Full transcript of social worker Malvika Iyer’s TEDx Talk: The Only Disability in Life is a Bad Attitude @ TEDxIIMKozhikode conference. To learn more about the speaker, read the bio here.
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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.