Monday, 8 May 2017

Best of both worlds!


Having lost a baby earlier, I kept the news of my pregnancy under wraps until I finished the first trimester. I was obviously elated that I would be a mother, but there was also a sense of unease - would I totally suck at the role? Would I even meet half the benchmark set by my mother who ticks all the boxes of exemplary behaviors to be exhibited as a mother? The Universe intervened and I lost my baby in the bargain to stay alive. 

We further made the decision that we weren't going to have children.  

Was it an easy decision? Absolutely no. 

Was it a practical decision? Absolutely yes.

Do I miss motherhood? In teeny bits and parts.

I usually definitely want to ‘look’ pregnant (please note only pregnant) when I see women with large baby bumps. My aspiration…Beyonce at the Grammy’s. Did you see her? She practically looked like a goddess, she had this glow, she looked absolutely ravishing displaying her baby bump – and in that moment I wanted to look like her.

I miss it in parts when my friends have an “awww” moment with their child, and you wonder if you are missing something in your life.

I miss it in parts when kids say the cutest things in the world.

Do not fret –I’ve had my fair share of cute kid moments.

My most vivid recollection, has been a 5 year old boy, who stopped me at the stadium and asked me with both his hands on his hips “What happened to your hand?”. He had a few of his friends in the background. Now I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Should I tell him it started with a fever and have him fear fevers for the rest of his life or should I tell him about the bacteria. I looked around for a responsible adult – then of course I remembered I am the bonafide adult here. So I smiled and said “It was caused by an accident”. He said “What kind of accident”? I said “A car accident, I was hurt very badly and the doctor had to take my hands off”. He mulled over my response and asked “Did it pain?” I said “Yes, for some time”. I then asked him “Do you want to touch my hand?” He immediately touched it, smiled and looked back at his waiting friends “It’s so soft, come touch and see”. It was as simple as that.


Nila, my friend’s 5 year old at her birthday party dragged her friend towards me. I was sitting at a table, with my hands on my lap. She forces the friend to look under the table and says “See, no hands”. The girl obviously was in shock and said she was scared to look, to which Nila pats her and said as a matter of fact “Why are you scared? She is not scared. And she has no pain, and she is my friend”.

Veda, my friend’s 4 year old was watching a procession of goddesses from the car. Pointing at one of them, she said “She has four hands, why can’t she give two to Shalu?”

A little girl walked up to me at the stadium and asked me my name. She then smiled and asked me if I was coming to the stadium the next day. The next day she arrived all smiling. She stood around me for a bit, and then finally asked “Don’t these (blades) hurt?”

While I was running at Cubbon park recently, I passed by two little boys. I heard one say to the other “See ra…see her shoes”, to which the other said “Super cool da”. And ofcourse they were referring to my blades.

All these moments take you by surprise. Each of them reacted to disability in whatever way they had deemed fit, and the most beautiful part is that they did not come with judgments – it is what it is!

I’ve learnt you don’t need to be a mother, to have your ‘aww’moments.

When the Universe takes something from you, it always gives you something in return, in its own way balancing it out. In my case I became “the cool aunt”. This gives you an opportunity to spoil the kids rotten, have all the fun, you can teach them the worst things and learn a million things from then – AND then you don’t need to worry about their bed time or if they ate or pooped or if they slept or fret about all the thousand other things...they have their mommies for that!! 

The best of both worlds.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Seeing....a function of more than your eyes!


My disability journey has not just opened my world to different and diverse perspectives, but also to a set of very very interesting people.

My first interaction with Divyanashu was post the marathon run. I got a message on Facebook and his profile picture had him with Senior AB...I was'nt sure how to react to that!

The message contained the usual congratulatory messages and telling me how amazing I was (I absolutely know that!!). He runs a nonprofit organization which promotes adventures sports for People with Disabilities, was blind and was into adventure and outdoor sports ...all in the same sentence, and wanting to get in touch.

Our conversation started as extremely polite, which lasted for about five minutes. We broke ice when I asked him if he grew drugs to fund his NGO(he’s confirmed he does’nt). We eventually discovered we were both mad people and had the same crazy sense of humor...pretty much cut out of the same cloth!

Recently he travelled to Bangalore and we decided to meet. He was to travel straight from the airport and I was to meet him for lunch. 

Of course much after confirming the plans, realization strikes!!

