Full transcript of social worker Malvika Iyer’s TEDx Talk: The Only Disability in Life is a Bad Attitude @ TEDxIIMKozhikode conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: The only Disability in life is a bad attitude by Malvika Iyer @ TEDxIIMKozhikode
Malvika Iyer – Social worker
Start now! Start where you are. Start with fear. Start with pain. Start with doubt. Start with hands shaking. Start with voice trembling. But start!
Start with what you have. Start and never stop. Because you never know what you are made of until you’re tested.
On a warm summer afternoon in 2002, a deafening sound completely knocked me out. Yes, I survived a freak bomb blast. It was caused by a fire in an ammunition depot.
I was 13 years old at that time. The explosion had ripped my hands off, but more than the damage to my hands, there was a lot of damage to my legs.
For three months, my legs were cut open. There were splinters everywhere and they needed to be cleaned every day. So every day dressing — it was a gory sight. The pain was excruciating.
I had nerve paralysis in my right leg and hypoesthesia which is loss of sensation in my left leg. The emotional trauma of accepting the loss of both my hands and the disfiguration of both my legs, and the fact that I have to accept and have to live with this kind of bodily limitation was extreme.
As a child, I edged in extracurricular activities. I was a trained Kathak dancer, in fact. But there I was bedridden in the hospital, hoping against hope that I would somehow come out of the trauma.
One day, on the hospital bed, I thought to myself: reality may not be what you want it to be, but it is the reality you must now face. You can deny this reality and try to wish it away, or you can accept it and not waste any time wanting it to be any different.
So that night on the hospital bed, I thought to myself that I had only two choices from there: fight and I will survive; surrender and I will be wiped out. I decided to fight.
My wounds refused to heal but I did. I was bedridden and all my classmates, everyone had started preparing for their 10th board examinations, and I thought to myself that why not give it a thought.
I knew that no school would admit me with this three months to go for the board exams but I was determined that I had to write. I did not want to waste any year. I was just determined to write the exams. I prepared and prepared and on crutches I wrote my exams with the help of a writer.
Three months of preparation, learning mathematics, learning diagrams, dictating calculus, dictating extreme biology diagrams, it was a challenge. It was a very big challenge. But I wanted to do it. And I did it.
The day my result came, I think it was a life-changing moment. I was one among the state toppers. I also scored a centum in maths and science and I think that probably — that result — I mean I still look back to that moment, that result completely changed my life. But I didn’t know that the writer was also so intelligent.
So my achievements were covered in a lot of newspapers and Dr. Kalam, the then president read about me and invited me to Rashtrapati Bhavan. It was a divine moment to meet him to receive appreciation from him. He congratulated me, he asked about my future plans and he said that he is amazed that such a small — I was a teenager and you know at that age you have such high spirits, and he congratulated me and he wished me that you must go very far from here.
I took that. I took all of the encouragement he gave me and I wanted to strive for the best. I decided to do my graduation in St. Stephen’s. I pursued a graduation degree in economics and then I continued to do my masters in Delhi School of Social Work.
When I was doing my Master’s, I worked with a lot of differently abled children, especially a lot of children. And that’s when I realized that each one is so unique in their kind. They have such amazing — they have such amazing capability, such amazing talent and it has to be seen. This is the way I was included. This is the way someone found out that what I am built of they also needed someone was there — someone had to find out what they were made of.
And that’s when I realized that it is my time to give back. What I received it’s my time to give it back. So this is how the healing happened. But I think this would have been incomplete without the strength and the support of my mother, who is a pillar of strength. She’s been like a shadow throughout never giving up on me and always in for any adventure no matter what she’s always saying yes.
And I had a lot of support of my family and friends and I believe that — they never let me down and I feel that that was the biggest — that was the biggest gift they could ever give me.
I really struggled to reach where I am today. I never planned any of it. I didn’t know that this is how my life is going to be, or this is how I am going to — this is what is going to become of me. Nobody knew.
I decided to only focus on my studies and just take one day at a time. I still remember when I was just pursuing my 10th standard, the biggest challenge at that time was to be able to climb staircase. So it has really taken me a long way.
I have also felt that this accident took away a lot from me. It took my ability to walk. It took my ability to do a lot of things with my hands. I mean if you all close your hands, both your hands and clench it in a tight fist, like how you punch someone, both your hands, that is my reality.
I mean imagine doing — imagine writing with it. Imagine holding a spoon with it. Imagine applying a Kajal with it. Everything. So that was my reality. I didn’t know that I was ever going to be able to do something but here I am and I have always believed that there is an invisible thread that connects us to what we are destined to achieve.
The thread may sometimes tangle, it may even stretch but it never breaks. I feel that this accident has given me a second life. I lost 80% blood. I was going to die that day. My doctors had told that I had lost — my BP was zero and it was just a gory sight but I just loved how my life has turned out to be.
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 always focused into a competition to become most beautiful. You have to look your best at all times. Fairness products, perfect makeups, everything but I have learned to accept myself and be happy in a society like this.
But I do remember that when I was in college I tried to camouflage my disability. I tried to wear full sleeves. I tried to shy away from shaking hands and then I realized that what am I doing, this is not my reality. This is not — if I am just trying to be too normal and what is normal, what is the definition of normal, who defines normal actually – I just knew that this was not helping me to trying to be someone who I was not.