“This accident took a lot from me, but it never took away my spirit,” says Malvika Iyer, a bilateral amputee from a freak bomb blast. The disaster which took both her hands away never deterred her from living life to the fullest.
This PhD scholar from Madras School of Social Work has donned many hats. Today, she is a motivational speaker at schools, colleges, NGOs, and global youth conferences, a fashion model for accessible clothing and was recently elected into the Global Shapers Community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum. Her disability has been no barrier and in fact believes that the accident brought out the best in her.
“When I was in hospital it was a traumatic phase. My injuries were too many. I lost both my hands and the injuries to my legs were extreme. I was unable to walk for two years. For the first six months my legs were almost open as the doctors had to clean my wounds regularly,” she says.
During this phase her parents were very supportive. “My mother is a very positive person. She never let me feel that things were wrong or how tragic the incident was. I simply trusted in her and in my family whom I felt would help me recover,” she adds.
The future is never dark until you think it is
Many doctors thought that Malvika would never be able to walk again. To the people who visited her, her future appeared bleak and hopeless. “But I always believed that I would come out of this, I was full of hope that my situation was temporary, surmountable and I knew that I was not going to allow myself to end up bedridden”, asserts Malvika.
I have to move on
I have always been a very happy person. Even before the accident I was a cheerful child and I wasn’t going to lose that. This accident took a lot from me, my hands, my ability to walk, to dance, play sports. But, what it left intact was my spirit. I had a long way to go and I needed to get started. With intense therapy and the use of prosthetic limbs, I learnt to write again and took my first new steps. I have never been one to brood and complain. I always think ‘I have to move on. What’s next? Malvika took her Class 10 board exams with her peers, a year after her accident. With three months to prepare, it was a race against time. But, it paid off when she found herself among the Tamil Nadu state toppers, a distinction that brought her the opportunity to meet Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
She dreamed a dream
“I feel that the accident has given me a second life. I almost died that day. The doctors said I had lost 80% of my blood; it was a gory sight,” says Malvika. “But I just love how my life turned out. I never planned any of it. I just knew I would overcome my challenges, but how, I never knew. I decided to focus on my studies, go to a regular school. But, at the time my only aim was to climb the staircase again,” she says smilingly.
Malvika went on to do a graduate programme in Economics at St Stephen’s followed by a Masters at Delhi School of Social Work. Currently, she is a PhD scholar and Junior Research Fellow at Madras School of Social Work. “I doubt I would have done all these things if the accident had not happened,” she says.
Standing up to her fears
“In college I tried to camouflage my disability by not going out or shaking hands and shying away from people. But I realized that it was not helping me. Then one day I decided to step out and talk about what happened to me, to speak my fears. The TedX talk I gave in 2013 completely changed my life. I learnt that going out and talking to people gives you that amazing courage and strength to move on,” smiles Malvika.
When she started sharing her story, the response from people was amazing. “Every day I get so many messages from people saying that they have stopped complaining about life after hearing my story. It is a small thing for me to talk about myself, yet I see it creating a big impact on people,” she says. “This is my way of giving back. I got a lot of support and encouragement from family and friends in my dark times. So this is my way of returning it,” she adds.
Every day is a challenge
Every day brings its own challenges, big and small. “I was skilled at art, athletics and dance and one day after the accident I could never do that. The emotional trauma of accepting the loss of both my hands and the disfiguration of my legs and to accept that I will have to live with several bodily limitations was extreme,” says Malvika stoically.
Today, although her legs have not healed completely, she is able to do close to 100 percent of her work independently. “My legs still hurt when I walk and I have to convince my mind to take those extra steps,” she says. The prosthetic hands too are heavy and the humid weather of Chennai makes it uncomfortable for her to wear them every day.
But, while many people have been encouraging, sensitivity towards the differently abled has miles to go in India. “A lot of people are insensitive to the differently abled. They stare, crudely point and whisper to people next to them. Changing this callous attitude is the biggest challenge,” explains Malvika.
I am proud of my body
“The accident happened when I was a teenager. Yet I was able to look in to the mirror and smile. I have never felt bad for the way my body is. The society we live in attributes a lot of importance to beauty. More than one’s education or career, one is forced into a competition to be beautiful. You have to look your best at all times. Fairness products, perfect make up, messages to look even better bombard you all the time. I have learnt to accept myself and be happy in such a society,” she says.
Beauty according to her is the kind of impact you have on someone’s life and how you shine from inside. “I have seen so many differently abled people carry themselves well. Two perfect hands and legs don’t necessarily a perfect person make. Through the accident I have realized that beauty has nothing to do with the external,” says Malvika.
Acceptance of life can make it beautiful
“My message to women who are trying to find themselves is, wherever you are accept yourself and move on from there. It is the ‘why’ questions that kill people from inside. If I had started questioning why this accident happened to me, I would probably have spent my life chasing those answers in vain. The moment you accept what life has dealt you, the road ahead opens up, the fog clears, and from there on, the journey is beautiful”, she says inspiringly.
A deep believer in this philosophy, Malvika says that when she started accepting her strengths and limitations, it became easy for her to do what she was good at. “I was training to be a Kathak dancer before my accident. But after accepting that I cannot pursue that, I took to another field and tried to excel in that. More than being competitive in everything, target your efforts towards achieving what you are good at. Often, the pleasure of the effort means means more than the achievement itself,” she ends.
Watch Malvika’s inspiring address at TEDx Youth in Chennai.
All images courtesy Malvika Iyer.