Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Amit Sharma of Mashed Musings on my blog. If you haven’t read his blog yet, you must immediately add it to your reading list. His blog is a great place for humor and satire posts. I love his posts about women and their issues from a great humane and honest perspective. Needless to say, he is one of my favorite bloggers. Today, he brings a nice, introspective post for all of us.
I saw Rajeev for the first time during the Physics class. He sat at the first desk in my row; the seat next to him was empty. His crutches tilted on the empty seat at an angle trying their best to give him company. I sat at the last desk in the same row, next to an overtly pragmatic newcomer in my class who could not understand the reason of my sadness. I was a Science student now, studying in the best government school in my locality. My cocooned Public school days were behind me, thanks to my father who dislodged me from my placid existence and landed me in this turbulent storm. I was thirsting for friendship and the alien faces around me were not helping me. I finally decided to shun pragmatic Alok and walked towards Rajeev.

As I replaced Rajeev’s clutches on the seat next to him, he was amused for a few initial days. He was used to his disability being treated as a disease; he was used to find pity in the eyes of people without an effort. He analyzed me with the whole battalion of his preconceived notions; trying to understand why I did something no one had tried since the 2 weeks of the beginning of the classes. The truth was that I too had no idea. It was an act carried out on an impulse which eventually changed me as a person.

Rajeev had polio. His body had no sensations downwards from his hips. He could not pick up his right hand without taking help of his left one. He wrote with his left hand – the only functioning limb in his body. The irony was that his father was a veterinary surgeon, studying in the city when Rajeev was born in a village and the family somehow skipped the essential Polio drops.

A week passed and Rajeev started coming to terms with me treating him as another normal person. I instantly bonded with him and found him to be a very warm and jovial person. There was never a hint of forbearance of his situation in his eyes. This is how his life was, and this is how he had to deal with it. He wasn’t bitter about it, never hesitated to ask for help when he couldn’t do without it and never failed to say thank you with a smile.

Rajeev came to the school sitting in a wheelchair. His home was nearby and everyday one of his family members would push his wheelchair from home to school. That is how I met the family for the first time. Rajeev was the eldest. He had a younger brother and two younger sisters. All of them were a laugh riot. His father called me Sharma Sahib, and his mother would crack me up with her anecdotes.

It wasn’t easy for me to consider Rajeev as a ‘normal’ person. The first time I went to his house and met his extremely convivial family was also the day I saw him crawling on all four. Blame it on social conditioning but the sight tore me from inside and I carried a lump in my throat for the rest of the day even though I was sitting with the family and laughing with them. I had a dream that night that he was running in a race with a grin on his face. I forced myself to snap out of the feeling. I went to watch movies with him, behaving as if it was perfectly normal to sit in the front row. I started enjoying it after a while. We saw our first porn movie together, giggling like idiots. When he received his three-wheeler motorbike from the government, his friends were scared to sit with him. After all, how can someone like him handle a bike with one hand? That bike soon became our mode of transport – our own Jai and Veeru kind of a vehicle. Both of us went to Bangla Sahib in it, we went to various colleges in it to collect our admission forms; we went around the market and ate tikki sitting in it, went to movies in it. He once asked me if I was not afraid when he drove. I told him that I wasn’t. I wasn’t lying. During the two years both of us spent in the school as inseparable brothers, I had mastered the art of draping his wheelchair with the cloak of invisibility.

Both of us went to different colleges and then my job took me to another city and then to another country. We stayed friends for a decade and then it took both of us another 5 years to finally drift away. My mother remains shocked till date that I am not in contact with him anymore. I tell her that I have those 10 years with me and they will always stay with me. People drift away. It happens. Rajeev’s friendship taught me an invaluable lesson. What bonded us together was that we did not fall in the trap of following society’s definition of what is normal. It was normal for me to sometimes push his wheelchair to his house while we laughed and chatted. It was normal for me when he fell in love with a girl. I did not break his heart by trying to pull him back. I encouraged him as I would have encouraged any other friend of mine and then gave courage to him to mend his broken heart.

Rajeev’s presence in my life also opened up my mind to a lot of introspection. I realized that every human has his own set of disabilities. Aren’t possessiveness, ego, anger, malevolence, narrow-mindedness, corruption and bowing to social evils also a form of disability? Doesn’t lack of education and careless upbringing open up a Pandora’s Box of disabilities? Rajeev was physically disabled but to me he was more normal than the people I meet everyday, who think they are normal.

