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Wheels of change

In her talk ‘My Soul is Not Paralysed’ at the DD Kosambi Festival of Ideas 2020 Padma Shri awardee and first Indian woman medalist in Paralympic Games, Deepa Malik, spoke about how she has not let life’s challenges stand in her way, reports NT BUZZ


Indian Paralympic athlete, Deepa Malik was the second speaker at the 13th edition of the DD Kosambi Festival of Ideas 2020 which is on at Kala Academy, Panaji. The first Indian woman to win a medal in the Paralympic Games in 2016, Malik recalled during her talk, that she used to be a happy and active child. “I was always playful and enjoyed running around,” she reminisced. At the age of five however, her parents noted a change in her behaviour, their generally active child was now instead sitting quietly in corners. “My relatives told my parents to let me but my parents were progressive,” she said. Thus began her journey with doctors.

At first, the doctors could not figure out what was wrong with Malik and treated her for other diseases such as meningitis, tuberculosis, TB, etc. thus forcing her to stay in the hospital for months in a weaker condition. “In those days we weren’t technologically advanced so I would request my parents, doctors, or anyone who’d come to visit me to tell me a story,” she said.

These stories, she said, helped her develop a positive attitude in her life at a time when society thought that this was the worst condition for her family and her, owning to the fact that she is a female. “I think that was the best time of my life because a real construction of my thought process was going on. I was repeatedly listening to these stories and understanding that whenever a challenge strikes, you got to look for a solution. And when you find the solution and stand up against the challenge, the ending will be happy,” said Malik, adding that she also learned the values of being brave, honest, and to never give up. “During the three years at the hospital I also understood the meaning of gratitude because I saw my parents and brother struggle for me. I knew they were going out of the way to help me,” she added.

Over time through the help of a myelogram x-ray, the doctors discovered a blockage on her spine and she was operated immediately. But the road to recovery wasn’t easy. “I had to wear callipers, it was a crude material which caused blisters, and to help me stand up they would put iron rods on my legs, I had to wear special shoes and go to school,” said Malik adding that her schoolmates would tease her.

It was then that her father and the principal came up with an idea. “My father and the principal decided that they would put stars over the callipers and the ones who were nice to would be given those. Thus everyone was nice to me and I enjoyed school,” said Malik.

In fact, things seemed better for Malik who completely recovered from her illness, and as a teenager she went on to do the things she was unable to do including developing a love for wheels. “Bikes were a very interesting subject for me,” said Malik. “I would steal my dad’s bike keys and sneak out for a ride and would even borrow keys from the neighbourhood.”

At Ajmer, where she went to pursue her degree in English literature, Malik further discovered her love for sports and played basketball while representing her college. She added that it was also her love for bikes that made her fall in love with her husband.

But life threw another curve ball at her, when her daughter was young, Malik was left paralysed on the left side of her body. “I was angry at life but my father was my force and I started working very hard with my daughter and that is when I realised what disability was, as my parents had shielded me from it,” said Malik.

Just when life started to get normal for her family, in 1999 Malik noticed that the pain in her back had returned and she sensed that something was wrong. At the time her husband was sent to the Kargil war. “When I went for a check-up the doctors told me that my tumour was back and that I would either lose my ability to walk or lose my life,” she said.

Malik’s surgery was scheduled at the R and R Hospital, Delhi. “When I walked in there, I saw the soldiers of the war, severely wounded and maimed, but smiling,” said Malik.

Inspired by them ,Malik stated that she requested the doctors to let her walk to the operation theatre as it would be the last time she would walk. “Post surgery I slipped into a coma for more than 40 days and during that time had three major surgeries,” she said. It was after this that Malik woke up with paraplegia.

But, she did not let this stop her. Malik learned to adjust to her new body in spite of the constant criticism from the society. “People look at you the way you look at yourself. I always loved wheels and that’s why wheel chairs never bothered me,” she said. And she decided to focus on her abilities beyond disabilities. “I started a restaurant in 2003. Those who doubted how I would feed my family are now being fed here. Since I started this, I have not taken a single penny from any of my family members,” said Malik.

She also learned to do things differently. “I learned the positive use of the internet and discovered so many things like swimming, para sports and in spite of that people laughed at me because I was 36,” she said adding that she did not let that stop her.

It was when she started entering the Limca Book of Records and winning medals for the country that people’s attitude towards her changed. In 2012, Malik was awarded the Arjuna award. She then went on to become a silver medalist at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in shotput and was conferred the Padma Shri award in 2017.

 “At first people were like she will die at home. Now they ask me when I will get the next medal or break another record,” she said.

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