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.
Then one day I decided to step out and talk about what happened to me, to speak my fears. I learned that going out and talking to people gives you that amazing strength and courage to move on. And I think that’s what it gave me and thus I began my journey as a speaker.
I once read somewhere that a measure of one’s success is the degree of positive influence that you have on someone else’s life as well as your own. I immediately recollected the mails I had received from people. They used to write to me saying that they had stopped complaining, that they stopped blaming, that they started hoping, they started living.
That to me was my proudest moment ever. As Scott Hamilton rightly said, the only disability in life is a bad attitude. So going by this definition I don’t think I have a disability. I feel this is my superpower.
My legs still hurt when I walk and I have to really convince my mind that I have to take those extra steps, I have to walk because I have to continue whatever I am doing. But that’s not all.
When I was bedridden in the hospital, one day the doctors declared that this girl is never going to be able to walk again. But was I to believe them? Never.
I walked the ramp last year in a showstopper gown to promote accessibility and fashion. So why should fashion be only for the so-called normal people, why not for differently-abled as well? So that was the whole campaign and they designed these lovely gowns; one was a beautiful Maharani pink and red gown and the other was a Spanish frill gown and it was accessible so that I could wear it on my own, because how many shops you go and you can just say that I am someone with artificial hands and I need to buy a gown. I have never really seen a place like that.
So this is what I am advocating for fashion and accessibility. So this is for people — by fashion is for everyone, everyone wants to look good. So it really does not matter whether you have a perfect body or whether you have — it’s your definition, what is perfect, it is all your definition.
The accident was a terrible experience but sometimes I thank God it happened because I don’t think my life would have been as incredible as it is today.
Wherever you are, accept yourself and move on from there. I believe it is the why questions that kill people from inside. If I had started questioning why this accident happened to me, why me, why I had to go through all this, I would probably have spent my life chasing these questions in vain.
The moment you accept yourself what has happened to you, I believe the road ahead opens up, the fog clears, and it’s a beautiful journey from there on – places, people and events, enhance, enlighten and enthrall you.
So never give up. Why should you give up? I believe I have reasons to give up everyday. Even now it was a strenuous task to walk. Every day is a challenge, every day I know big or small is that everyday you all face challenges but why give up.
Walk into that uncharted territory with your head held high and a heart full of joy. I believe that we are all gifted with that spirit and that spirit is what we should always always nurture, always always cherish.
Some people’s life seem to flow in a narrative. Mine had many stops and starts. That is what trauma does. It interrupts the plot. You can’t process it because it doesn’t fit with what came before or what comes afterwards. It just happens and then life goes on. No one prepares you for it. You just live.