He's going to uber, and I’d probably need to give directions ...how do I pick the call? Well let's say if we manage that, how do I direct him through the stairs.... What if I fall and he falls too... And then of course how do I eat? Well I can't feed him... Way too many minor details to consider!! So of course Bindu was invited for lunch.

While I got ready to meet him, I thought does it matter if I did make the effort, how's he even going to appreciate it? (Vain women I know!). I could be in my PJs and he wouldn’t know.

The first impression of meeting him was just sheer warmth! You know when you meet someone, and it just clicks and seems like it’s not the first time you are meeting them. 

While we steered our way through the restaurant, my thought runs through how this would be first interaction with someone who is blind, there are no reference points. In hindsight, it’s what someone goes through when they meet me for the first time - no reference point!

We sat down, and ordered our drinks and food. It was interesting to watch, because he just got on fine, as far as he was nudged in the right direction. The conversations flowed, and I realized I had so many questions. 

Do you see with more than your eyes? Do you meet someone and feel their aura? Do you visualize things? Is it difficult? And the one question I did not ask, but wish I did, how does he decide what to wear (he lives alone)?

Divyanshu turned blind overnight when he was nineteen due to glaucoma . I'm thinking that it could be as disturbing as to lose a limb. I'm not sure what it feels like, but like any devastation in our lives, we eventually still cope. The beauty of his story is that he chose to still lead his life on his terms. He is India's first blind solo glider and like that wasn't enough he recently tandem cycled 500 plus kms across Leh-Ladakh... Gobsmacked aren't you!?

While I was processing this entire new world, I felt maybe it was a great world, where you meet someone and you’re not judging them for their looks or for what they wear... You truly just listened and liked someone or not for what they said or what you felt... You cut out the noise and preconditioned notions. 

It's a world of listening, touching and feeling... In a sense the perfect world - a true human world.

Divyanshu spoke about being a very visual person; he creates pictures of everything in his head. I loved what he is said "everybody in my world is beautiful.. I imagine everything to be very beautiful"

What a beautiful thought!

Our eyes functionally let us see, but I guess to really see and feel you need more than your eyes, you need a beautiful soul and a big canvass to paint whatever picture you want.

You can choose to make it as beautiful or as ugly as you want...


Friday, 27 May 2016

Urban Legend...Nah Just Super Specially Abled

Blade Runner...Survivor...Wonder Woman...Urban Legend...

A few descriptions of me over the last few weeks...well how do I feel about them?

Very overwhelming…Larger than life!!

Did I plan on any of this? The answer is a plain 'No'. If you had asked me 4 years ago or in fact even before that if I’d ever run a marathon…the answer would have been ‘No’.

The whole thing started off with just a way to be healthy and being able to achieve the very mundane tasks of walking, climbing up stairs, sitting and getting up from a chair. Over a period, it just became something I began to enjoy. My legs began to feel like an extension of my own body and not an add on. Just the pure freedom to run, feeling free...and in some twisted way a control over my own body!

What the hell I can't brush my teeth on my own, but I can run without anyone's help!

These are my moments of looking up in the sky, and saying a silent "damn you, there's no stopping me"

And I don’t think I chose running…Running chose ME!

Was it easy?

It was hell! A good hell...

Well the original plan was to run with my legs (for you guys prosthetics legs). We’ve (Coach Aiyappa and I) been training for about two years. I wake up at 5 am and work out at Kanteerava Stadium. I go for Pilates with Anisha Naidu 2-3 times a week. Both their primary goals has been to make my life as miserable and tough as possible (You need to read this as "build strength and endurance). It's been a journey - one that has required me to push myself every single day. Not just my body, but realising that it's my mind that makes me go the last 100 metres.

There were days at 5am in the morning when my alarm rang that I questioned my own sanity "What the hell is wrong with me?" "Do I really need to do this?".... But something did push me! I came everyday from the work out pooped....but also rejuvenated by the sheer sense of accomplishment and feeling that I grew my wings...added a few bones and feathers each day....my wings of freedom!

Then the blades arrived. We went for fitment for about a month, I got the blades about 2 weeks and 2 days before the run.

What do the blades feel like?

Imagine yourself on really pointy high heels and then imagine being on a trampoline...if you are a man who has never worn heels...I cannot explain it to you!

I look and feel totally bad ass in them!

They gave me a natural bounce and push. It gave me more wings.

How did I feel on D-day?

Obviously pressure! I feel exactly like I was going to write my board exams. There were 20k people, the whole place was buzzing with energy.

How I felt through the run?

