Can a disaster that no one wants turn victims into villains?
An evil scientist has released a dangerous virus inside an aircraft mid-air. All are infected; many die.
Would you let that aircraft land in your country?
If you are a passenger, would you want to land?
Would you choose to be safe or want to save?
Would you describe those who deployed fighter jets to force the plane out of their country as selfish?
When you force a child to join the section of the aircraft meant for the infected because you have spotted a rash on her hand, whom are you saving?
Why is it that those safe on the ground and those dying in the air have the same question—if the plane lands, can we live?
Can humanity draw hope from the captain’s announcement before he broke all communications?
“All of us aboard this plane have decided not to land. We know what the people on the ground are scared of. We don’t resent them. It’s just that we were caught in a disaster that none of us wanted.
“We are weak and frightened humans. But because we are humans, there are things that only we can do. Now, we intend to make a decision for everyone’s sake. This decision is not to give into this disaster, and to make an honorable choice with our humanity.
“Therefore, we won’t land. For the last time, we send our love to all our families."
These are not meant to be spoilers. These are just some of the questions that came to my mind after watching the Korean movie, Emergency Declaration on Amazon Prime.
I am no expert, but this movie may not be perfect. If you decide to watch it, do not let the telling distract you from the story … and the questions it raises.
Images: From the movie, Emergency Declaration.
The fish swam at ease
Letting the ripples pass
The grass swayed
In pace with the wind
Pebbles and rocks, big and small
Lounged lazily along the shore
The mountains stretched
Unmoving, in green hues
Above all, the clouds
Were pristine white
None knew boundaries
Who made divisions
Yours, mine, they, us
Reducing mountains to buildings
Of the Cicadas’ shrill warnings
Maybe nature finds it best
To let man be
While she waits
Until they wake up
And return, chastened
To her embrace.
There is a lizard on the other side of the pale curtain. It seems happy just holding on as the curtain sways.
The old clock ticks on, loud and relentless. The sound fills every gap in the banter and laughter.
He is at the head of the dining table, most convenient to reach on his wheelchair.
“Why don’t you make some tea?” he tells the maid. She is more than a maid. She was the chief help even when his wife was around. She took over as his prime caregiver after the wife’s death and an accident confined him to the wheelchair.
A doctor who has come from a distant city checks him out. He obeys the gentle instructions. Raises his hands. Tentatively at first, grimacing at the pain. As the pain eases, a smile breaks through his white moustache and beard. As the testing and relieving continues, there is unceasing chatter, a lot of good-natured teasing between the patient and the doctor.
The wheelchair handler is called in to understand the doctor’s instructions. Soak his legs in hot water before he goes to bed. As hot as, and as long as he can bear.
As the doctor departs, so does the delivery guy from a grocer, who had been inside, stacking up stuff.
The old man puts down his cup and resumes the story he was telling. Another trip down memory lane. Like the sun filtering through the leaves in a gentle breeze, dates and names are now bright, now in shadow.
The maid signals the guests not to make him talk until he finishes the tea. Else he would again forget to sip. Again, she would have to reheat.
He tells her to shut up and go away. She does just that. Keeping an eye on him but away from his eyes. She takes her time to respond and come to him when he calls her again. There is no malice. He is smiling. So is she, despite the sulk mask.
No one who has interacted with him so far is related to him. Yet everyone around in the community is his family, tightly bound.
By ownership, he ought to be alone in that grand old house. Someone or the other, from near and far, always ensures he is not.
He is wheeled out, shouting out instructions for yet another get-together in the evening. The dogs waiting outside can barely contain their jumps and wags of glee.
The clock ticks on as if urging the lizard to get a move on. It remains where it was.
Tomorrow, more will come. So will more laughter.
These days there are so many World Days. Insert a word between World and Day and there! Not all those days matter to all. Except for some. Like today.
Today, October 8, 2022, is World Hospice and Palliative Care Day.
Palliative care is the branch of medicine that is about care beyond cure. It helps one live in pain-free comfort, with dignity, until death. And offers solace to the family that must live through the dying and beyond.
That may make more sense if you or someone dear to you is suffering. Or is dying. When the only hope left is for some quality of life (some peace, no pain, sufficient comfort, dignity retained) until life breathes. Quality of life is something that matters to all of us in every stage of life. Most so in the last stage.
