got him, I knew nothing was going to be the same again.
Shirin also encouraged me to help in training Magic. Suraj and I both attended a month-long dog behaviour and training course conducted by Shirin and learnt what it takes to train a dog. After the course, Suraj and I started training Magic along with help and guidance from Shirin. Training Magic was a lot of fun and required a lot of patience too.
Being around dogs made me happy. Shirin then suggested that I take up pet sitting as a career. A pet sitter is a home-based kennel where people leave their dogs when they are on vacation or a business trip. Something like a boarding and lodging facility for dogs with the comforts of a home and unlike the usual kennels where they are caged up all day. I was skeptical at first but thought I should give it a shot. So that is how Perfect Pooch was launched. By then we had another addition to out family, our Bichon Frise named 'Laika'.
With the increasing number of dogs as pets over the years since I started ‘Perfect Pooch,’ there has been increased demand for a service like mine where the dogs are pampered like they would be at home. The owners drop their dogs in and from then on it is my responsibility to care for them. They are fed as per their diet requirements and taken down for walks at regular intervals. My dogs Magic and Laika are always around when our boarders need some doggie pals to play with.
This is how I have made my passion for animals into my dream job. Through all of this I have also learnt that being disabled is not the end of the world. It does take some time to learn how to adjust to your disability but once you have done that you can do what you set your mind to. If I had let my disability stop me from being around dogs, I really can't imagine where I would have been. A lot of people supported me, but there were also those who did not. That's fine. I plan to keep on doing the work I am so passionate about.
THE SILSILAH OF WHEELCHAIR TRAVELS
I sometimes look at my wheelchair and wonder: Is it a chair with wheels, or wheels with a chair? It seems to be the latter. Travel is its very soul.
Most people will look at a wheelchair and think very limiting thoughts. Kids are an exception, though; their eyes light up at the prospect of riding one. A wheelchair, then, like everything else, lies in the eyes of the beholder.
I sometimes look at my wheelchair and wonder: Is it a chair with wheels, or wheels with a chair? It seems to be the latter. Travel is its very soul.
My wheelchair prefers the outdoors. Over the years, it has travelled down mountains, explored jungles, gone up a river by boat, watched sunsets on beaches, crisscrossed the Western Ghats, ferried across the Brahmaputra. It has also hopped onto airplanes, trains and jeeps, and once rolled itself all the way into the Ganga, my protests notwithstanding.
One of the things my chair loves, almost craves, is some sort of a challenge. I am reminded of the time a few years ago when we went to Mandu, in the Malwa region of western Madhya Pradesh. It was during the monsoon. The place was incredibly green – a perfect time for a chlorophyll addict like me. The terrain, for the most part, was gently sloping and that excited my wheelchair.
On the last day of the three-day trip we visited the pavilion built for the famed 16th-century singer Rani Roopmati. A powerful wind was blowing and the sky was overcast. There were very few people around.
Monika (that's my wife, not the chair) and I decided to go to the terrace of the pavilion. We looked around for some help and spotted a balding travel guide at some distance. We approached him and asked him whether there was a way we could get to the terrace. He looked at the chair and seemed affronted, as if we were abusing his intelligence .”My baap can't walk. I haven't got my baap here ever, and you think you can get up there on this?” he said. Monika began a harangue about politeness, but I told her to let it be.
A little later, we came across a group of college students. They were boisterous, but they were also well-built. Before you could say 'upsy-daisy', they had me, and my wheelchair, on the terrace. The view was stunning. The wind was strong enough to propel the wheelchair, and I did some lengths of the pavilion to satisfy the chair. Suddenly, I noticed the same guide on the terrace, and before I knew it my wheelchair had sidled up to him. We shared the uplifting view for a while: the guide, the wheelchair and me, and then I sighed and said, “You know, you should get your baap here sometime. No point depriving him of such a fantastic experience.”
The man folded his hands, touched the wheelchair, and said,”Galti ho gai … Maaf kar dena.” (I erred. Please forgive me.) ”Jokes aside”, I said, “I seriously think you could get your father here.”
Crowded places scare my wheelchair. It is almost phobic of temple destinations, though it loves Sufi monuments. The one exception I can remember was when it went to Shirdi, in Maharashtra, the home of the 19th-century Sai Baba. It was a hot
afternoon when we got there. The crowds were enormous, owing to some holiday. We tried to use the wheelchair as an ice-cutter, to part the masses, but soon gave up.
No sooner had we surrendered to the crowd, when a hand emerged from somewhere to our right, grabbed the foot pedal of the wheelchair and pulled at it. I found myself suddenly going up a ramp. Monika could not figure out what was going on, but she had the sense to push as hard as she could. In a jiffy, three sets of helpful hands had emerged on my armrests, though they did not seem to be pushing as much as being pulled by the chair. I looked at the owner of the hands on the left armrest of the chair. ”Please, please,” he said. “Please, let me push, please, please…” he continued with a pleading look.