Even though I have lost Rajeev, I am happy that I haven’t lost that cloak of invisibility. It is my most precious possession. After all, it gave me an uncluttered perspective, memories to cherish and a decade of happiness.

Comments

comments

88 Thoughts on “The Invisible Wheelchair

  1. This is an absolutely lovely and heart-touching post…. especially when you see people shunning those with physical disability and not treating them as “normal” people, which is just so wrong.

    • Thanks Ash. As much as this country needs Gender sensitization, we need a major sensitization in this area as well. We really need to treat people with disabilities with respect. It is not a disease.

  2. Thank you for hosting me on your blog Rachna. I am immensely happy. Writing a guest post for you was one of a kind of an experience. 🙂
    Thank you very much for making me a part of your space.

  3. totally agree with Ash. Wonderful post. And as a doc, I see so many patients with disabilities.. you should see the inner belief of theirs… that inner strength. I would have given up a lot earlier in life… Even their own relatives tend to distance themselves from the person and make smirking faces behind their backs to me – that annoys me so much at times..
    More often than not, Their heart is golden because they know suffering and the burden they carry.. something their own ‘normal’ relatives dont know.

    • Roshan,
      I have seen such behaviour happning with Rajeev as well. He was very dignified in the way he took it but I knew it saddened him. Thankfully, his whole clan was amazing with him.
      Its not just people but the government too extends its apathy. Our cities and towns are completely ill-equipped to help people with disabilities. Just a small thing like a ramp on footpaths could be such a great help.

  4. We all have our set of disabilities for sure. In fact I often find differently able people more talented, more optimistic and more sensitive. Thank you for hosting Amit, he can pen witty and serious posts with equal felicity.

    • Differently able people are definitely more optimistic and sensitive. They do not take everything for granted like the rest of us.
      Given encouragement, they are actually more capable than the ‘normal’ people.
      Thanks Alka.

  5. A really heart warming post Amit. I am glad that you still have the cloak of invisibility intact. It takes decades for people to even understand than showing sympathy.

    -Jas

  6. I could identify with this post. Having blind students in my college hostel, I was often ashamed of my own prejudices.
    My son was in an integrated school for his LKG and I see that he is so comfortable with children with special needs.

    http://www.bbseacrchingself.wordpress.com

    • Bhagyashree,
      I might have reacted to a disabled person in a different manner had I not met Rajeev. It is a very enriching experience to actually come across a person whose life is so different from yours yet so similar. In that way, your son is really lucky to get this lesson so early in life.

  7. A beautiful and heart warming post, Amit. It is true that we as a society dont know how to treat a person with disability. We need to understand that he is a human being first, he needs the same respect that we’d give to any other person. People like Rajeev would be far more mature and sensible than their age for they have seen and experienced so much. Friendship with such a person would be something to cherish!

    • Thanks Shilpa.
      Yes, Rajeev is as human as any of us and much more mature. He once told me that he can look into a person’s eyes and tell whether he can be friends with him or not. He told me that he knows what pity in someone’s eyes looks like and that person will always treat him like a liability.
      It was a great friendship as long as it lasted and I am thankful for that.

  8. Touching post Amit. Everyone would sympathise with the disabled, but few like you would treat them as ‘normal’ people.

    Seena

  9. Lovely lovely post that warmed the cockles of my heart instantly 🙂

  10. Amit, The story is heart warming and true. When young, I perhaps was also guilty of staring at those with disabilities or wondering about them. But as I grew up, I got some more understanding of disability and the disabled. As a culture, we are so insensitive in so many ways. We do not know how to respond. We don’t know to behave sensitively, and I am so happy that you wrote this post. The most impactful line for me where you wrote about how normal people are much more abnormal and disabled than the physically disabled one. I have the exact same feeling and sometimes frustration in our attitudes and our general lack of sensitivity. A truly lovely post. I feel privileged that you penned it for my blog. I have always admired the rare sensitivity that you possess as a human being! Thank you again!