I am fortunate to have two friends in professions that work to provide quality of life in different ways. Dr Priyadarshini Kulkarni is a palliative medicine specialist and the founder of Ease and Comfort. Lovaii Navlakhi is a certified financial planner and transitionist, and the founder of International Money Matters.
What has money got to do with palliative care? Or with quality of life when you are in no position to earn?
We will let them answer.
Dr Priyadarshini Kulkarni
“I know a family that has just two aging parents at home. They have multiple problems and are totally dependent on others for every little thing. They prefer to be at home. Among an array of people employed to help them is one person whose only job is to be with them and keep an eye on them. This person has no training as a caregiver. Yet, this help alone is costing them more than ₹50,000 every month. Imagine the total spend! How many families can afford that?”
“When we think money, we tend to focus on the quantity. The more we have, the happier we feel. I think what is more important is what your money is doing for you. Is the quantity of money you have giving you the quality of life you want? That is why responsible financial advisors first understand what you want to do in life, before working out the most prudent way to invest your money to help you reach those life goals.”
“Treatment of a major disease like cancer will drain a lot of money. As dementia progresses there will be an increasing need for constant care. It is not always about palliative or end-of-life care. As life expectancy lengthens, as more and more families turn nuclear, there is also an increasing need for independent, geriatric care. It is a long wait. That does not come cheap.”
“Insurance is important, but your health insurance policy may stop supporting you after a certain age. Your best bet when you grow old is your younger self, what your younger self wisely put away all those years ago.”
"In most cases, the role of palliative care is to ease pain and provide comfort. But what often hurts the most is the loss of dignity. There was a very successful entrepreneur, who was once the king of his domain. He was now helpless, terminal. He wanted to know if it was possible for me to speed up the end. What was unbearable for him was to have his wife and daughter-in-law, the only family he had at home, take complete care of him as he just lay there. He did not want to be at the mercy of others. The problem was solved by handing over all care to medical professionals. Fortunately, the family could afford that. How many of us can?”
“Parents are so eager to educate their children, get them married and set up a home for them that they start saving right from the time their child a born. What they forget is to provide for themselves. By the time they realize that, it is too late because the cost of care is always rising. They end up being what they never wanted to be—a burden on their children.”
Quality of life can mean different things to different people. Even for the same person, it can mean different things at different times as life goes through its inevitable phases and transitions.
We do not want to talk of death. Nor are we comfortable talking about money with family. We cannot escape either, death or money. Between the two, why not plan the reality that we have more control over—money?
Palliative care helps you live as well as possible until you die. And it preserves dignity by respecting one’s life till the end. Financial planning can facilitate this, for oneself and for others.
Maybe it is time for a couple of name changes. Let’s change financial planning to life quality planning. And let us celebrate today as World Quality of Life Day.
It is a long ride from the airport. The urban clutter and concrete begin to give way to frequent trees and occasional teashop isles.
Conversation keeps us both awake. He is happy to talk about his family (“my daughter will finish high school this year”) and point to some landmarks on the way (“this is where I used to work before I became a driver”).
Then we reach a road that is particularly scenic. Trees on both sides and vast green fields beyond. No other vehicle in sight. Beautiful! Peaceful!
I suggest, “Let us stop here for some time.” There is no response. He seems preoccupied, a little worried even. I suspect he has even speeded up a bit.
Soon, we are at the hotel. I invite him to join me for lunch. Reluctantly he does.
As we eat, he explains. “From where you come, that road must have looked beautiful. Here, such roads can be dangerous. Suddenly, five or six people would emerge from the tall grass or from behind a tree. That would have been the end of both of us. It is so common here. Nobody can do anything.”
That explanation brings me back to reality. I am not here for sightseeing. I had insisted on meeting some of the beneficiaries of my client before penning a script for them. They had developed an app to help the poor (underprivileged in corporate-speak) invest and borrow.
The driver is grateful for the lunch and the small tip. “I will buy something to take home. And don’t worry, I won’t be taking that road when I return.”
No, he has not heard of that app. He thinks it is a joke. How can his mobile become his bank?
Meet the market
A local representative of the client arrives later. He takes me to a village that can be accessed only on foot.
Alarmed by the warm welcome accorded to “the one who has come from the city”, I request the representative to please not bother with the introductions. I am here just to watch you at work. I am not a special guest. Please ignore me.
The meeting is about to start. Several women arrive, some of them carrying children. Most have their head and face covered. The men are at work or simply prefer to leave unproductive tasks like banking and technology to the women, so I would learn later.