The priest who had pulled me up the ramp, unlocked a metal sliding gate, and I along with my 'helpers' was suddenly inside a hall. Another quick right turn and I found myself heading straight towards Sai Baba. He was sitting in the exact same position that I was sitting on my wheelchair, with one leg folded over the other. I just seemed to be floating towards him, a bit shocked at the abrupt transformation of spaces – from a heaving, sweating multitude, to a serene, scented passageway in a matter of seconds. The moment had a satori-like feeling. The baba just sat there smiling, as if amused by it all, or perhaps smiling knowingly.
A quick darshan and we were ushered out. One of my 'helpers' came again and shook my hands. “I”ve never had a darshan like this, ever! Thank you, thank you!” he said.
“Thank the chair,” I said. Maybe it was the overpowering emotion of the place, but the man reached down to touch the chair and then touched his hands to his heart.
Bachpan se hai?
While pine or sal forests are the first things that my wheelchair thinks of when you mention a holiday, it has done its share of cultural tourism. The evening light-and-sound show at the Gwalior Fort was a memorable evening, though our real reason for being in Gwalior was the Tansen Music Festival. I was strolling (or, rather, rolling) around the mazaar of the Sufi saint Mohammad Ghouse Gwaliori, enjoying the intricate jali (lattice) work, immersed in the mood of the raga being performed. It was
about ten in the morning. A man in white kurta-pyjama, his hair slicked back with oil, approached me and popped the famous question: “Bachpan se hai?” (Since you were a child?)
I usually have some stories ready. As poet Robert Bly says, “If we have no stories, we cannot take hold of our wounds.” One of my stories involves a failed parachute, another a treacherous mountain crossing, one a Bollywood-type gang-fight over a girl. But just this once it panned out quite differently. I found myself hollering at the man: “What lack of imagination is this! You're obviously a rasik (connoisseur), and all you can do is ask me this dumb question. I'm not answering you. Go away.”
The man was taken aback, so I continued, somewhat calmer. “Let's sit over there and talk a bit,” I said, pointing to the chabutara of Tansen's grave. We sat and chatted for a half-hour, during which he told me his family history, interspersed with 'Wah, wah!' when the singer displayed some virtuosity. We discussed music and theatre, since his father had been a theatre artist. He told me many fascinating stories. Then I told him my story, and when I arrived at the cause of the wheelchair, we both smiled. “So there is your answer,” I said. “Now it's been done the right way.” We parted ways – or perhaps, because we were sitting in a Sufiana place, we finally joined ways.
I am reminded of another question that a kid once asked me. “Do you take the wheelchair to bed, too?” The image of a wheelchair stuck to me as I turn sides in the bed is a delicious one!
Anyway, getting back to the silsilah (matter) of wheelchair travels, it is curious how my wheelchair manages to wrangle favours from forest officials. I remember a trip to Ranthambore National Park that had turned out to be a bit of a bore. The motel owner came up to me out of the blue and offered to drive me right up the Aravalis in a four-by-four Gypsy. The next day, we set out early in the morning. On our way, we picked up a forest ranger who regaled us with incidents about encounters with all sorts of wild animals. The funniest one was about an encounter between a Sikh forest guard and a sloth bear. The bear had attacked the Sikh guard but in the skirmish, the guard's pagri (turban) came off. As the guard's long hair spilled out, the bear watched the transformation in a daze and then ran for his life.
For me, the high point of that trip was meeting Gopi, a three-month-old Indian antelope calf that was being brought up by the Forest Department. A tiger had apparently killed its mother. When I tried to pet him, Gopi latched onto my fingers and gave them the treatment. It was evidently his mealtime, and the rangers eventually got out some milk bottles so we could feed him. Another time, on a trip to Goa, the wheelchair had persuaded a cheerful bunch of men who called themselves the Bombay Boys (but were actually beer-guzzling married men holidaying away from their wives) to carry it up a steep flight of stairs onto the deck of a boat. In fact, my wheelchair's penchant for finding drunkards for company will make for another long story.
When it comes to traveling in a wheelchair, I've learnt that you just have to surrender to the chair. It has wheels, for chrissake. It knows more about travel than you do, and it finds its ways.
They say that whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping.
