Listening to the crisp and clear voice of hers exclaim “I am glad this accident happened, otherwise my life would have been normal!” and hearing her describe her journey from the “black box days” to the present, leaves one in awe and the emotions sweep over you like an avalanche.
Eleven years ago, amidst the desert sands of Bikaner in Rajasthan, bloomed a flower – Malvika Iyer.
The Turning Point
At the age of thirteen Malvika was enjoying her school life, excelling in almost everything-from academics to dance and music, athletics to fashion designing, little realizing what a turn her life would take after a disastrous blast near an ammunition factory. The memory of the accident is a blur, but the tortuous days that ensued and the pain she endured are still vivid. Malvika lost her hands and almost her legs too.
Despite facing such an immense challenge to work with, her will to survive was not shattered. She recalls spiritedly “Being young gave me a lot of hope and made me positive towards what lay ahead for me! It was perfectly fine to be the way I was.”
The whole experience was frightening and the future was bleak. This did not deter the family from giving her the best possible medical treatment to save her life and her legs. The next year or so went by in her treatment, surgeries and dressing of the wounds and her soul. The fact that she had two long stumps as hands was not easy to accept, yet she was always grateful to be alive and see the people she loved dearly around her, with her. Her mother was the main guiding hand, who after the accident and its ghastly aftermath, did not shed a tear but only said, “You have survived this accident and that is all that is important for me. You do whatever you can, I am there with you forever.”
Start Of A New Journey
The family had moved to Chennai where through physiotherapy and with an undaunting spirit, Malvika regained the use of her legs. Due to the loss of her hands, it was extremely arduous for her to hold crutches. Simultaneously, they began their search for good prosthetics. While Malvika’s friends were preparing for the tenth board exams, she was struggling to pass the exam called life. It was only during those times she felt hurt and disappointed that friends of her age had moved on. On encouragement from her friend in Bikaner and mother she decided she too would write the exam privately. From a fun-filled mobile teenager she was now confined to an almost sedentary lifestyle, walking just a little. She focused her attention completely on studies. Her determination to use what she had to the best of her ability, is seen from the fact that she used to attach a pencil by means of a rubber band to the remnants of her hand to write! She was permitted to use a writer for her boards.
Malvika says the day the results came “was the proudest and best post accident moment I had!” She had excelled in the exam topping the list of private candidates and getting a state first rank scoring a centime in both Mathematics and Science. There was no media which did not cover her achievement and she had suddenly turned into a celebrity! An exemplary example of “grit is the stubborn refusal to quit!” She was invited to the Rastrapathi Bhavan to meet the then president Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a proud moment for her and her parents. Her only aspiration for the future then was to be independent.
It was not that Malvika experienced no trouble. Every passing insensitive stare or comment and the heaviness of her hands, the constant dressing of her splinter ridden legs and the pain, frustration and trauma she endures are unfathomable. For her this was part of a learning and a reason to never look back.
Malvika completed her degree in Economics from the prestigious St. Stephens College and her Masters in Social Work. It was during this time she had the opportunity to work with differently- abled children. Her ability to empathise and understand them made her come to realize her true calling.
She was invited to give her first TEDx talk in the year 2013, and that was when she realized that the more she shared about herself the more she was able to accept herself. Ever since then, she has been giving talks at corporates, schools and colleges. She says, “Only my first speech was pre-written, from then on it has always been straight from my heart!” Trying to fit in and be normal was fun but also very stressful and exhausting. Her passion in giving motivational talks gave her the much needed self confidence and self acceptance. This eased a lot of pressure on her and also gave her the opportunity to go outside India to spread her message.
She was invited to host the India Inclusion Summit where she met a host of differently abled people who had overcome their difficulties or were in the process of coping with the same. Being an active social media person gave her access to a lot of people similar to her. Interacting with them was, she says, ”A two way journey. When I talk to someone, it helps me, and in return they were being helped and inspired by my story.”
Malvika did not let her passion for fashion wither. Ten years ago she was told she would never lead a normal life, let alone walk! Today, another colourful feather in her cap comes in the form of being a showstopper, in a fashion show for Accessible Clothing. The students of NIFT had designed two evening gowns especially for her. “The experience was truly amazing”.
This is not the end, but the beginning of a momentous journey for Malvika Iyer. She is rearing to do as much as she can, to the extent that she has begun dancing again.
Her story is a shining example of what will power, positive attitude and belief in one’s abilities and accepting one’s disabilities can do along with trying to be normal and fit in. Being normal is very personal and it does not have to be what everyone thinks is normal. Here she chips in that, ”It is not the curiosity but the insensitivity people show towards differently abled people” that hurt her the most. Over the years she has got accustomed to reactions of people, so much so that on a hot day, I don’t feel bad to take off my hands to cool down.” One of her visions is to making public spaces, parks, theatres etc. more disable friendly- citing the Delhi Metro as a befitting example. With her mantra in life being, “no expectations and hard work” and her tremendous passion for her life and people, nothing can stop this Advocate for Inclusion.
My biggest takeaway from Malvika’s story is that things turn out best for people, who make the best, of the way things turn out!
What inspires you to push through the challenges that life throws your way? We’d love to hear your thoughts.