I try to blend into the background. Not easy when you are the only one sitting on a chair. (Someone had procured it after seeing me struggle to fold my noncompliant legs, while bravely trying to sit on the floor, like the rest of them.)
A dog comes close enough to confirm this stranger is harmless. The cows and buffaloes on either side can’t care less.
The meeting progresses. Gradually I become friends with the accent. I notice something strange. The participants are all looking at me as they talk. Sitting right in front of them are two company people whom they already know well. They are here with mobiles and registers to ensure everything is in order. And the customers are looking at me, why?
Soon the answer is clear. I am the only one who is meeting their eyes and nodding sympathetically (“my son just wouldn’t go to school; we will need another loan soon; we took it all the way to the market but did not get a good price for our harvest”). The company guys are just too focused on their mobile screens, struggling with the poor mobile coverage in the area, ensuring their app captures all information right. They simply cannot afford to look up, meet eyes and chat.
Conversations with customers
Meeting over, we are in the car again, headed to the next location. We stop at a small teashop on the way. Everyone seems to know my companions. But some of them also appear to be wary of the two.
“Many of them were swindled in the past and lost a lot of money. After that they don't easily trust banks. And definitely not a bank inside a mobile,” my friend whispers a quick explanation.
The owner of the teashop is not laughing. He had kept the previous week’s earnings in a bag in the shop. Last night, a rat had chewed through the bag and some of the money.
“I keep telling you, open a bank account and deposit the money there,” advises my friend.
“And lose all of it?” the shopkeeper replies curtly. Obviously, he is not likely to be a client ever.
I am again at the receiving end of questions and comments after the meeting concludes at the next location.
“Some woman from their company talks to me on the phone. I don’t understand her. She does not understand me. Is she for real? Someone told me she is a machine. Is it safe to talk to a machine about my money?”
“Last time we trusted a mobile scheme, we lost all our money. Now, I don’t give my thumb print to anyone.”
“They keep advising us to save. How can we when we don’t have any money? The little money we have we use to repay the last loan. Then we take a fresh loan.”
“For these women, it is easier to take a loan. They try to save, their husbands come, beat them up and take away all the money. At least the money is safer inside the mobile.”
Back to urban tech
I am back the client’s office in the city. They are gearing up for a twin celebration. They have got a fresh round of funding, a few more millions. During the party, they also plan to unveil their new user interface.
I am taken on a tour of the sprawling office. My guide spends extra time at the tech section where all the programmers sit. As they tell me about the finer aspects of the cutting-edge software, I realize there is a lot that I need to learn.
What defines success in their domain? How do they manage to tame fickle technology so that they can prosper by supposedly helping someone managing the cows far, far away also prosper?
As we go to the next section, I cannot help wishing that some of those tech wizards most of whom had not bothered to look up from their monitors during the hour I was there, would abandon their machines and go. Go to some of the villages they are working hard to transform, to enrich.
Go there. Just be there, watch and listen. Understand their simple code of life. Then get back to your complex coding to help everyone.
Executive search firms are warning that companies persisting with a five-day work week may have to do with “leftover talent” as candidates may refuse to join or leave soon after.
Do we blame that virus again for this? Have all of us been spoilt by the commute-free experience of working from home?
When the WFH-WFO debate first hit the headlines, the virus villain was not part of the vocabulary at all. Instead, it was Marissa Mayer, the then new CEO of Yahoo who had garnered all the hits for abolishing the company’s work-at-home policy and ordering everyone to get back to the office.
Then, as now, what the headlines have missed is that I have been at home and productively working for more than a quarter century.
Then, as now, what really matters is not your location but if you feel at home where you work.
Home, work home
In my early days, entrepreneurship was a euphemism for glorious, uncertain, nail-biting unemployment. I would often land up in the office (he had one!) of a friend. I would pretend to have just come from a client meeting; he would pretend to be rushing off to another. After both of us got comfortable enough to shed our masks, the first question he asked was, “How do you manage to stay awake at home? I could never bring myself to leave the bed. That is why I splurged on this *&%#$ office.”
A young manager once sat me down to have a chat. When I told him I was not a management graduate, he looked at me as if I had just crawled out of the coffee vending machine. Just to make him comfortable, I assured him I came to office only two days a week, that too for a few hours. “It is just not professional,” he burst out.
My job of writing used to place me in offices full of interesting people for several hours a week. They are rarely so accommodating today. But I am fortunate to be still working with some very intelligent people (some of them are so good they reject my work and then offer tea to make me feel better).