Not so long ago, we took great pride in the large, glitzy malls that dotted our towns. Every brand worth its salt had begun to establish a firm foothold in developing Indian cities, and used every marketing gimmick in the book to attract shoppers by the horde. The centrefold of newspapers and magazines drew our attention to all the sales - with discounts that were 'flat' or otherwise. A trip to a mall was an outing - an event you could brag about, even if all you did was some basic window shopping. More often than not, you'd go from shop to shop, try on a few things, sneak a peek at the price tag and hurry out of the store and content yourself with some cup corn from the food court. Teenage girls could spend hours at the trial rooms, preening and posing in fine feathers.
But that is all passé.
Like everything else that matters, the science of shopping evolves. Humanity has come a long way from the time goods were bought in exchange for other goods in various forms of barter. Communal marketplaces arose, where people socialised, showed off one another's wares and learned to bargain. Little shops sprung up that stocked a limited supply of goods. Then man became brand-conscious and shiny malls emerged.
And now, when the Internet has invaded every aspect of our lives, can shopping not have possibly undergone a massive change? Nay. New-age retail therapy has arrived. Online shopping is the rage, and here to stay. Apprehensions and security fears are being thrown out of the window, as modern youth make all of their purchases at the click of a mouse.
New Internet portals arise every day, each offering better, more reliable services than the last. I'm a big fan of certain e-commerce sites. It all started with books. It's always easy to start with books. You can almost never go wrong. There are always plenty of reviews to help you make a good choice. They're not breakable, and everyone gets the same size. Worried about paying online? You never have to reveal credit card information or punch in your Internet banking password. Just choose to pay when your order is delivered! That's one apprehension you can safely discard. No retailing website will ever move away from the Cash on Delivery option- it's caught on so well.
Then it didn't seem like such a bad idea to buy appliances or gadgets online. The retailers guaranteed no damages. They'd deliver the products beautifully packed - it's all handled with more care than we would if we brought them home from the mall. The best thing about buying online is, of course, the fabulous discounts! With fewer middle men and no showroom and salesmen costs, these portals have the ability to offer absolutely irresistible bargains on the best of products. Not convinced? A trick I had picked up when it came to gadgets was to go check them out at the closest showroom to make sure they're what I wanted. Once I was convinced I'd made a good choice, I'd rush home and order them online! It's a little unfair to the guys who own shops, but the wonderful deals I got online made it hard for me to feel too sorry!
Every girl's dream came true next... clothes, jewellery and shoes came to be available online! Dozens of brands unleashed their range of clothing on these sites. Pictures of models in each item of clothing were splashed across the pages, that seemed to beckon buyers and keep them hooked. Not sure if something you like online will fit you? Detailed size charts are provided against every item. It's not too hard to take a call if something will fit you. Jewellery - gold, silver and junk - soon made it online, with life-sized pictures and equally fabulous discounts. Shoes arrived, in every colour, size and style, making girls giddy with excitement.
Still not convinced you can choose well online? Online retailers have taken another giant step - they allow returns. They tie up with courier companies to not only deliver your order, but also come and pick it up if you're not satisfied with it. Some ask you to post your returns, and in addition to your refund, they reimburse your postal expenses quite generously!
As if the awesome service isn't good enough to keep you addicted, they send you discount coupons every now and then.
Carefully strategized schemes and bargains are sent your way, that are so tantalizing, you nearly always end up making another purchase. It takes all of my will power to ignore reward points or value coupons that I could redeem. My favourite clothes e-shopping site sends me a feedback form every now and then, and reward me with an irresistible discount coupon for filling it up. That only provokes the shopaholic in me to buy much more than I need. I've become so used to making online purchases that I've learnt to understand trends in the prices - when they go down, when to look out for better discounts, how to club purchases to avoid shipping charges, if any, and so on. I'm quite the e-retail expert!
My friends who are setting up houses love shopping for trinkets and home decor online. I know of people who have gone so far as to buy furniture on the Internet! E-shopping opens up to you a wider choice of things to choose from. A brand of t-shirts I particularly like was available only in Mumbai. That doesn't matter anymore. If you belong to a town that has decent postal services, you can buy from any other corner of the country! More brands, more styles and a large price range makes e-shopping a delight. Why go out in the hot sun, trudge through hordes of traffic, stand in long lines at trial rooms and cash counters, and lug heavy shopping bags anymore? Retail paradise is a tap-tap of a smart phone away!
What's next, you ask? Augmented reality promises to bring virtual trial rooms to our phone and laptop screens. Upload a picture of yourself, and the virtual you can try on various outfits and judge what would suit you best. Gone are the days when you'd beg your friend to stand outside trial rooms and hand you clothes, while you'd preen and frown at yourself in the mirrors. Here are the days when you shop from the convenience of your house, and when you shop not only because you need something, but because it's just so quick and easy! Welcome, online shopping!
Looking Beyond Disabilities & Breaking Barriers Together
New no. 4, Old no. 23, 3rd Cross Street, Radhakrishnan Nagar,