Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Different is normal – Teach them young!

When I told my 3 year old a story of a mommy and child going out, she quickly asked ‘Does the mommy have two legs?’ I said ‘Yes’. She remarked, ‘My mommy has one leg when at home and two when we go out. For her that is normal. As a teenager there come a time when she thinks less of me because of my physical issue. But I hope that by then we normalize these physical differences enough for people not to make an issue of them.

I have never met a child who has found me ‘different’. They are only curious to know what the difference is. Never to weigh it down. Let me also mention in the same breath that most adults I meet are quite unlike that. The first thing that people notice is that I walk with a limp. In a few seconds they’d have formed an impression about me in their minds. I can feel the vibes. And as our initial conversation progresses, I can also sense how the other person slowly begins to see the person behind the amputee. While I am quite used to this and do not find it unnerving, it is definitely not nice to have to do this all the time.

Today, the culture in schools is rather scary. If you don’t conform, if you’re different from the majority, then you’re treated like an outcast. The overbearing kids bully you, the meeker ones pity your situation, and most aren’t strong enough to stand by you worried by the stigma.

The biggest favour we can do for the next generation is to teach them from ever since they can remember to embrace differences and respect them. One of the major reasons why a well-travelled person is more broad-minded is not because of the number of countries he has pinned or the number of insta or youtube followers he has. It is purely because he has experienced those many cultures, met more people from all kinds of backgrounds and has interacted with so many different people that he begins to respect all of them equally.

Any person different from you be it in religion, race, color, culture, physical appearances, language, physical & mental abilities is a way for you to become a richer human being. A little respect goes a long way.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

As a Mother with a physical disability...

All parents go through a whole lot for their children. Many many struggles.. some physical, some mental and some emotional. As a Mother of a soon-to-be 3 year old, my trials have only begun. 

It all began for me the day I realised I conceived. The visit to the gynaecologist to confirm pregnancy was the last time I wore my prosthesis before I abandoned it for more than 10 months. As a hip disarticulate amputee, the socket of the prosthesis covers my abdomen and the pressure when I walk would be way too much on my tummy. Until then I was a very independent individual who has lived alone in a city, travelled alone and managed everything myself. I depended on my prosthesis for most of my work and had hardly ever used any other walking aid. I used to hop about at home if I didn't have my prosthesis on. I am so comfortable using it that I have gone many many days wearing my prosthesis all day and all night taking it off just to shower when I was a bystander for my parents/in-laws at the hospital. No one who sees me otherwise would know that I have a disability pegged at 90%.

And all of a sudden I found myself confined, constricted and dependent. And while extreme nausea & vomiting kicked in, I had a bigger challenge at hand. I had to mostly rely on crutches as most places in India are not wheelchair accessible. I had, until then, never really used crutches. We had to move out of our home in Mumbai as it was a duplex and into a rented apartment. My in-laws are the most wonderful people and make the biggest compromises to suit my comfort without a second thought. My parents, always my strongest pillars, flew down to be with me for many many months. My parents and Father in law lived with us as a family. I cannot tell you how fortunate I am. Yesterday a fellow amputee asked me if I ever felt bad that this happened to me. I cannot say I haven't. But every time I get such a fleeting thought, I begin to count my blessings. I have so much to be happy about.

Learning to negotiate staircases was one of the biggest tasks. Also, managing crutches on uneven surfaces that most places in India are full of. As my stomach became larger, looking at the ground I landed my crutches on became increasingly difficult. As my weight increased, swinging my body while putting my entire body weight on the crutches was worrisome. The one nightmare I had a million times through my pregnancy until the night before I delivered was that the crutches would slip and give way and I might hurt the baby. The same thought. A million times over. When I had to depend on external support devices and keep faith that every time I took a step it would not give way.