    • Thank you Rachna for all those nice words. I am really happy that I have found like-minded people in this vast online universe.
      When I worked outside India, I realised how much our country needs to improve to make the lives of diabled people better. We do not have even 5% of the facilities. Add the apathy with which we treat them to it and we have the perfect recipe to make a disabled person feel inferior.
      Just as an example, it was very normal for 4 students to lift Rajeev’s wheelchair to take him to the Chemistry lab because it was made on a raised platform. Why wasn’t a ramp made for him? These are very small things but are immensely helpful.

    • Yes, these things hit you when you live abroad. Even Aamir’s Satyamev Jayate episode raised these pertinent points about providing better facilities for the disabled. We just don’t realize the importance of doing that because we are hardly sensitive to their issues. We’d rather keep them out of sight or confined or make sympathetic noises about them. As a society, there is much to learn culturally for us.

  11. I’m just wondering about the emotions which would have gone through your mind while writing this post.I’m glad at least you wrote about a page from your life.I had a senior whose boyfriend has only on hand.What moved us was that she was never ever ashamed or embarrassed to introduce him to anyone.That was a very big lesson in life.

  12. I would like to share which makes me feel guilty.
    There was a girl named Gayatri, with me during my Higher secondary school days
    Gayatri had Polio. Her right leg was infected, but she could walk without stretcher.She was enrolled in science stream just through some influence or may be sympathy.

    I along with another friend of mine would share a bench with her.
    Gayatri was very good at language subjects but would find difficult to cope up with science subjects. At times i would feel sorry for forcing her into science stream and thought she could have excelled in Art Stream.
    It was difficult for me to help her with her studies, i blame it to myself as i lacked patience to deal with her.When i recollect my school days i someone felt guilty behaving rudely at times with her.
    Your post was a warm reminder and it also it eases my guilt to some extent because my lack of patience towards her was due to her inability to cope up with her study which i felt would have been same with any other normal person.

    • Chaitu,
      Thanks for sharing your experience. I think we are too young at that point of our lives to understand a lot of things. The understanding comes with age or with constant exposure and understanding provided at school and by parents.
      I think it is great that you have realized that the girl would have done much better with more help from you in the right direction.

  13. A sensitive post, Amit. Disability is indeed a hard thing to accept, sometimes by the society and at times by the person suffering from it. Asking for help and being natural about it is also at times hard. I am glad that you had the cloak of invisibility, which not only helped you but him too. Friends do drift apart, but when you have the memories to cherish and nothing bitter to mar it, it is wonderful. Savour it.

    • Thanks Zephyr.
      Oh yes. I saw sadness in his eyes numerous times when he saw people doing things he could never do but he never allowed himself to crumble under that burden. He was very brave in that sense.
      Yes, there was nothing bitter when it ended. We just drifted apart. I did try to find him on Facebook later but we belong to a generation where Facebook was never a necessity to stay alive. 🙂 I couldn’t find him there.

  14. mashedmusings has a new follower in me

  15. I dont know what to say. I have suffered with an invisible disease which never bothered anyone but me. I found wonderful friends who helped me in every possible way without showing any sympathy. I think the world is filled with wonderful people like you who see much beyond these things.
    And thats why the movie Barfi! Was so awesome. It potrayed that the biggest disabilities are those that cannot be seen or touched but felt by the heart. Ego,Jealousy,Hatred…they cripple a person more than anything else.

    • Beautiful words Nisha.
      Yes, that movie was a lesson. It brought back many memories for me. That for me was a perfect love story. I think everyone except Barfi and Jhilmil were disabled in that movie, crippled by their own insecurities.

  16. Superb post…Reminded me of a girl from my school whose left arm ended at the elbow…Your last few words are so very true….Btw, you seemed to have been a wonderful friend…I am sure he must be missing you…May be you should get in touch 🙂

  17. Amit,

    A very relevant post in today’s world. I always say that most of us suffer from biggest disability – EGO and I, Me and Myself attitude. Hope we realize that it is just futile to be that way.

    Take care

    Rachna,

    Thanks for introducing him. I will visit his blogs surely. Take care

  18. Nice post, Amit! Normal is such a vague concept!

  19. this is such a lovely lovely post!! friends drift away but we always cherish the memories of the time spent together. if possible, get in touch with him through facebook, twitter or in person and share your experience of meeting this childhood friend of yours (through a post).

