Sakshat has been my brain child and what better than to start it with a woman who is a rockstar, who has brought that attitude to a wheel chair, a woman I adore,admire and love. In a long talk that took two hours I got my dose of motivation.
Meet Deepa Malik- An athlete, Arjuna Award winner, Biker, motivational speaker. Deepa is on a Mission- Ability Beyond Disability for past 14 years. She is an international sports person and medalist. The first woman paraplegic biker and car rallyist. She is the first to represent the country at international level in her category of disability. With 13 International medals she and a world ranking she does not needs an introduction.
Deepa also holds 4 Limca Records(Adventure) for being the only paraplegic women in the world to have driven the nine high altitude passes in nine days on the highest road of the world; The Leh Laddakh highway. She swam across the river Yamuna against the current at Allahabad.
And though that does not make much of a difference to her kickass attitude ,she is a PARAPLEGIC..
ME: First of all mam, thanks a ton for being the first guest of my blog column called “Sakshhat”
DEEPA: Thank you so much Pooja for honoring me and it feels wonderful when you realize that I have touched your heart and I am capable of being written about just by being what I am.
ME : How do you define yourself as a woman ,as a mother or as a winner who conquered odds?
DEEPA : I define myself as a mother the most ,being a mother to two of the most wonderful daughters gives me strength to be what I am. I could not even think about complaining, grinning or feeling low because more than the fear of a long battle that lay ahead, I was always thinking about bringing up my two little children.
Definitely it’s all because of my upbringing, the positive environment I grew up in, the unconditional support and love of husband while he was fighting a war on borders that were my pillars of strength during my post surgery phase. My family never sat back and made me feel that something wrong has happened. From the day one we were only looking for solutions,that way the melodrama was avoided and positivity crept in.
ME: You are an example of the woman who rocks on wheels ,but tell us about the Deepa before the wheels ,the one who was a kid ,An Army brat and a dreamy eyed girl?
DEEPA : There are no two Deepas. The best thing about my life was I managed to be what I was earlier post my surgery too and I think that is what makes me stand apart. I never gave up on anything or took some easier paths just because I faced a challenge
There was a happy Deepa before wheels and now there is a happier deepa on wheels. Deepa loved fashion being a girl and man I love it this day too .She used to love driving as a brat and yes it still has not stopped. Deepa as far as I remember loved adventure sports ,was a sports person , was crazy about outdoor holidays and not even a bit of that has changed ,I am the happiest person on bike ,I am always on toes for any holiday ,I never get tired of travelling and yes I take my sports seriously ,very seriously.
Looking towards a larger picture while I was coming to terms with me being on a wheelchair, I thought the attitude of a fun person on wheelchair was missing in our country and the fun person in me filled up that void. Yes I proudly say that a wheelchair has channelized my efforts towards disabled, towards parasports ,towards my country. Being an achiever on wheelchair has helped me to contribute to many, many people like me, be a voice for the disabled, participate in policy making by Planning Commission. I broke stereotypes, I took up the fields which were a no no to even women, forget the disabled. The best part of this journey was I broke many barriers just by being what I always was – a Rockstar.
Me: I am sure my readers would love to hear the romantic tale of the journey of being Mrs Malik.
DEEPA (With a laugh, a blushing laugh that had a flavour of romance) : OH! It was a crazy love story. We met on roads. I was training for the basketball and cricket team of Rajasthan and had a habit of going on jogging early morning. There I saw a very athletic man running for his cross country. And then I could spot him on roads with his bike, we eventually started going on bike rides. One day I asked him for driving his bike as my father didn’t allow me to ride bike, he replied “ I will give you my bike only if you agree to marry me”
“So it was the love for bikes which arranged this marriage”
The best part of being married to my man was we allowed each other to pursue our hobbies, passion and develop our passions too. Like he loves fishing and I find it bore but I go on fishing with him for the love of his company and on the other hand he hates parties but happily accompanies me to my events and social gatherings. This is what keeps the fire of romance burning even after 25 years of marriage.
I am amazed when modern day women from urban background approach me and ask “You travel so much, often you are away from home for records, bike rallies, drives with mostly men. Are you allowed to do that”. I am amazed because in my marital life we were never ever down to allowing something. If he is not there and away because of his work, he has that faith in me that she can handle come what may.
His one liners always makes me up and smiling, whenever I talk of retirement, he says “The best is yet to come.” When I was operated for the tumor at RR Hospital of Indian Army, my soldier was out there in Kargil fighting the Indo- Pak War. I just managed to talk to him before surgery on a satellite phone for a few minutes, I said to him “ I won’t be able to walk again.”
He replied “I will carry you on my arms all my life “
This one line gave me strength, strength to fight the battle of survival at a hospital which was full of war casualties. The best thing about Bikram was he never ,never ever made me feel ugly with this body and this is what I truly called a pure form of romance because during disability one doesn’t accept his/her body that make you emotionally depressed. Bikram always made me feel beautiful, he still does.
ME: You are a role model for many small town girls, who was yours while growing up?
DEEPA : I am not mincing words as ideally I never had any role model while growing up. I was never a copycat; I always wanted to be me. My journey has always been to imbibe the best that I see around, for instance the Aaya, the woman who used to clean my bed when was in hospital was my role model because she cleaned everyone’s crap. My parents always said “सर पर बर्फ और मुँह में चीनी” which is keep your cool and be polite and I have always followed this mantra .It works wonders for me .In fact any quote, poem , greeting card, story that has something to teach acts as a role model for me.
