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.