I must understand all dimensions of an issue before I can attempt to resolve it for my client through my writing. That conversation used to happen in the office or, more commonly, in the conference room. Now, we meet on the monitor.
As for the actual writing, I have always done it at home. Which means I have always spent more hours at home than in various offices. Which makes the housemaid throw deadly looks at the leech shamelessly living off his poor wife, who must trudge to work every day to keep the family alive and pay the servant’s salary.
John Sullivan thinks I have the mix right. That old New York Times report about the Yahoo missive quotes this professor of management at San Francisco State University, who runs a human resource advisory firm. “If you want innovation, then you need interaction,” he said. “If you want productivity, then you want people working from home.”
Now you know what I mean when I insist I am “innovatively productive”.
Susan Cain writes in her book Quiet what collaboration meant for Steve Wozniak, the co-creator of Apple: “The ability to share a donut and a brainwave with his laid-back, nonjudgmental, poorly dressed colleagues—who minded not a whit when he disappeared into his cubicle to get the real work done.”
No client has yet shared a donut with me. They have been generous with the brainwaves, though. I lug it all and disappear into my cubicle—my home.
In the same book, Susan Cain talks about Pixar Animation Studios, where “the sixteen-acre campus is built around a football-field-sized atrium housing mailboxes, a cafeteria, and even bathrooms. The idea is to encourage as many casual, chance encounters as possible. At the same time, employees are encouraged to make their individual offices, cubicles, desks, and work areas their own and to decorate them as they wish.”
So, it is about creating little spaces where you feel “at home” in the office. That is exactly what I have been saying. You need a prudent mix of efficient home and homely office for optimum productivity.
Be anywhere, but work
I recently shared this idea with an entrepreneur, making it sound as if I had thought about it all by myself, well before time, even before the virus.
This company was among the many hit hard by work-from-home while their customers all seemed to have gone home.
When the skies cleared a bit, they experimented with a smiling come-to-work-when-you-can, later switching to a growling you-better-show-up-or-else. They went on to lose a bunch of people. Now they use work-from-anywhere-but-please-work-for-us as their prime recruitment strategy.
That reminds me. I have to prepare a presentation for them. I will start on that as soon as I finish chopping the vegetables. Ever since my wife restarted going to work, our maid has adopted a may-come-may-work strategy.
Before she could reach the toilet, Dadi soiled herself. With great difficulty, ignoring her protesting joints and constant fear of falling, she cleaned it up.
She did not want to wait for her servant to discover the mess she had made. Her servant scolded her loudly, especially when Dadi's son was not at home. She did not want her servant to abandon her. Dadi was so dependent on her servant for everything.
In Rani’s case, she was the servant, and she was the one who had been abandoned.
Dadi's news reminded me of Rani's story that I had heard some years ago.
Rani was 11 or 12 when an earthquake destroyed her home and family in a small town in north India. One year later, after he collected the earthquake relief money from the government, her uncle, the only other survivor, kicked her out.
Rani landed in Mumbai, where the people of the big city and their ways made her uncomfortable. Finally, she reached Pune and found employment with a family.
She became the full-time caretaker to the old woman of the house. They forged an affectionate bond. The old woman promised Rani better days and a better living. Rani’s prime years passed her by as she lived for her dreams.
Many years later, the old woman died. And Rani was back on the streets.
From street to destitute
She found a job at a school. After some years, she started working at the home of the head of the school.
When her bleeding and the pain in the abdomen did not ease, her employer took her to a government hospital. The diagnosis: cancer of the cervix, malignant and very advanced.
Her employer then brought her to what Rani thought was another hospital. At the time of admission, she reassured her employer, “I will come back and work as soon as I get better.” Her employer snapped back, “I never want you to come back.”
The palliative care centre admitted Rani as a destitute.
Finally, living her life
As the pain subsided and she started feeling better, Rani did not know how to deal with the attention she was getting. The nurse often found her sleeping on the floor at night. “The bed makes me feel like a queen. I am more comfortable here.”
Now that she had a new family, Rani suddenly became a child and started making fancy demands. Vada pav, puri bhaji, lassi and Coca Cola were among her favourites. “And please don’t get those from the canteen, buy it from outside.”
The raging cancer would not let her keep anything down. One bite and she would throw up. One sip, and she would apologetically close the bottle and keep it away, to try again later.
