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'I was told I would never walk again'

June 29, 2022 09:46 IST
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'And here I was, walking as a showstopper. I couldn't have imagined a more beautiful gift.'

IMAGE: 'Acceptance is the greatest reward we can give to ourselves.
'We can't control our lives but we surely can control our attitude towards life.
'At the end of the day, it is how we survive our challenges that matters most,' Dr Iyer had tweeted from Narendra Modi's account on March 8, 2020.
She was one of the seven women guests invited to tweet from the prime minister's account on Women's Day.

Blast survivor.

Bilateral amputee.

National inspiration.

There may be many ways to describe Dr Malvika Iyer, but two words define her life's purpose -- 'Be Unstoppable.'

Twenty years ago, 13 year old Malvika lost both her hands -- and her legs were permanently damaged -- in a grenade blast.

Since then, she has cleared her Class 10 exams with a score of 97 per cent and Class 12 with 95 per cent. She's an economics graduate and has master's degrees in social work and philosophy.

She's a motivational speaker, a disability rights activist and an inclusive model promoting accessible fashion.

Despite not being able to stand or walk for long hours, Malvika chooses to move forward each day, one step at a time.

In the concluding part of her interview, Malvika -- who is now married and lives with her husband in Michigan, USA -- tells Divya Nair/ how she navigates through daily tasks and inspires other people to lead independent, dignified lives.

Twenty years after the accident...

Even after so many surgeries, I cannot walk or stand for long hours.

As soon as I wake up, I have to wear splints otherwise my leg drops.

But I like to stay active and independent.

I love organising my house and keeping it sparkling clean. From the laundry to the dishes, I do everything. I believe that when your house is clean, your mind is free of clutter.

I also believe that what we eat brings out the best in us.

Although my husband and mom are great cooks, I love experimenting with new dishes. Since I am a vegetarian, I am always looking at ways to eat different cuisines.

I can't exercise or work out much so I am careful about what I eat. I like to eat healthy.

The most interesting thing for me is to cook independently.

I love making my husband's coffee.

My husband loves gardening; he grows vegetables and flowers. I like to participate as much as I can.

On weekends, I love watching TV with my husband; we have a few similar interests.

I read a lot of self-help books because it resonates with the work I do.

I like making videos and reels; LinkedIn is my favourite platform for Monday motivation posts.

I have always loved the idea of being independent. That's how I designed my own Web site. I have learned to create videos, write scripts. I make all my Instagram reels.

I work with my sister to make animation videos to raise awareness about disabilities and social issues.

Malvika Iyer with her cat

IMAGE: Malvika has "two cats, Miah and Mimi; we play fetch, peek a boo, they are adorable and energetic and keep me active".

'Fashion has to be comfortable'

I also do a bit of styling, apply make-up, indulge in skincare and hairstyles.

I have realised that when you eat healthy and dress well, it makes you feel confident. The way we present ourselves really matters.

I believe in styling which is accessible.

For almost a decade, I wore full-sleeved clothes as it allowed me to hide my artificial arm, which was heavy. I didn't want people to see my arms and say something insensitive.

One day, while travelling in the US, my husband said, "I see that you are more independent without the prosthetic arm. If you are comfortable, why don't you remove it?"

I listened to him and, that day, I wore my favourite dress and went with him to a lovely beach. We went grocery shopping, followed by a vacation.

I stopped wearing my artificial hands and I have become more accepting of myself.

It's not easy for everyone; there are many people who require hands but I am 99 per cent more independent without them.

On the Internet, I get a lot of advice to wear artificial hands. Some say, 'Wouldn't life be easy wearing them?' But if you ask me, it was not easy (wearing prosthetic hands). I wish people stop sending me unwarranted advice.

Without my artificial hands, I feel I have become a more fashionable person.

I walked as a showstopper on the ramp at two different events.

I remembered the day I was told I would never walk again. And here I was, walking as a showstopper. I couldn't have imagined a more beautiful gift.

I personally believe that fashion has to be comfortable and not just trendy.

I love wearing saris, but, if it's a professional event or a meeting, I want the option of wearing skirts or pants.

I have tried wearing pants with Velcro, no buttons.

I have to wear shoes with a splint so it has to be both accessible and fashionable.

Recently, I wore this t-shirt that had magnetic clasps.

These are the kind of ideas I am working on. I want to model and promote disabled-friendly clothes and accessories.

Malvika lives with her husband in Michigan, USA

IMAGE: Dr Iyer lives with her husband in Michigan, USA.

'No regrets about the past'

My mom, husband and I were together in the US during the pandemic. Like always, my mom helped me stay strong despite everything that was happening around us.

My sister pushed me to enrol for online programmes to improve and build my skills and knowledge.

Thanks to her, I successfully completed more than 100 programmes during the first six months of the pandemic. Some of these focussed on leadership, communication, psychology, mental health, social work, human resources training, etc, which are now helping me in my talk shows.

In the next six months, I experimented with different types of splints and tried to improve my walking to make it more efficient.

I concentrated on improving my leg muscles.

Physically, although I am independent and manage all the household chores, some days are tougher than the rest.

Till date, my left foot has no sensation.

I am very accident-prone, but I cannot afford to fall or get hurt.

Recently I hurt my left leg and lost a lot of blood. But since I have hypoesthesia (partial or total loss of sensation), I was numb; I felt nothing.

I don't like to complain.

I like having something to look forward to. I have no time for regrets or wishful thinking.

I like being in the present, being grateful and looking forward to everything I can do; it helps me stay positive.

Besides, my work as a motivational speaker is so meaningful. In fact, it's a two-way street. When I motivate them and they tell me how it helps them, I feel motivated too.

Two decades after the accident, I have no regrets about the past or worries about the future.

'Staying fit is not easy'

I have so many wounds in my leg. It's painful.

I get a lot of knee pain from all the walking and housework I do.

I can't do any severe exercises or weight training.

Walking itself a blessing so I do as much as I can. But I need to be careful; I can't afford to get hurt.

I have learnt meditation, yoga and breathing exercises; every day, I am learning to do better.

'I dream of an equal, inclusive world'

I dream of an inclusive world where everyone is treated with respect -- a world free of judgement and discriminatory attitude.

In the last few years, I have already seen so much change. I am grateful I am getting to experience all this.

I believe in the power of the human spirit; the courage we contain within ourselves is tremendous. No barrier or challenge can take that away from us.

We need to nurture this spirit and never give up.

That's why I always use the hashtag #beunstoppable in my posts.

There are so many ways in which we can make a difference. As young people, if each one of us can take up one cause and work for it, we can make this world a happy place.

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