    • Debs, I think we drifted away because we both knew that we have reached the end of our friendship. You just feel it inside that it is time to let go. One fine day, the time between two calls increase from days to weeks to months to years and thats it.
      But yes, I did try to find him on Facebook. He is not there. I will try again. 🙂

  20. Beautiful and touching story of friendship. And, yes, friends are sometimes in our lives only for a season, but we can ever treasure the memories.
    Blessings to you!

  21. What you shared with Rajeev is the purest form of love. One that was sans expectations. Left me misty eyed.

    And like you said, we are all prisoners, fighting demons created by our minds.

  22. Amit, felt a lump in my throat..I almost cried..though I treat physically challenged people with more compassion than not challenged people, I still have a feeling of sympathy..I know it is wrong and they need to be treated as everyone else..don’t know why?? heart melts at their sight..it was a very touching story, Amit. Do search for him, I am sure you will get him.. 🙂

    • Latha,
      I think the last thing disabled people need from us is sympathy. Believe me, they will be much more happy if we treat them as equals. That is what I have learnt from my time with Rajeev. 🙂

  23. A beautiful post…not merely because it was a recount of your friendship with Rajeev but that you bared your heart about the complexities and social conditioning that we have to undo, unravel to be honest and real in those relationships. I remember a fellow doctoral student who was blind and outsmarted me in grasping the most obscure of sociological theories and their application. He presented and he wrote way better. I learnt the hard way to acknowledge him as a fellow student and not a “blind” friend… Kudos to Rachna for hosting such a sweet post on dreary days and to you, Amit for the gentleness you bring to our hearts…

    • Thanks Bhavana.
      It does come as a surprise at times when we see disabled people outsmart us. Rajeev was very good at mathematics and I usually had to understand theorms from him. I wasn’t surprised but a lot of other people were.
      Thanks Bhavana for all the nice words.

    • Thank you Bhavana! The credit goes to Amit for being the sensitive person that he is.

  24. Dear Rachna and Amit:

    This post melted me. Amit, the post speaks a lot about you as a person and I admire you for your nonchalant behaviour with Rajeev. He is indeed lucky, I must say that he met you. I don’t know how I would have conducted myself if in a situation like that of yours. The post also sends out a very poignant message of love and acceptance. Thanks for this post, Amit and thanks Rachna for hosting Amit in your space.

    Now off to Amit’s blog.

    Joy always,
    Susan

  25. I had a lump in my throat. Such a lovely post this was. I admire the way how you conducted yourself with Rajeev. We generally are insensitive to disabled people. Most often we tend to sympathize with physically disabled people.

    You are so right about people drifting away. We might not stay in touch with people but their memories always remain with us.

    • Thanks Metherebel. 🙂
      As I wrote in the comment above, a disabled person does not need our sympathy but only wants us to treat him like any other human being.
      I have drifted away from my share of people. It is usually not a very good feeling but all you have to do is to remember the good times.

  26. Amit, I am truly honoured that I know you if only through the virtual world. The article will stay close to me because of its innate sensibility and also that it rings bells closer home. Blessed is Rajiv to have had such a wonderful, empathetic friend and blessed were you to have had rajiv and all those treasured memories. Thank you Rachna for sharing this 🙂

  27. Nice. I understand the difficulties in relating to a person with disability. There was one such person in my college too and he has driven me around a bit on his vehicle. He was so industrious he actually opted to go to Colombia on exchange. But unfortunately people in company HR also have these prejudices. He was the only one from the batch left without a campus job. Not sure whether he eventually landed a job.

    • Thanks the Fool.
      Rajeev too had his own set of difficulties when he started searching for a job. Most of the times he would be turned back. It was a frustrating time for him. He finally got appointed as a lecturer in a college in Delhi. Thankfully the college authorities were considerate enough to hold his lectures on the ground floor. That is the last bit of information I have of him before I left Delhi for my job.

  28. What a heart-wrenching post, Amit! Felt so nice to read about you and the bond you shared with your friend :). Its so easy to feel sympathetic towards somebody, but what truly defines a person is when he/she is able to empathize and treat others more sensitively as fellow beings. And you’re one such person who is truly defined by that quality. Pleasure to know you :). Hope you are able to get back in touch with your friend sometime soon.