“No more fancy food; just eat what we give you,” the nurse said in mock anger. Rani laughed; the nurse helplessly joined in.
The attendant gave her a bath, combed her sparse hair, and tied it into a thin bun. The security guard came with a flower. Would it look nice on her hair?
One night, Rani died peacefully. She was 70.
Gone, troubling none
The employer sounded relieved on hearing of the death and reaffirmed that the institution was free to do what they thought fit.
The institution had a signed document that authorized them to do what they felt right with the destitute before and after her death. The police had endorsed the document.
The crematorium got a copy of the document too, along with the death certificate and a copy of the driver’s license of the person who took the body there.
They all took care to make sure they would not be in trouble later.
As for Rani, after some 50 years of serving others and 20 days of living for herself, she did not care anymore.
Rani was not her real name. And very few know Dadi's name. Everything else above is the truth. For Rani then as for Dadi now, every day that they do not cause trouble for others and get scolded, is precious. Those are the days they experience a little love and dignity and forget they are no longer useful to others.
“Have you even had sex yet?” my professor asked me, shocking me into silence. There was a sudden hush around us.
We were at a café just below the bank where I worked. And in that office, that very morning, my boss had advised me to reconsider my decision to quit. “You must remain constantly bored and frustrated. Only then will you do very well at your hobby. You need to keep this job to be a better writer.”
The professor had surprised me by dropping in “just to see you busy at work.” He looked amused as he watched me busily stamping countless documents, stapling the papers the typist passed on to me and fetching files. My boss kindly gave me permission to step out of the office to have coffee with the professor. “But don’t take too long. People may need files.”
The professor was the one who had discovered the writer in me during my final year in college. And he took the trouble to stay in touch after I graduated, reading and commenting on every masterpiece (so I thought) I wrote and snail-mailed him.
We had barely sat at a table when he pulled out a familiar looking piece of paper from his bag. It was the poem I had sent him last. I was secretly proud of that scathing commentary on the state of the nation, with lines like “blood of our rapes flowing on the streets.” That was precisely the line he had read out before asking the question that had silenced all conversations in the vicinity: “Have you even had sex yet? And you write of rape and blood.”
"Write about what you have experienced," he advised. “I am not asking you to go around raping and murdering. Write from within. You have the potential to be a writer. That does not mean you can pass judgement sitting on a pedestal. Experience life. Meet people. I am glad you are leaving the bank. Don’t give up writing. Write honest.”
I have forgotten whether we had tea or coffee. But that meeting came back in painful detail when I recently read the warning, “turning play into work can really dull the joy.” Should I have listened to my bank boss 40 years ago?
Hobby's journey to job
A course in journalism and a stint in a newspaper told me that being a writer was not the same as being a journalist. In fact, the day I joined after chucking my bank job, the Chief Reporter put a fatherly hand across my shoulder and said, “You look like an intelligent boy. How could you make this mistake?”
Then came the job in corporate communications. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk to everyone from the worker to the director for the newsletter. Everyone applauded every issue, my creation! Except my boss. Until the day he exploded when I got someone’s name wrong and discovered it after the issue was printed.
“You think you are a great writer? Hah! You can’t even get the basics right!” The writer took two steps back; the employee responsible for carefully and correctly projecting the company’s image stepped up.
The tie was the memorable aspect of the job that followed—with a PR agency. I do not remember doing much beyond scanning newspapers, sending clippings to clients and writing endless press notes. It was a struggle to knot the tie correctly in the cab on my way to the next client meeting, especially when it was a short ride.
I got rid of that tie and left the job soon. I felt very brave and liberated when I decided to be an independent writer. It didn’t take long to miss the regular salary flow. God! When did everything get so expensive!
“You mean to say you sit at home, write and people pay you?” my mother asked. “Why don’t you admit you don’t have a job? Your father is not there now, and you have your own family to look after,” she sighed. She was probably wondering where she had gone wrong in my upbringing.
“My father was doubtful if an editor would be able to support me, when I chose you,” my wife confessed. It didn’t help that my first son had already started school and another child was on the way when my wife decided to pluck that material memory from yonder.
Many hats, same head
The tie went away for good but I did end up wearing many hats—copywriter, scriptwriter, medical writer, technical writer, web writer, storyteller, coach. Until I was commoditized as a content writer more recently.
Were there any lessons that could be bulletized on LinkedIn?
Maybe it started with my professor, but the lessons have not stopped coming.