I have always idolized my parents; I owe a lot to them. I would not have been a Deepa I am if he was not my dad and she was not my mom. My mom has not won any medal but she does her work with perfection. So anyone who works honestly and to the best of his/her capabilities, they can be my role model.
ME : How did you cope up with the news of being a paraplegic for life when your life has just started taking shape?
DEEPA : The question was: Is there an option? With my husband there at Kargil where death and destruction was dancing around, the first thought was being there and being alive, rehabilitation was not even a thought then.
But when it came to accepting the fact that I won’t be able to walk again I realized that in India we have a system where everybody knows the extent of damage except the patient. But the doctor that treated me said “Sab theek ho jayega is a wrong term Deepa, you have to have a plan.”
I was there at RR hospital where there were war heroes. I thought to myself that I just have a tumor and right there at the borders young boys of 19,21 and 25 years old are attaining martyrdom. I could not be emotionally devastated in an environment that was so inspiring as an Indian.
Me : Coming from a state that is notorious for the deteriorating sex ratio ,how was your achievement taken up?
DEEPA : It’s true that a Haryana, my state has the worst sex ratio but on the other hand Haryana has the best sports policy in country. The love for sports in that state is so encouraging. I got a hero’s welcome when I returned back with a medal, my wheelchair was kept on an open jeep and almost everyone from my village-men , women and children were out on the streets.
Yes I had my share of experiences where I felt the obvious favoritism for a male child, for instance when a woman asked me “ “bachhe kitne hain”.
Apart from these one or two incidents, I never felt any bias. Haryana is particularly supportive of para sports. The administration, the government everyone is so supportive.
Such is the extent of support from Haryana that if I take a rebirth as a sportsperson I want to be from Haryana only.
ME- Of the numerous accolades achieved, which one is the closest to your heart?
DEEPA : The closest one to my heart is definitely the Gada or the mace given to me by Khap Panchayat ,the same Khap that is notorious for being patriarchal. And Gada truly symbolizes my journey from Ability to disability and then to Infinite ability. This is a journey of acceptance, a journey of breaking stereotypes, a n sum up what Deepa is “ Gada for displaying ultimate power in the ring of life.”
I come from a family of soldiers, while receiving the Arjuna Award at Rashtrapati Bhawan, all the four men in my life – My Father , My father in law, My Brother & My Husband: all were there in audience not because of their uniforms but to support me . These men in my home are safeguarding National Flag and I have made the National Flag go up 13 times in my life. I am working shoulder to shoulder with them and believe me the feeling is amazing.
ME – Recently one of my juniors posted a status of an event where he and his wife posed with Mary kom writing” Mary kom was lucky enough to pose with me and wife ,Aaila Lucky hai saali”. Furious over the update ,I wanted to ask you Is being a sportswoman in India different from a sportsman?
DEEPA : First of all I want to say that this is a very cheap thing to say, that too coming from an educated person.
We come from a country where sports are not a lifestyle. I firmly believe that sporting culture does not come from a huge population but a floating population of the country. We have to “Say yes to Sports.”
The CSR in our country largely deals with building toilets or some infrastructure here and there, the financing is only to the big league games and rarely to individuals.
But I will be honest that a sportsperson is a sportsperson,not a man or woman. After all the hurdles, family support helps us overcome the lack of organizational support but if we work with the full commitment and are successful ,collateral and automatic recognition comes in. There it is where Saina Nehwal and Mary Kom are loved & respected by every Indian as he/she loves their cricket team.
ME: And what about Para sports? How do you wish to see it in coming decades?
DEEPA : The condition of Para Sports in country is pathetic. As I speak to you our federation has been derecognized from International Paralympic Committee which is worrying athletes as Indian open Para games are round the corner.
How do I wish to see Para sports? Certainly, not as a charity. We do not have financing, we do not have infrastructure , no training modules . The most important change that I want to see is Para sports being treated as a mainstream sport, we all are working as hard as any other support and we deserve to be treated as same.
ME : With your daughter stepping into your shoes ,how does it feel?
DEEPA: OH ! It’s an amazing feeling. She made me believe that the motivational talks i give, the attitude that I talk about if someone believes in them and imbibes those they will write their own success stories.
“Devika is the practical of Deepa’s theories”
For a mother who was told by the whole world “How will you bring up your daughters with this condition”, I feel i have done a great job. With her choice to start “Wheeling Happiness” ,she has made me a proud mother.
ME : Last but certainly the important? What is your idea of being a woman? How do you wish your society to be for HERoes?
DEEPA : My idea of being a woman is a person who maintains a balance between work, family and passion, play all her roles with full efficiency and not compete with men but rather collaborate with men.
And talking about “HERoes” ,we should not categorize an individual as men and women. It’s high time we stop overdoing with feminism and work hand in hand to be a good human being and to make our country proud.
Being a woman is special because we give birth to a life, carries the generation forward, binds two families together and is the first teacher to her child. You better be a good teacher.
ME: Thank you so much mam,I am not only obliged and honored but the fan girl inside me (Your one big admirer) is jumping with joy. Any word for the blog?
DEEPA: When we stop learning ,we stop growing. When we read something we should read it with an open, blank mind. A cup of coffee that is already full will spill over if we add more coffee to it, reading should be just like that. I have never stopped learning .i learnt to live with this body, I learnt swimming at the age of 36, I learnt policy making when I was an advisor to the Planning commission & I am 40 and I still learn.
With so much negativity around, we need some positive stories, stories of motivation that all the best for the new initiative in your blog that brings such stories before world.Love