It was a mixture of emotions – like a Bollywood movie, the day had every bit of excitement, song, dance, music, high emotions, action, love, drama!

Started slow, as it was a mad rush of people and I did not want to fall. The first 6 kms were great, and then I felt dizzy. We were targeting the 90 min finish, the break put me back. At a point I was totally disappointed with myself (still am). We then decided to finish. We had to stop twice again to adjust the legs. It was an extremely humid day, and the prosthetics get extremely sweaty. So once your sweat builds up, the legs get extremely uncomfortable, so we need to remove them and put them back on. Ofcourse our Bangalore roads - just adds to the much needed drama!

The one thing that helped me through this besides having people that I love with me, was the number of people through the run who cheered for me or just passed by with a thumbs up – my running this marathon was a re-affirmation to our own selves that we survive – no matter what!

We finished! Phew! I was done and I just wanted to find a corner to sleep.

By the time I recuperated I felt - Exhilarated. Relieved. Happy. Could I have done better? An emphatic "Yes"!

Post the run I've been repeatedly asked "Why running" "Who is my inspiration" "What motivated me" "What is my future goal"...
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When I sit back and think...the answer is "I really don't know"

The script to my life changed in 2012 and after that I have left the universe to take me where it chose. I just do what I do. I do not know where I get my strength from or how I endured it - I just do!

Did I ever plan to run, take part in a marathon or be on the first page of a newspaper? Never ever part of my script... it all just happened! I did not plan on losing my limbs in the first place remember.

Why running... just because i can! I have my wings fitted on and I don't plan to ever take them off.

Motivation... because it is the person I am! I refuse to give up without a fight. It is in my Malayali DNA or I'm just too stubborn probably.

Goal...only one "be happy" “live in the moment” - NOTHING else in the world matters

One thing that's niggled me through this entire process has been a few reactions from people around me "She still has a big smile" "You still look happy" "Did people treat you differently" "Do you feel bad when you go out with your friends"

Why do we expect someone who is disabled to look unhappy? Why do we expect someone who is disabled to lead sad and miserable lives? Why do we not expect someone who is disabled to party? Why do you think a marriage will fall apart after a disability? Why don't we think that it is possible to just accept your disability and lead super normal lives?

Clich├ęs isn't it?

Your disabilities I've realized are only in your mind.



Friday, 11 September 2015

Living in the moment


How do you deal with a life change…from being fully charge of your life physically and mentally to seeking help to brush your own teeth?

Honestly…you just do!

People who know me from work or from anywhere before in life, have a recurring conversation “You haven’t changed a bit” “You are still crazy” “You still have a big smile” – well I haven’t changed internally, externally yes! I believe I am the new improved Shalini V 2.0.

I went through various phases to get to where I am today. To look at the mirror and not find anything amiss, other than the question most women ask “Does this dress make me look fat?”

Having said that, it's not all blue sky and yellow tulips - I do have bad days, but they are fewer and far between.

The first three months were easy, because I believed I would be back on my feet and life would go back how it was.....until the gangrene set.

Before my brain and heart accepted it, my nose smelt the rot!

It was probably the worst thing to wake up and  go to sleep to – the smell of rotting flesh and disturbing signs of what is to come. We were at that point working with a doctor on an alternative treatment to see if we could regress the condition.

I hated everyone, and I just shut the entire world to my life. I asked for no visitors, no friends, no family – I did not want to believe in my fate, neither did I want people to see me in this state!

I had numerous conversations with myself, went through my entire life with a fine comb looking for something that would explain this. Obviously it's bad karma – I must have done something bad to deserve this. The only thing I could come up with a few nasty conversation(I am known for my acidic tongue at times), a few lies, nothing that would explain the quantum of my suffering both physical and mental.

I for a period in time used to go to the hospital to have parts of my flesh removed by doctor. It was painful, I bawled like a child, the nurses and people around me shed a tear probably for my fate! It was agony to say the least...on the bright side I got to eat the best bhel puri ever outside the very same hospital!

Then of course Ayurveda happened, a leash of new hope and injecting a whole lot of optimism. The gangrene went and things were looking good. The crazy concoctions though left a bitter taste, filled my soul with hope.

In between this, a setback. I managed to break a bone in my left hand(amazing right!). We found a brave doctor who said he would try fixing it. Being rolled into the OT, while I was prepared for the worst, I still believed I would be fine. Post surgery all I could see was a massive dressing on my left arm, I kept trying to see if it was the full hand or half of it. I beckoned a nurse and asked her, she looked extremely uncomfortable. She faltered, cleared her throat, looked around and in a quiet voice said “It's amputated” and walked away.