“Your sentences are long. Very boring.”
“You write very abruptly. Too many short sentences. Almost impolite.”
“Why do you use such simple words? You are writing the Chairman's blog."
“Can you use this word in the headline? I like this word!”
“Very moving script about the farmers. Now, get moving and change it fast. Put in some charts and figures. We need this to get funding. Not win an Oscar.”
“You write so easily and effortlessly. Why do you want to charge for it? After all, you said you enjoy it, didn’t you?”
Want to vs. need to
Carys Chan, research fellow at Griffith University’s Centre for Work, Organization and Wellbeing, quoted in this article warns that monetizing one’s passion project can jeopardize its appeal, but “if the gap between your passion and what you’re actually good at is small, or they are aligned, that can obviously be a great outcome.”
That sounds very wise. The simpler formula I have learnt to apply is to enjoy what I write for myself. And I equally enjoy what you want me to write your way, provided you pay.
I am sitting in front of a potential client. We are in the office of a common friend who had brought us together.
He has just finished running through a crowded Excel sheet that began from all the products he was planning to launch within the next year and went on to list all the social media posts he wanted on multiple platforms within the next two weeks. It is obvious he has been tutored by others as to what he was expected to do.
I let him finish. Then I gently helped him close his laptop and pushed his waiting tea towards him. While I took a pull at mine, I asked him where he was from and about his family. My questions were in a language both of us were more comfortable in.
He sat back, let out a breath, reached for his cup, took a sip and smiled. “I am a farmer,” he said.
I love my job.
By the time the noise woke me up early that morning and I rushed down, it must have taken them some eight chops to cut the big branch that was obstructing the hoarding.
It took them only two from the same axe to severe my neck as I ran in screaming to stop them.
When I came to, I was being cradled by someone, something soft. I felt strangely weightless. Then I saw I was on that tree, and I was being cradled by that very tree.
I wanted to scream and struggle but somehow felt very peaceful. “Don’t worry, you will get used to it. You are no longer that,” the tree said pointing to my body below. “You are back to being your essence now, just as I am.”
That’s when I noticed the rest of what was the tree lying in pieces around what was me.
You saved me? I asked in confusion.
“Well, I have been carrying you for a long, long time. Maybe saving you also. Long before you made that axe and started using money. Now you just use the axe on whoever and whatever comes in the way of your making more money. Just as it happened to you.”
Are you God?
“We all are. You just forgot along the way. Now it is easier to use God when it is convenient, especially to make more money. Even use the axe for that.”
Can’t you punish them?
“Why should I? We are all heading for that final punishment that will offer no escape. Axe or no axe.”
But why me? I am the good one. I help others. They killed me because I tried to save you.
“There is no you and them. You are all in it together. You live together or you die together. Not long now.”
Maybe you should make me alive again. I can write about them. Expose them. The story will go viral.
I felt something like a hand gently moving over my head, over my eyes.
“Rest now, child. You will see something. You may write as you are so keen. Then you will forget everything and be born again.”
The last thing I saw was the hoarding. It was to celebrate World Environment Day.
It showed more faces of leaders than saplings. One of the faces looked vaguely familiar.
Had I seen that with the axe?
A child was born to the Shirpurkars in November 2000. It was a joyous occasion for family and friends.
Then came the time for the child to toddle around. Something was wrong, the parents thought. He was falling more than walking. He struggled to maintain his balance.
Soon came the diagnosis. He had a rare genetic disorder: Duchenne muscular dystrophy. His muscles would continue to waste away. There is no cure.
It was not easy to find a school that would accept him and his companion disabilities. “Inclusion must start in school. Else, discrimination will persist. My teachers played the most important role in my life, preparing me for all that I have ever done and will do in my life.”
He would go on to graduate in Economics. “I wanted to do Engineering, if only to prove a point to those who tried to dissuade me, given my condition. Then I thought about it and chose my favourite social science—Economics.”
He was a brand ambassador for the first Wheelchair Accessible Beach Festival in India in 2017. He is associated with an NGO working for inclusion of disabled individuals.
He has been a blogger right from the age of 13. “I enjoyed writing while in school. My early efforts were rather immature. But I kept at it as a hobby. In college, English was a compulsory subject, including blog writing. That led to my current blog.”
And at 22, Dhruv Shirpurkar has just published his first book, Solace. “After I managed to finish my graduation, blogging became a full-time profession. Wrote more. Readership improved. Gave me confidence. Why not write a book? Publishers and agents were taking too long. Given my health condition, it was wise not to delay. Another bout of pneumonia and anything could happen. So, I went ahead and self-published my dream project, this book.”
