DIS “ABILITY” AND MYSELF: A JOURNEY WORTH REFLECTING
Written update As on July 2010
“I can’t play………. I can’t make friends………. I can’t go to school……….. I can’t ………I can’t………” These can’ts were the only words often being used in my dictionary from the time I was born till I was eight-nine yrs old. I was born normal just like any other human being. Five days after my birth (5 June 1980), I was attacked by jaundice, which is responsible for the way I am today… I am a person with cerebral palsy. In medical-speak, that means an affliction caused by the cut-off of oxygen to the brain at the time of birth or early infancy. It irreversibly damages the communication between the brain and muscles, resulting in lack of coordination in muscular movements and defects in posture.
My early days
My parents (Jayakumar and Komala) became anxious when I was not showing any usual signs which normal kids would have as they grow. After a number of consultations with as many doctors, I was diagnosed ‘mentally retarded’, which definitely came as a shocking news to my parents. I must say here that they are the most beautiful people ever in my life. They never kept me isolated…… always took me wherever they went……….. never made me feel that I am “disabled”………
My first eight years was spent at home with my mom (in a way, I am lucky to be with her for 8 whole yrs as many kids start going to school at the age of four) and of course with my dad whenever he was free from work…. and my lovely little sister Seema (whom I adore a lot)…… I don’t remember much about those eight years other than what I have said here.
While I was in Bangalore, one of my neighbours was working with Spastic Society of India, Bangalore. After observing me and discussing with my parents, she suggested that I should join the school and I did join!!! That was the beginning…..
The first thing the school taught me was how to use a typewriter (since I cant write). I typed with one finger, and even today, I type with one finger. I started doing all my school work and exams on my typewriter, I was double promoted (from UKG to 2nd standard) since they felt that I could study that level!!
My dad (Mr. Jayakumar) got transferred to Chennai. I joined the same school (now: Vidyasagar, a well-known school for spastic children) in Chennai. When I finished standard VIII, the school authorities felt I should go to a regular school. I must say that in Vidyasagar, I completed standards 6, 7 and 8 in one and half years and I did all my exams and home work (except Hindi) on typewriter!!!
In 1995 I was integrated to Boston Matriculation Higher Secondary School. The principal initially was not ready to accept me and suggested that I should study state syllabus since it was easier than matriculation syllabus. My parents and teacher Deepthi Bhatia (my best friend, my guide and my greatest teacher, who thought me so many lessons the hard way) insisted that I study matriculation syllabus. After a long battle with the principal, I was admitted!! I completed my tenth and twelth from Boston school. I got 80% in 10th (could have scored more had I been allowed to do my practicals and drawn my diagrams in science). I did remarkably well in 12th with 90% including the 200/200 in computer science (only guy to score centum in the whole school), 197/200 in business maths and 189/200 in English (missed the top marks by 1 mark in both subjects). It was a great feeling to see my principal in front of my house the next day of my 12th results with a bouquet and a card!!
I stopped using my typewriter after my nineth. My answers were getting longer and I could not sit for long time typing since my back was going for a toss typing in the same position. So, I started dictating my exams with the help of a scribe. I continued to use the scribe till I finished my education. It was really tough for me to do papers like maths, computer programming, accounts…. But I won the challenge with the marks I scored. I remember once I did history exam with someone not knowing English and I had to dictate word by word!!!
Soon after 12th, I completed my B.Com from Vivekananda College. I was stunned in the manner I got my admission. The principal looked at me and refused to look at my academic performance. I was very upset. I asked myself, “Why are these people not looking at my marks? Why are they looking at my disability?” For the first time, I realised that this world is very cruel….. Finally, I was admitted after the stiff battle with the college authorities……….
The three years of my graduation passed by in no time, I think that was the time I slept a lot in classes and at home. I did decently well as far as my marks are concerned. I scored an average 74% (three yrs) with 90% in both maths and accounts during my 1st yr and 100/100 in management accounts during my final yr.
I wanted to do his masters in social work from the prestigious Loyola College. I was denied admission to the course I wanted: because of my disability. I was furious. They refused to listen to my arguments. Luckily, I had also applied for MA in Economics. Though it was disappointing to miss out MSW, I joined the college since I wanted to study there.
I never realised how two yrs of my PG passed by so fast. I think that was the best period I have enjoyed my life so far in my education (Made lots of friends). I passed out with distinction ready to be employed…….
I thought my struggles ended with getting a postgraduate degree with distinction. That was not to be so. When I applied for jobs, people were not looking at my academic record or ability; they saw only my physical disability. I have always wanted to work in a bank. I applied for all bank exams that came in my way and wrote all of them. To my dismay, I was unable to keep up the pace since I had to do all the calculations in my head. It was out of my reach and hence all my attempts were unsuccessful. But then, I realised that I became the first person with cerebral palsy to appear in a bank exam. I knew this when I was not given permission to take scribe with me to write my RESERVE BANK OF INDIA RECRUITMENT EXAM. I fought for that and finally took it up. The RBI authorities argued that only blind people were allowed to take scribes. Hence, the realisation……
I worked as a volunteer in Vidya Sagar while I continued to apply for jobs. I was called because of my resume. I did perform well in the aptitude tests but the moment they saw me at the interview panel, they would say, “We will get back to you.” This was what continued for about 8 months after my studies and what a frustration it was!!