Everyone visited at the hospital, my room were filled with people ‘trying’ to accept what happened, unshed tears, nervous laughter, everyone being brave for me and themselves and more than anything else not sure how to deal with me or the uncertainty of life itself. I think all of us lead our lives reading the paper, watching news, on the internet read stories like this, but we believe ‘it would never happen to one of us’ – well reality arrived in our lives.

Six months later my right hand auto amputated. For those of you who have not heard of this before, it literally is the body shedding a part it no longer needs. In my case it fell into my brother in law's hand. A look of disbelief passed through the room, my mom the only witness. While we did not know what do with situation, I knew this was a sign – a sign to move on.

We took the decision to go ahead with amputating the legs the next month. I was relieved - I knew I could only move forward now and there is no stopping me.

I arrived at the hospital with the brightest purple nail polish on my feet. If my legs were going out, they were going to go out in style!

How did I go through all this – I honestly don’t know.

I lived each day at a time, made small achievable goals for myself, read every book I could lay my hands on and like my life depended on it, learnt classical music, looked forward to friends visiting – more than anything else hoped and believed that tomorrow will better…I knew tomorrow will beautiful because when you hit rock bottom, the only way for you is upwards!

So walk in the rain, stick your tongue out and catch the raindrops, hold hands, feel the grass under your feet, smile at strangers, admire good looking men/women, fall in love, call someone you have been meaning to, give big tight hugs, kiss a boy or girl(if that's your thing), flirt, dance till you drop, wear your red lipstick, join that class you have always wanted to, buy the shoes you want, write a book, sing aloud, learn to play an instrument, bungee jump, sky dive, travel to Antarctica for all I care – LIVE TODAY AND LIVE IN THE MOMENT - you don't know what is going to happen tomorrow!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Suspended between Worlds


I do remember being admitted into the hospital, and after a really difficult night, having a conversation with the ICU entourage(Senior doctor, junior doctor, intern, trying to be intern, senior nurse, junior nurse, almost nurse, might/might not be nurse) on being moved to the ICU.

I was moved into the ICU, battled for life, and woke up on my birthday! 

While I only know of what happened to me because of what others told me, I do not remember the pain or my struggle nor in any way aware of what my loved ones went through. I did not know of my friends cancelling their Goa trip and travelling through three states of India to reach the hospital, nor of my entire family and friends waiting for the clock to strike 11:00 am as that is when the ICU doctors gave them an update - if I would make it alive. They walked on thin ice, praying and waiting from the first 24hrs to the next. And they battled death too - with prayers and hope.

While suspended between life and death here are a few snippets of what I believe I saw or heard or probably a figment of my imagination...snippets which mostly might not make sense. But this is my attempt to try and make any sense of it.

I remember waking up in the middle of night (or day), and there was a nurse by my side holding my hand, praying and drawing a cross on my head, we made eye contact for a bit, I might have smiled because she did smile back at me...

I always heard people speaking, and the curious logical me, tried to always decipher what it was (so I can tell you for a fact that you can hear during a coma). I knew at times it was Prashanth, at times I guessed it must have been the nurses. I specifically did hear a nurse crib about someone not coming into work and how she had to work the extra shift (I thought to myself what the hell its the same issues I have at work).

I have a hazy memory of someone praying by my side, hand over my stomach. I thought to myself why my stomach, then ofcourse I was like "idiot the baby".

My weirdest dream/reality/figment of my imagination was being outside my body. I knew I was sick, I knew I was at a hospital, but it was awfully quiet. I kept wondering where I was, as the place felt different (Then my logical mind worked out I was being shifted or moved out of the hospital)

I said to myself that you're sicker than you probably think, so Prashanth(my husband) is flying me outside the country and I am in a plane - obviously!! But where is everyone, shouldn't Prashanth be by my side? Then I thought they must have kept me separate - infection and all. But through this so called flight I heard people in the next room. After a break I was somewhere again - really quiet, just white, just really quiet. So then I thought "Great my surgery is done, but still where is everyone?" 

My next bit is hazier - too many thing happening around me so I assume I am at the airport, going through security (yes that's exactly what I thought). Am even thinking to myself, how would I go through the metal scanner - would they ask me to walk?!! I felt that they are stamping everyone’s exit on my passport!! I was worried - how would I explain this the next time I traveled?!!