This book is a collection of the random thoughts of a young writer who is disabled in body, not in mind. His thoughts force all of us to think.
In his introduction to the book, Dhruv makes it clear that the book is not his biography. “I have not done anything extraordinary in my life, but it is more of a book that is meant to help others.” Until recently, he was quite bothered that he had not done anything extraordinary. He suspects many of his readers might have the same concern.
This is what he wants to tell them: “It doesn’t really matter what we have done and what we have not done in life. We all have some role to play in God’s divine plan whether we know it or not, whether we believe it or not. We are all worthy and we matter.”
My disability is not my identity
Inclusion must start in school
Dhruv remembers looking for a school as a painful phase for him and his parents. Many schools were unequipped for a student like him. Many were unwilling. After a long and frustrating search, Nalanda Public School accepted him. “Thankfully my school was very inclusive.”
He narrates a school incident in the book. He had gone to the washroom (with his attendant). His classmates were making a lot of noise. The teacher punished them by making them hold their ears. When Dhruv returned, he was excused from the punishment as he was not present.
Later, his angry classmates passed some insensitive comments. “If this is the privilege he gets, then even we will also come on a wheelchair and pretend to be disabled, so that we will be excused,” someone said. Dhruv angrily responded, which worsened the situation.
Then, one of Dhruv’s favourite teachers stepped in. She made everyone understand that they were all classmates with inherent differences that all should accept. She went on to encourage everyone to speak up about their grievances, just to clear the air.
“My teachers have really taught me what it is to love someone unconditionally even though that person may not be related to you. If you cannot love your fellow human beings, then you have achieved nothing in life. This is what made my schooling the most extraordinary experience of my life. It truly makes me feel that I did not just go to a school of education, I went to a school of life.”
It is positive to let go
It is not easy for many, especially the members of a disabled person’s family to accept that the problem cannot be resolved. Yet, in hope and in desperation, they keep trying, even resorting to “pseudoscience”.
In his book, Dhruv suggests that leaving hope is not bad.
“Sometimes you have to stop hoping for something better and start living. Leaving hope is not bad if it allows you to take control of your life. It allows you to bring change. It guarantees success, something hope won't. You underestimate yourself thinking change will come. You are the source of change, and everything is in you. A change will come only if you work towards it. Otherwise, you are hoping for a miracle and miracles are not miracles if they are expected. Positive attitude involves letting go when you know there is no point hoping. So, stop hoping and start living.”
The idea of death
What does he think of death? Dhruv is calm and clear when he shares his thoughts during a conversation.
His idea of death is simple. “We accept death for others, not for ourselves and not for others without whom we cannot live."
His medical condition forced him to ponder about death right from puberty. “Unlike what was expected out of me, I did not develop negative emotions about it. Instead, I came to the conclusion that there is no point struggling with it. I decided to accept it and forget about it. Not about the event itself, but about its consequences.”
Is he comfortable talking about death? “Yes. But I am conscious of speaking about it because of the way people respond to it. This response is dictated by their belief that I have certain negative emotions attached with it and I have not accepted it.”
He compares dying to growing. “One doesn’t know while growing what good will come of it until he experiences it. I also do not know what good will come out of it. A child plans what he or she is going to do in life with the conviction that nothing is going to deter him or her from achieving those goals. However, the child cannot see the future. This is how I like to think about death.”
Solace has more
Solace has more to make the reader think and smile. Like the personality sketch of a cool cat. The reason why the microwave went on strike. Then there are some interesting poems. There are also some profound thoughts on spirituality.
The book may or may not occupy the pride of place on your bookshelf. But you will want to keep it within reach so that you can connect to Dhruv whenever life throws a seemingly insurmountable obstacle at you. His approach and words might help you overcome and move on.
Dhruv wants his readers to “hold on, continue on your journey and don’t listen to anyone else when your heart calls out to you.”
A website had run Dhruv’s story under the headline, “Don't look at him with pity; look up to him for his grit.” If this book makes you shun sympathy and embrace resolve without fearing failure, Dhruv would have succeeded in his mission to help you succeed.
After all, he wrote this book for you.
To buy your copy of the book, please write to Dhruv at email@example.com.
Image credits: Dhruv Shirpurkar; Rediff.com; Mid-day.com