But that didn't mean I stayed indoors. Not at all. The wanderlust in me wanted to go out, explore places. I planned a short trip to Singapore, the most wheelchair accessible city in Asia. But my mom said that everyone would get way too worried about it. After I moved to Singapore in 2016 I realized what a breeze that trip would have been. Y&I had to settle for a babymoon in form of a staycation. I also went out with a big group of friends to Daman-Silvassa for a couple of nights. The resort wasn't exactly wheelchair accessible but my friends are the most wonderful people, so supportive always. In and out of pools, shopping in markets, walking along broken sidewalks. I've done it all.

As a fiercely independent person, by far my biggest challenge was, but, in my head. To get used to taking help. To go from being the facilitator to accepting assistance at every step. We always had a helper to clean but now mom took over most of the cooking. The tummy was getting too heavy for me to stand on one leg for more than 5 minutes.. and using crutches meant both my hands would be occupied to let me do anything with them. Carrying a book or a water bottle from one room to the other was very difficult. I used to put a tiny sling bag on my neck to carry small things like my phone. My sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles, my extended family came to Mumbai to spend time with me. And I had the most wonderful obstetrician. While she admitted to not knowing exactly what to expect, she was as cool and adept as I would want my doctor to be. Due to the pelvis being tilted to one side and the head not engaging correctly (as a result of my body growing from childhood to compensate for the missing hip), I had to go in for a C-Sec.

After I got home, the crazy hormones got the better of me. The fact that I couldn't walk my baby to sleep or that I couldn't carry her from one room to the other was painful to say the least. For a few crazy months I believed that my child did not prefer to be with me because I couldn't carry her around!! Silly me. And then like a godsend I discovered that I could use office chairs at home. They were not as difficult to use as a wheelchair but I could get my work done. Until today I use these roller chairs at home as I can quickly run about to reach my daughter, something that my prosthesis may not have let me. And as I am missing a hip, sitting on my rolling chair for more than half an hour wasn't easy. I got multiple back spasms in 2 months and was in excruciating pain. With some research and prosthetist advice, I got myself a specialized cushion that could offer more support on the side I'm missing the hip.

When my daughter turned 2.5 months old, I was allowed to get back to using my prosthesis. I cannot tell you how ecstatic I was to finally be able to walk again, something I learnt for the third time in my life. Slowly, my freedom was back! 

When my daughter turned 1, we were faced with the prospect of moving to Singapore. The initial months were a little difficult. Managing an extremely active infant 24/7, managing the house all by myself. Menial chores like cooking, cleaning became so much more difficult with a toddler in tow. And the worst of all. Not being able to step out with my child into a public place. What if she ran away? What if she's in trouble and I can't get to her fast enough? I didn't dare venture out alone with her. I got groceries and all household supplies delivered home. I couldn't afford to take her out alone. THAT was an extremely tough situation to deal with. I bought the baby leash but my daughter got very upset each time I'd try to make her wear it. 

But children are extremely receptive. At 2 and a half, she understands that I cannot run after her, that I need more time. I take her to school and bring her back. She doesn't leave my hand 'because mommy cannot run'. They adapt. Once last month I took her out to a place where my husband said he'd meet us. That day I won a battle within myself. It might be something anyone else would be taking for granted. But for me the fact that I can take my daughter out by myself is something to be celebrated. I am so thankful that I have a very very understanding child. That I have the most considerate in-laws. That I have such loving friends. That I have the most supportive parents and family. That I have a husband who is my best friend and my shadow. That any hardships can & will be overcome if you have the resolve.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Malacca with a toddler - A fun long weekend from Singapore

For the Easter long weekend at the end of March, we decided to visit Malacca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I've wanted to visit it for its history and food trail. We decided to brave the Easter crowd on the highway and visit anyway.:P

Day 1
We took a luxury coach from Concorde Hotel at Orchard at 8am after having our tickets and visas verified at their office. The seats were very comfortable. They offered us a bottle of water each and they stopped for breakfast on the way. It was Maundy thursday but the coach had only 2 empty seats. They had free wifi and also an individual entertainment system with inbuilt speakers on the headrest. My 2 and half year old 'N' watched a bit of a movie familiar to her, 'Bahubali' after her nap.
We got to the Tuas immigration pretty quickly. As we had a toddler, we had to stand in a longer queue for foreigners at the Singapore immigration. The Malaysia immigration was very quick despite us having to scan our luggage. From there, we had a guide 'Beena' on board the bus who explained more about Malacca and was very friendly.