Funnily, when I did wake up the first thing I asked Prashanth “Where did we go?”, he answered very confused “Cambodia”. I gave him the dirtiest stare ever (well I could be scary with a life support system - yay!). I said “No. Where else?” he said “Nowhere baby”, I said “Get me my passport”.

Here’s a little episode before I was moved to the ICU. As I mentioned earlier, I did have a difficult night at the hospital. In the early morning hours, I kept slipping in and out of sleep. At one point Prashanth did step out, and I felt someone in the room. Through my half opened eyes, I saw a really old man sitting in the chair just looking at me - for really long. He must have been 65-70, deep set eyes, grey hair, prominent nose, grey beard, white mundu and shirt, broad but shriveled with age, big hands - eyes boring through me. I opened my eyes to look at him properly - and poof he was gone!

My mom came a little later and I told her about my visitor, I described him; she smiled and said “Nothing will happen to you, you will be fine...because my father visited you”

I have never seen my grandfather as I was born much after this death. So I have no actual memory of him. I might have seen a picture of him when I was 16 perhaps so there is actually no way I could have remembered him. At all!!

Maybe high stress/pain can bring out repressed memory - perhaps!

I don't know if I did go to heaven or hell, I probably was precariously close to one of them.

I was on the life support system, my heart stopped twice, my lung were filled with fluids, all my organs failed. The doctor’s gave my family a 5% chance of recovery. The doctor told Prashanth that closest friends and family should see me, as this is probably the last chance to see me alive.

But I survived it - I survived only because of so many prayers.

I want to believe collective prayers, positive thoughts has the power to defeat death. 

I want to believe an angel visited me and that's the reason I live…

Believe - as the thought that miracles exists makes lives beautiful...



Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Like a lot of you, i have spent a fairly 'normal life' ie., growing up, a decent education, lot of friends, kick starting a career and being successful at it - the usual humdrum. The occasional good looking client, night out with friends, office politics, email battle with colleagues, long coffees with girl friends, a great husband, a loving family - all in all a fantastic life!

I had it all going for a 32 year old!

Then a day comes.. with a switch of a button - change.

I came back from a holiday from Cambodia(yes, that was a tick on my bucket list), completed a stressful and decently successful client visit(for those in the BPO/ITES field, you know what this means) , knew that i was pregnant, knew that i would get promoted - all poised to only BIGGER things in life, well i had no idea how BIG a card life dealt me.

It started out with a fever, and then to multi organ failure, to a coma, to a tango with death(not going into details, as this is stuff i could make a movie on and earn copyrights!) and finally surviving it with a two year stint recovering, however losing all my limbs in the battle(if you are shocked, that was exactly what i was aiming for). I was affected by a rare bacteria Ricketssial with morts(a doctor told me that the only time he heard of this bacteria is in his exam paper!! trust me to find a bacteria so rare) which usually results in death, and along with my pregnancy related complications, it resulted in thrombosis(clotting of blood vessels)of extremities.

The two year stint involved meeting all kind of doctors, trying every medicine, prayers and offerings to all gods in the world, until we accepted amputation was the only way forward with life.

These years though difficult and painful(mentally and physically), opened my eyes to a very different world. I was upset, hurt, angry at everyone who could walk or even itch and the constant battle of WHY ME! In time, and with wonderful constant support of friends(I love you guys!) and my family i have now reached a state of liking who i am(with or without limbs).

However while i dealt with my inner demons, the world just stared at me for being disabled! A world at times, that would not make eye contact as they look away as you catch them staring, a world that feels they have the right to know what happened and follow it up by how sad or upset they are or how god could be so unkind...your so young(like if i were older that would be ok?!!) - a world that constantly make you feel different, though i feel i am the same, limbless but my soul, my intelligence, sense of humour, my idiosyncrasies - all me!

I walked into a lift recently, with a child and her father. The girl looked at me, and bless her, children have the best reactions, pointed out at me and said "Papa, see her hand". I smiled. The father, pulled the daughter away and had his hand practically over her mouth and trying so hard to distract her, and trying so hard to ignore the situation.

While i understood his predicament - it got me thinking.

We need a world where our children are taught thats its ok to be different. All the parent needed to do, was tell the child, yes she is different, would you like to say hello. The child then begins to accept people who are differently abled physically or mentally are just 'different' - human and real - no less!