Of Humor, Finding Silver Linings, and Perseverance
On the morning of 1 November 2020, I got introduced to a group of Indians who were united through one another’s work – work that was strongly rooted in disability and inclusion. For being chosen as an Inclusion Fellow for 2020 by the India Inclusion Foundation (IIF) over the next year, I am going to spend many hours exchanging my work and ideas with other Indians who are working in related areas. Now as I sit and reflect upon the first time I met the IIF team, albeit virtually, I realize that everyone who meets the team members within India’s inclusion movement becomes a part of their joyful ecosystem. Being the typical complaining student who hates early morning classes, I was determined to disrupt the meet-and-greet session with sarcastic comments on the meeting hours. And then in comes Ferose, IIF’s Founder, who was up at 5 a.m. in California to meet with us for the induction session. As the meet and greet progressed, I realized how many Indians from all over the world are everyday learning and sharing their passion to make the world an equitably accessible place where people of every ability are appreciated and celebrated.
Oftentimes, induction sessions into training programs and workshops are boring and monotonous. Here, however, at IIF’s induction session, the set-up was designed to keep everyone engaged throughout. As we began exchanging our views and stories, Pavithra YS, Founder of Vindhya e-Infomedia and Co-Founder of IIF, joined the call and from that point on everything was a laugh riot and every interaction was like meeting loving family members whom you have not met in a long time. Further, as Arun Sreekumar introduced us to the concept of The Tao guiding IIF’s work and why logos and egos are given no importance, one thing became clear to me: IIF is focused on championing persons with disabilities to become fully participative members of all communities they live in, while ensuring that their voices are heard and amplified.
To stare into the face of adversity and to persevere takes a different kind of strength and resilience. For anyone who has not yet heard of Dr Malvika Iyer’s story as a Nari Shakti Puraskar awardee and an international disability rights activist, she is a trailblazer and bundle of joy whom anyone would wish to be around. This past week, as a Fellow of The Inclusion Fellowship 2020, I had the honor of getting to know her closely. More than the story behind how she acquired the disability, it is her manner of embracing the identity that was thrust upon her life that has left a lasting impression on my mind. In the short time that we interacted with her, she shared with us how she learnt to look for a silver lining in every challenging experience while holding humor as a close companion. While talking about her own life experiences as a teenager learning to accept her disability, traversing the life of becoming a young adult who managed higher education while also advocating for disability rights, Malvika, as she prefers to be addressed, brought forth an important message for us all to consider strongly – that it was okay to be vulnerable, that it was perfectly fine to ask for help and to not turn our backs on mental healthcare and self-preservation.
What I learnt from interacting with Malvika was that as a disability rights advocate she draws her strength from the entire ecosystem that surrounds her. With a lot of gratitude, she values her interactions within the communities where she works; she appreciates the tiny things that life tosses her way, and she is always excited to learn.
Sharing with us her recent victory of being able to walk for ten minutes in a pain free state, and the joy she has experienced because of physical activity, Malvika reaffirmed my hope about more Indians with disabilities considering movement and physical activity as healthy lifelong habits. By sharing her “small-big” victory of walking pain-free on Twitter, she did what many of us usually hesitate to do: let our guard down and tell the world that we are facing a problem and that we are working on finding a solution. Telling the world that we have won a challenge that we face just by ourselves, and that it is a challenge that no one outside our bodies will understand is a sign of courage we often don’t applaud. As someone who works to improve sport and physical activity opportunities for Indians with disabilities, I urged her to share more of her physical activity pursuits on her social media platforms as it may encourage more Indians with disabilities to consider emulating her. To my surprise she readily accepted the suggestion. I am thrilled to know that we have Malvika’s support to promote fitness and movement which can ignite the minds of thousands of Indians to the thought that “Everyone is good at something”. Thank you Malvika for reminding me to embrace humor more often and to persevere through my challenges while always looking for a silver lining, because there is always one!
Padmini Chennapragada, MS
Disability Sport Researcher, India
@Jussri | #AdaptedSportsIndia