Welcome to Melaka
We were dropped by the coach at our hotel 'Rosa Malacca' though our drop off point was Hatten Hotel. We chose Rosa from the pictures that we saw. Quirky with a character.

The interiors were really well thought out. We reached by 1.30pm and the room was ready. After freshening up, we headed to the Bica & Co cafe in the hotel for lunch. They don't have room service and their cafe offers a minimal all-day menu of sandwiches and dessert. Nevertheless, what we ate was yum.

I had a sore throat and was on medication for it but on the day of the travel it got worse and my neck was swollen! So after N's afternoon nap, we headed out to Poliklinik Bandar to get it checked. The doctor put me on antibiotics and asked me to have ginger ale :).

We walked to the Red square with the beautiful red buildings.

Christ Church

A Famosa, A Portugese fortress

We crossed this place twice a day no matter where in Melaka we went. So basically, that is the centre of the city. One good thing about the city is that though it is not exactly wheelchair friendly, there aren't too many slopes that can prove tricky for prosthesis users like me. We did carry N's stroller and I'm so glad we did. She was on it through the day so there's no reason for anyone not to. You might be inconvenienced a little in carrying it down an odd step or so.

The famous Jonker Street

From there we walked down to the river cruise.

The cruise is best done in the evening when it is less hot and the city lights up.

The graffiti and art along the river is beautiful :) N did get bored in short spells so we kept her entertained with dried fruits!

After the cruise  when we walked out, N was super excited to see the colourful and bright trishaws lined up and asked if she could get on one. She chose the Hello Kitty trishaw and we had them take us to Jonker street. They usually charge RM 20-25 to take you to a certain point in the city and RM50 for a one hour ride.

We dined at Geographer's Cafe. The food and ambience was fine. N enjoyed her food.

Day 2

As we had a leisurely long 4 days at Malacca, we lazed in the hotel after a good sumptuous breakfast and I watched a movie on TV after many many years. 'The Odd Life of Timothy Green'. Yayy! We headed out to Calanthe Art Cafe for lunch.

I ordered their Signature Laksa (without the fishballs and meat but I suppose the prawn paste was in the broth.). It tasted good and had plenty of veggies and did a world of good to my throat. N enjoyed both the my Laksa and the chicken main that Yogesh had.

We went off into Dataran Pahlawan Megamall so  could make use of the Air Co, N could sleep in her stroller while we indulged in some retail therapy.

After N woke up, we walked out towards Menara Taming Sari. We let her play in a garden playground on the swings and slides for a while.

Menara Taming Sari is a revolving viewing tower that allows for 360 deg views of the city. It is a rather new attraction and as touristy as it may be, all of us enjoyed the short experience. They offered us a bottle of water for each ticket. The ride was quite short. It felt like it was for 10-15 minutes. We went during sunset and enjoyed the views. N was excited to see the sea and the lights below.

Flora Del Mar - Replica of a Spanish Ship that sank off the coast of Malacca. Now part of the Maritime Museum

As it was a Friday night, the Jonker Street night market was bustling but with a toddler in tow, we went to Sid's pub nearby for dinner. Though the menu wasn't great for kids, N managed to fill her tummy with parts of my Veg Burger (that was yummmmm) and the bowl of poppadam (our good ol' Kerala pappadam). They didn't offer fresh juice so I just let N have juice made from the Mango puree they had. The mommy in me feels guilty and then I tell myself she is on a holiday too. The two compromises Y&I make as parents when we're on a holiday is that we won't be too stringent on the kind of food N eats (though I'm a freak & I try to keep it healthy as much as possible!) and the other that she's allowed to use the ipad or our phones. (These devices are strictly not available to her otherwise). The ambience was nice and cozy by the river.

