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My thoughts on IIS: Sudha Menon

Often times when my mind is weary , when my morale is low and I tend to wallow in self pity, I think of the countless number of gifted men and women who I meet every year at the India Inclusion Summit. These are no ordinary people like you and me but folks who came to this earth with varying degrees of disability that initially left them vulnerable to the injuries of mind and body that the world  inflicts on those who don’t “belong”. What I am completely blown away by is their amazing resilience and grit in the face of challenges and their singularly courageous journey to find their extraordinary selves.

When life lands you a lemon, make lemonade and share it with the world, seems to be the axiom of most of the people with disability who converge in Bangalore every November for an entire day of celebrating their uniqueness and their many achievements. Over the last 3 times that I have been there, I have had a ringside view of the many talents and the qualities that they have that can teach many of us supposedly “normal” people a thing or two about living life to the fullest. Last November, I remember having an early breakfast meeting with Deepa Malik, eating toast and sipping ginger tea as I sat fascinated, listening to her stories of the many challenges she faced as she struggled to reclaim a life after being left immobilized and bound to a wheel chair. “There is nothing that I cannot do,” she said to me during the course of that meeting and for a moment, I must confess, I thought that an arrogant and vain comment.  Deepa Malik went on to prove herself right earlier this month when she brought so much pride to the country with her cherished Olympic medal. And as for me, it taught me to be less judgemental of people and to believe in the power of what a determined human being can do.

Over the years I have met some wonderful people and made great friendships at the IIS and from each of them I have learnt all about living life in the present, being around for other people, living a positive life, pushing myself out of my comfort zone and unearthing the extraordinary in me. And for all of this I have to thank my dear friend and co-author, V.R.Ferose who introduced me to the unique and gifted world of people with disability.

The history of catalyzing change has largely been the story of one man’s dream that has caught the imagination of people around him and gone on to become a movement. The India Inclusion Summit is one such story of a lone man — V.R. Ferose, Senior Vice President and Head of Globalization Service for SAP AG — who dreamt of a more equitable world for people with disability a few years ago and has slowly taken that dream to its logical conclusion through the high-profile India Inclusion summit.

Unlike other conferences and think tanks that engage in endless discussions and brain storming sessions, this is a summit with a difference. Here there are no depressing stories of deprivation and misery but there is  plenty of celebration of the inspirational journeys of people with disabilities. Such as that of Navin Gulia whose career in the Indian Army was cruelly cut short after an accident left him wheel chair bound. Gulia never let that put the brakes on him and is today an adventure seeker, writer and social activist. Or Champion of champions, Malathy Holla, who was crippled by polio but won hundreds of medals for the country in sporting events all over the world. During the day Holla is now General Manager in a bank but in the evening she is “mother” to scores of underprivileged children with disability who she has adopted and raises in a home that she has built for them in Bangalore. Holla’s Mathru foundation keeps her busy in the evenings when she sets out to raise funds from generous patrons whose money helps her give her kids a life full of experiences, be it education, sport, art or travel.

When he started the summit he was the managing director of SAP Labs in India and one of the country’s much-admired young leaders under 40. But says this young leader who is himself a father to a five-year old son with autism, the lessons he has learnt from his friends with disability — including his little boy — are far more impactful than

Ferose, meanwhile, says his dream is to create the world’s largest platform that fosters diversity and inclusion in society and inspire 10 million lives in the journey of inclusion by 2020.

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