Being in a wheelchair hasn’t stopped traveller, social activist, poet and author, Salil Chaturvedi from winning accolades. An avid reader and writer of haiku, he was the Asia region winner of the Commonwealth Short story Competition 2008 and winner of the Unisun/British Council Short story Competition 2007. His stories have appeared in various anthologies and magazines, including Himal, Indian Quarterly and Indian Literature. In 2015 he won the Wordweavers’ Poetry Contest, and in 2019 he received the Hindi Seva Samman for his book of Hindi Poetry titled ‘Ya Ra La Va Sha Sa Ha’.
To draw attention to accessibility for persons with disabilities, Salil sailed with a team from Mumbai to Goa in 2009. He has even represented India for Wheelchair Tennis in Australia and Japan in the 1990s. As a trustee of Score Foundation, an NGO working towards empowerment of visually impaired people across India, Salil produced ‘Shabduli’, the first Konkani audio book for blind readers in association with the Central Library, Goa in 2015.
His life story is a study in strife, frustration, adjustment, acceptance and finally overcoming obstacles. He shares with NT KURIOCITY.
“I was sixteen-years-old when I met with a road accident. It happened one August afternoon, when I sneaked out of the house with my grandfather’s Bajaj Chetak scooter. I was in the twelfth standard and was doing my schooling at Allahabad, my hometown. I took the scooter out for a spin, driving around the neighbourhood and then on to the Grand Trunk Road, a National Highway that runs through Allahabad. A cyclist abruptly came in my way and I braked hard and the scooter skidded. I fell on the road and was run over by a jeep, sustaining head injuries and fracturing my spine in two places,” he says. He spent the next two years at the Military Hospital in Lucknow where he was operated upon twice and underwent rehabilitation.
For someone who was very active in sports—he was the house captain for various sports and a gymnast—it was an extremely dark period. “It took a while for the fact to sink in that I would never be able to walk again. I had to adjust to a new way of being. I struggled with my new self, with my limited mobility, and had to build a new imagination for my being-ness,” he adds. What followed were long periods of frustration and depression and the toughest aspect according to him was being dependent on others. “One day, a thought implanted itself in me: someone somewhere was having it tougher than I did and was doing a darn good job of living life. This fictive hero of mine has helped me immensely. He (I have imagined it as a male, since I am a male!) has inspired me to get on with the job at hand, to complete my education, to pursue a career and eventually to marry the love of my life,” he states and adds, “Of course, my family, my brother, friends and colleagues have always been hugely supportive, and I would not have made it far without their buttress.”
Besides the aforementioned achievements, he also acted in a television serial (Galli Galli Sim Sim) for five years, wrote scripts for television, ran a communications company, was and still is a disability activist.
“The biggest lesson I have learned is that there is no such thing as an individual. We are interpenetrated and it takes the efforts of many (human and non-human) to make a person. No wonder they say it takes a village to bring up a child. My successes are not mine alone, and neither are my failures mine alone. Life is a collaborative venture. Either we all succeed, or else we all fail,” he states. “Somewhere early along this life journey, I made up my mind that I would try and make my life beautiful. When faced with options, I have always tried to do the more beautiful thing. We always know what the more beautiful thing is.”