After dinner we walked along the night market. Was very lively and colorful. I love bustling street markets. That is for me the true essence of a city and its people. The husband is not fond of crowds and tries to avoid such places. Seeing N's enthusiasm, Yogesh rolled his eyeballs saying.. 'There's junior you. She's loving this place.' I said a silent prayer. :P

We did take her on the stroller and there were many other kids on strollers too. So as crowded as it is, there's space for everyone. Just be patient.

Day 3

After breakfast, we took a cab to the Sultanate Palace Museum. Since a 2.5 year old cannot be expected to enjoy museums (and with a husband who would just tag along because I want to visit museums myself), I decided to stick to only one and chose this. It probably wasn't a bad choice after all. We left the stroller at the entrance and headed inside. This is a replica of a real palace and was built in the mid 80s.

N had fun looking at all the pictures and tried to walk into some of the model rooms, 'the royal court' and the 'sultan's bed chamber'! The gardens looked pretty too but we avoided visiting as it was very hot.

Looking at the different attires of the region during different periods

As Malacca offers a variety of good food, we took a trishaw (this time a minion one for N) to 'Wild Coriander' for lunch. It definitely offers a very variety of vegetarian/vegan dishes. We had their signature rice dish which was a carb overload but my rice-crazy little one loved it :)

Best place to get a massage. For weekends you may have to book before you travel.

        Sights in Little India at Malacca

We stuck to our afternoon routine in an air conditioned mall.. this time to Mahkota Parade.

After a short nap, N woke up excited (we were in a huge children's section with toys and clothes when she opened her eyes!). We took her to the entertainment zone that had a very good variety of arcarde games and rides for toddlers. At RM 1 per ride it was a steal for us.

We saw a sketch artist doing instant sketches and caricatures. We got our family sketch done. At RM 40, (10 per face, 10 for lamination) it wasn't exactly cheap. But it was a wonderful experience to watch being made in 10-12 minutes!

We went to Nadeje's in the mall to try out their mille crepe cakes. We tried their original and strawberry cheesecake. They have many wonderful alcoholic options too but with N around we decided not to order any of those. They were yummm but very heavy on the stomach.

As Liverpool was playing, I found a couple of places where the husband could watch the match. We decided to sit at 'Bamboo Hut' as that was the nearest place screening the match. There was live music on one side of the open restaurant with a South American singing some old classics and a TV on one side that Y was glued to. I ordered cheese croquets but they tasted funny. At half time we went to the next nearest place. Sid's Pub from the previous night. We were intially walking to another place but as we crossed Sid's pub that in the 5 minutes of the second half, liverpool had scored a goal, he decided we could just sit there. N was playing some activity game on the ipad and wanted me to tell her stories instead. So I spent the next 40 minutes telling her stories.. showing her the boats passing by and cooking up the life of the people in it, about the fish in the water and so on!

Many must-eat foods like the coconut milk shake and cendol had to be missed because of my throat but we wanted to try the Putu Piring, the sweet Malacca version of the Kerala dish Puttu. While in Kerala steam rice cakes with coconut are cooked adding salt and eaten with a curry, this was of very similar taste, rice powder, coconut and Palm Sugar (Gula Melaka). That was dinner and it was yumm.

We headed back to the hotel on our last night.

Day 4

We checked out leisurely by 12pm and took a cab to Hatten Square from where we had to take the coach at 3.30pm. We had lunch at the Chatterz restaurant. Y had satay while I had the Wok fried rice. N ate both! We bought some breads/buns for the return journey as we were told there would only be bathroom breaks. Armed with juices, healthy and packed foods, we moved to the bus station. Many many buses were heading back to Singapore at the end of the Easter long weekend. Our bus left on time but after an hour on the highway, the bus broke down. The staff was helpful. In half an hour, we were on another luxury coach bus but this was not as comfortable. Seats were more basic, no tv or wifi. But the worst thing was.. the traffic. The one kilometer before the Malaysia checkpoint took us 90 minutes to cross. The check point was swarming with people but the queues moved swiftly. At Singapore immigration, things moved quickly too and we were inconvenienced much. But the bus breaking down & the endless traffic resulted us in reaching Concorde Hotel at 12.30am. A good 9 hour travel. The only good thing was that my extremely notorious little one was a gem and the most cooperative child through this journey. Stories, cars outside, some activities on the ipad and nursery rhymes kept her (almost) in one place for almost 9 hours. Since I always single-handedly plan all our holidays, Y sarcastically remarked, 'You say we can't travel to Europe as it'll be a long journey for N. So what was this, then?' 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