The Break came at last… I attended the disability job fair in December 2004. I was selected by ABN AMRO BANK (BPO WING)/ RBS to write the aptitude test. Believe me, it was a dream come true…. The HR people on their own allowed me to use a computer to answer my questions (I never asked for that) and 4 days later, I was informed that I had passed the test and had to attend the interview.
What happened during my interview was beyond my expectations. To my greatest surprise, I found that the three people interviewing me were actually listening to me with keen interest for about 45 minutes and they were stunned. The only words that came out from them were “amazing… stunning ….. “ That was my happiest moment since I knew I had got it. I was confirmed of my appointment on the same day!@!. For the first time, somebody realised my potential.
My profession @ RBS
I joined ABN AMRO /RBS in February 2005 as a doc checker. It was a moment worth celebrating since I faced rejections every where else for almost 8 months after my PG. It was also very scary to see so many people around me. I had no clue of how to handle the situation. But people were just too good and made me feel comfortable. I started mock checking docs in my own way and soon went live. Every moment was challenging to me. I knew that I had to way way beyond myself if I had to survive in the job.
In 2006, I cleared the CERTIFIED DOCUMENTARY CREDIT SPECIALIST EXAM from Institute of Financial Services, UK, a professional exam in trade finance globally recognised. Clearing the exam gave me immense joy and satisfaction since only I know how much hard work and effort I put in. It challenged my mind and body; and I enjoyed winning every bit of it. I examined import and export documents for compliance with international standards and practice for documentation. I enjoyed every moment of it for 5 yrs and 4 months. It made me feel more responsible and trusted.
There were lots of things that happened good for me at RBS. I realised that I was inspiring a lot of people around me. I got the wonderful opportunities to meet people from top to bottom. Some moments I truly cherished were when my super bosses introduced me to the visitors coming from abroad very proudly. Driving community development initiatives for the group is an achievement worth sharing. I was part of the team that trained soft skills for children in Vidya Sagar and Spastic society of Tamil Nadu.. These programs satisfied me that I was giving back something to the sector that gave me a lot.
There were also honours that came my way…… Winning awards in 2007 (NASEOH), 2008 ( NATIONAL AWARD), 2009 ( ASCENDAS AND SHELL-HELEN KELLER AWARDS….) was definitely a great moment for me and I enjoyed this roller coaster !! I was also getting invites to many conferences as a guest to deliver lectures on motivation and skill development.
My Rendezvous with Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Sir :
REDIFF.COM covered an interview with me on their website in March 2005. The link is http://in.rediff.com/news/2005/mar/30spec.htm. I was amazed to receive the responses from all round the globe. About 400 people posted their good wishes within 2 days. What a feeling that was!! One of the people who had read the article was FORMER PRESIDENT OF INDIA, Dr, A.P.J Abdul Kalam. He personally wrote a letter to me expressing that he was indeed very happy to read about me and he will be glad to meet me when he visited Chennai. I had no words to say other than to feel honoured!! Dr. Kalam Sir met me in Chennai on 02 DEC 05. I presented him a framed painting done by the children of my school, Vidya Sagar.
I remember someone asking me “what did he give you” and I said nothing. Even before I could tell everyone about the meeting….. He himself spoke about this meeting and my life the very next day in Delhi at the presentation of national awards for persons with disability. I din’t know how to react. I realized what a beautiful gift he has given me!!
I watched the video of his speech. I felt overjoyed but at the same time, humbled to hear him compare my life/situation to that of world’s greatest scientist Albert Einstein and eminent mathematician Ramanujam. I don’t know what to say about this. Perhaps, one of my most cherished moments it was…..
Dr Kalam sir has cited me as an example many times after that. Even I don’t understand what I did to impress him so much. On the other hand, I simply feel on top of the world that someone like him is so fond of me
The Present and the future……
Currently, I work for IndusInd bank limited as Associate manager in trade ops. I am a re-certified documentary credit specialist. I also hold certificates in Trade Finance as well as KYC and AML from Indian institute of banking and finance, I serve on the board of trustees of Skillshare Int’l, UK based NGO.
After all this, I know that it is still the beginning. I feel good and proud that I have beaten my own thoughts by converting the cant’s into can’s. My experiences have indeed made me a better, stronger person. I now feel that it was worth going through bad times because if not for them, I would never have been the way I am today, I might have won many challenges and lost some, I might have inspired many and hurt some,… but to me, the biggest victory is CONVINCING EVERYONE THAT I CAN DO IT and not letting down all those beautiful people who have believed in me, supported me, pushed me through the bad times, trusted me and most importantly, loved me for the person I am. I have no clue what the future holds for me but I am pretty sure that my career will be steady and sooner or later, I get settled in life with my DREAM GIRL!!