  29. Wonderful post. I work with children with autism: and realised early on that we all have our strengths and our weaknesses. There are some things my pupils could do which I never mastered: some will go to Oxford and Cambridge, despite their difference. The trick is to work together to use all our disparate skills well.

  30. I have seen disability from very close quarters.. it is os sad when sane-able people dont give a thought towards it.

    My father was one, and it used to make me mad when I wud see him climb the stairs to his Govt. office ,

    Bikram’s

    • Bikram,
      I am sorry to hear about what your father went through. Yes, it is sad that various government offices are created with no facilities for the disabled. Proper spacious lifts, ramps, railings etc should be a must. The design of a building must not be approved without that. Also, existing building must be modified accordingly.
      But in our country we do not care about old people, women, children and disabled people. I wonder who do we care about then?

  31. Beautiful post Amit. Very sentimental too. Its like one of those stories with a moral, something that teach you towards the end. One such experience humbled me too and I had posted about it. Here’s the Link. Life’s experiences do have a way of teaching you don’t they? They make us better human beings – for the most part. Teaching us tolerance, humanity, forgiveness, making us more mature through the years, helping us accept that no matter how close friends are, they can drift apart and we should cherish the good times. Thankfully the world is growing more acceptable of people with disabilities and not shunning them. It is such a pathetic state if we were to shun them, if so, we should be the ones ashamed. Its tough as it is, why add more misery to it? It reflects poorly on our evolution as a species! I actually like how developed countries have ramps and stuff to make it easier. The apartment complex we stayed in had many apartments designed for people in wheelchairs – with lower counters, side railings etc.

    Rachna, Great addition to your blog!

    • Thanks Deepa.
      Yes, I believe that the people whom destiny throw at us shape us into how we are. It is an ongoing process till the end of our lives.
      What I saw in the developed nation truly impressed me. Where I lived in UK, all the footpaths had ramps. A lot of old people had their own motorized vehicles which was like a chair on four wheels and could use those footpaths to go to the markets and carry on with their work.
      The buses were fitted with pumps so that it could be inclined to reach ground level to help a disabled or an old person to get in. There were special empty spaces in a bus for prams and wheelchairs. So many small helpful things.

  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. Mental hang-ups which push folks into dastardly crimes are worse than physical handicaps.

  34. What a beautiful tale of friendship! And it’s so well narrated. Kudos to you, Amit. 🙂

    Rachna, thanks for hosting him. I am definitely going to check out his blog. 🙂

  35. Beautiful, heart-touching post, Amit. Brought on some introspection of my own.

  36. A very heart-warming post and sensitive post, Amit. As you rightly say, we all have our own disabilities to deal with!

  37. I’m at a loss for words reading this, Amit. A part of me wishes you could be in touch with Rajeev again if only to tell us what he’s doing now. I know you didn’t mean it to be so but if anything, this post reflects your own sensitive and open heart that made you initially reach out to Rajeev initially. That he didn’t feel he was disabled is a credit to his own spirit and his family too. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story of friendship.

    • Thanks for liking the post Corinne. Well, I did try to find him but unfortunately like me, his name is very common and it is extremely difficult. I am not even sure if he is on Facebook.
      Oh yes. His family was amazing. They acted as a robust support system and never did I once saw them break under any circumstances.

  38. A very touching post from you again!

    When we form such loving bonds with people outside of our family, it is the souls we connect to, their names, families, caste, religion, and even disabilities don’t matter.

  39. Rajeev had visible disability.
    Worry is about those sick minds who have never known friendship is all about.
    It is their invisible disability is the problem

  40. This is such a lovely lovely post. I just had to read it again. We as humans have so many mental blocks! Like the above comment, we always see the visible disablity. We all should really be opening our minds a little bit more and see the real person behind this humna body facade! Totally loved it! And this is one friendship to cherish for life!

    • Thanks for liking the post Jenny.
      You are right. our physicality is over-rated. There is much more to a human than how he appears.

  41. very moving. It is just a matter of perspective as to who is normal. We are dealing with some kind of disability in our own ways. great write!

  42. very touching post .. either you can be normal or you follow the society ..

    we all have our own weaknesses even if we are not physically weak .. it’s just the matter of how we take it and still make best out of it ..

    i believe every person’s weakness should give that person strength to fight and prove oneself that no matter what the circumstances are, one must keep fighting!

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