To be happy or not to be

All of us tend to get busy with life, maintaining routines and rushing through the day. We yearn to be happy all the time. Yet we fail to remember that happiness is almost never a destination but a journey. A journey of happiness not a journey to happiness.

Today a stranger made my day!
I took the bus this morning to take my daughter to the doctor for her scheduled vaccination. When I left home in the morning I had lots of things on my mind. Some silly chores, some tougher decisions, some worrisome situations. But as I entered the bus, the bus captain (the lady who drove the bus) gave me the warmest smile I could receive this morning. I smiled back and wished her a good morning. But it was she who had made mine. In that fleeting moment I realized that whether or not I bothered about my little or bigger problems, I would actually get through them. But I could choose to tackle them happily in the meanwhile.

If each of us could pass on a smile and make someone's day brighter, what could be better! Even if that means smiling at yourself in the bathroom mirror and making yourself happy. So let's kiss our children more, hug our partners, tell parents and family and friends how much we love them, hold the door for a stranger, give way to someone on the road, smile at or wish people we meet everyday (or not!) but do not acknowledge (a fellow worker who works in the same office building, the security guard, the next door neighbour, the bus captain :-))

Every morning we have a choice. To be happy or not to be.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

25 years as an amputee: Happy Silver Ampuversary!

It's been 25 long and eventful years today since my near fatal accident due to drunk driving by a truck driver and my amputation. Being a little girl then I would never have thought about the future but if my parents were to be told that this is where their daughter would be 25 years later, I guess they'd take it. There's no better joy in the world than making your parents happy.
As a mother myself, I cannot fathom the pain a parent goes through when faced a situation of their little child having to undergo an amputation. The only positive then was that the infection didn't spread above my leg and amputating it at the hip meant I could still be alive.
Today I’d like to appreciate the wonderful life and the amazing people I have been gifted with. 

Having lived a fair share of my life in the cosy comforts of Dubai, moving to India gave me a cultural shock. The roads didn't have proper sidewalks, bathrooms weren't easy to use, monsoons were torrid cuz my prosthesis is not supposed to get wet, the place being generally not quite clean, many places were inaccessible and most of all the people.. 

There were those that were uncooperative & rude. 
Be it the government orthopaedic panel who refused to accept that my disability level was 80% and compromised to give 50% (This when the government stipulated norms said 80% for hip disartics) or the ones who refused to approve my railway concession certificate for the reason that 'Hip disarticulation is okay but you can walk independently' (As though he was punishing me for me overcoming my adversities better than I should!) or a couple of extremely rude CISF staff I have encountered at the airports who treat me like I am an anti social element only because I use a prosthesis. (I understand that as a safety concern while frisking they might require for my prosthesis to be removed and passed through the scanner but advising me to wear a saree or a skirt instead of jeans when I requested for a closed room to change or manhandling my prosthesis like it was garbage in is NOT the way someone should be treated.)

Then there were those who'd randomly come up to me and ask what's wrong with my leg. Initially I was asked to not bother telling them because they'd keep saying oh poor thing. And then ask for more details. Today if anyone comes up and asks I basically just tell them the crux. But I have realised that no matter how self confident a child is, offering sympathy and saying pitiful things like... 'What a pretty girl. It's a shame such a thing had to happen to her' can really disturb them.

Then the ones who'd just stare. Some for 10 seconds some for a whole 5 minutes watching my every movement, my every word, judging me and whoever else I'm with. As a child I'd just feel bad about it. As a teenager, I'd feel embarrassed as though something was wrong with me. Later I tried to ignore them. Today I look back and smile. They either shy away or smile back.

That said I have also come across so many wonderful people. 
- Like the guy who offered to carry my luggage to my berth at a train station and observing my scepticism showed me his ticket (on another train) and ID.
- Like the numerous Autorickshaw drivers who would offer to drop me inside IIT gate on my way back from classes outside because the traffic was unruly at that time of the day for me to risk walking on the roadside & refuse to take a penny in return.
- Like the bus conductor who stopped the bus when it didn't have a stop so that I wouldn't need to walk a longer distance at night.
- Like the lady who gave me her seat (not reserved) on the bus despite having a toddler in her arms because 'the driver was too rash & I would have to stand for too long'.
And the people who offer to help in probably the smallest way to make life easier for me.
The one who offers me a chair to sit on at concerts in the temple. The fellow passenger in a train who inquires if I'd prefer their lower berth over my middle berth in the train. The auto wala who checks whether I have gotten off comfortably before rushing away.
There still is so much goodness in the world, we don't realise it.

I have come a long way too. From leading a fun but cocooned childhood in Dubai to facing the challenge of living in lesser developed Indian Towns to living alone in a hostel in a metro. I later realised how difficult it was to live alone in a hostel as an exclusive prosthetic device user. Things that are seemingly mundane to a normal person took huge efforts on my part specifically on days when it hurt a little more. But it was one of the best things I've done in my life. 

I am very harsh on myself and I realise I mustn't be. I have a habit of not letting my infirmity getting in the way of anything else. I walk extensively for 4-5 km when I'm travelling to places that are best seen by foot. I wore my prosthesis for days without taking it off except for a shower when I was at the hospital with my mother in law & my dad. I used to continue to go to school normally even when I got boils and was in a lot of pain. I used to have blood coming out cuz of the socket of the prosthesis rubbing against my body after using it in many trying conditions. I'd never realise when I was in pain unless someone asked me. I was silly. It was unnecessary. Today I make use of whatever convenience I have. I hire a vehicle where I can. I take rest when I can. I take the wheelchair if the distance is considerable. I don't need to but if I can, why not. 

During pregnancy I had to learn to walk with crutches and to get used to moving around without my prosthesis. Using a wheelchair was cumbersome & using crutches meant both my hands were occupied. I realised how much more difficult most things I usually did turned out to be. I was thankful that I used a prosthetic leg without a support crutch and the level of freedom it gave me. And to think that 60% hip disartics end up rejecting a prosthetic leg for the sheer difficulty of using one. So after 3 months of my delivery and 10 months of not using one, I got fitted with a new socket and learnt to walk again. For 2 weeks with an elbow crutch and later without support. The day I walked independently holding my daughter in my arms must have been for me equivalent to the day my parents wept after seeing me walk with my prosthesis for the first time.

To the acquaintances who told me that I was an inspiration to them to overcome an adverse situation. To the girls who said that they love that I wear a smile at all times regardless of circumstances and that seeing that smile has given them the motivation to get through unfavourable days. To the guys who have said that if I wasn't taken already, they'd want me to be their partner. To the best friend who for years felt bad that my accident happened on her birthday of all days. To IIT & hostel life for giving me some of the best years of my life to grow as a person. To my initial years in India that changed my perceptions about life & showed me the ground realities of life struggles that people have. To my dearest & most valuable prosthetists who understand my issue and help me so well with being mobile. To the friends who effortlessly change plans to suit my requirements. To my family for seeing me through my bad days. To my siblings who are my biggest critics yet always have my back. To my daughter who has made the last 1 of these 25 years the most fulfilling. To my husband.. my best friend.. my pillar who supports my every decision & endeavour. To my parents for encouraging me to be independent and scanning the world back in 1991 to ensure I could get back on my own two feet and showering me with the world's best.

Thank you.