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Preethi Srinivasan is a former state-level cricket player who has taken on the University of Madras after having been denied admission for a distance education programme after an unfortunate accident left her quadriplegic for life.
The 34-year-old has launched Soulfree, a charitable organisation to help those with severe disabilities lead a productive life with dignity and purpose.
In an online chat with readers on September 11, Srinivasan discussed the challenges she’s underwent over the last few years, her plans for the future and more.
For those who missed the live chat, here’s the unedited transcript:
divya-nair: Can you tell us why the madras university rejected your application? What reasons did they give you?
Preethi Srinivasan: The reason they gave me was that since there were no lifts, ramps or wheelchair accessibility, and since the class is conducted on the third floor, they felt that it would be preferable if I did not join as I would not have the required attendance,
dananjaypuri: Could you tell us a little about your accident? what exactly happened?
Preethi Srinivasan: My accident was a real freak accident that happened on the beach of Pondicherry when I had gone on a college excursion. We were playing in thigh deep water when a receding wave tripped me up and I stumbled and fell face forward into the water, the moment my face went under water, I felt a shock like sensation travel throughout my body and then I could not move anything.
Everything happened in a split second, there was no hard impact, I did not hit a rock, there was not even a drop of blood and my life as I knew it was over. There is no logical or medical explanation for why I broke my neck and suffered a spinal cord injury. I guess you can only it fate.
tushar: Could you tell us a little bit about the near death experiences?
Preethi Srinivasan: I have had two, one in 2001 during which I found myself focusing on my own body from the ceiling and the only thing I could focus on was grandmother's guru's photo and the next thing I knew I was in my body again.
The second experience was on July 9, 2008, two days before the tenth anniversary of my accident. It was a bit severe because for almost 8 mins I was without breath and my body had turned blue. The fact that I came out of it alive without brain damage is a miracle.
romil: What are your plans now? Where do you see yourself going?
Preethi Srinivasan: All my work will be concerned with getting soulfree established. I want to build databases of people with spinal cord injuries and also volunteer databases, especially doctors, physiotherapists, rehabilitation centers and those who are willing to give their time and effort to help those with severe disabilities.
ganesh-nadar: Have you been to Madras University, they don't have a lift. Have they given you admission?
Preethi Srinivasan: But the real crux of the matter is that in all education institutions and public buildings, the laws are in place for wheelchair accessibility, but not implemented. Even if I want to go to the theater and watch a movie, something most people take for granted, I cannot do that four people lifting me through a flight of stairs, so I never go. It is a sad sad state of affairs
shivaraman: HI ! Preeti, Gd Mg & Gd Afn.Nevertheless what ever might hav happened with U, always think positive & never be afraid of any personal of what ever the position U hold. Today the most real Fact Of Life, MONEY is the Only thing will bring all your Near & Dear close to you. Helping on social forum is really ve.
Preethi Srinivasan: Sir I am really grateful for your concern and encouragement. It is true that money has become an important factor in all our lives today, but I really feel that it is best used at a tool to create happiness and opportunities in this world to enrich lives.
Pardeep Chibber: hi, god bless u and one day you will be perfectly fine - don't worry always be happy.
Preethi Srinivasan: That is also my motto, if you take a look at my Twitter account, I have joined with others who believe in spreading smiles and positive energy in the world. My main purpose in life is to spread light, love and laughter in the world.
Aditya-Chandra: ma'm best wishes for your future assignment ma'm i have a question how to keep yourself motivated in hard times
Preethi Srinivasan: My friends and family have been a great source of strength for me and also our spiritual background has given me a great deal of peace of mind and a fresh perspective that allows me to look at everything in a positive way.
Despite my physical condition or external challenges, I can truly say that I am Happy and self-fulfilled-something that I know many people who are fully physically fit cannot claim. I feel I am really blessed and can serve as a servant of the Divine.
Ashwin: May God bless you in all your endeavors...My prayers are with you.
Preethi Srinivasan: Thank you, I need not only your prayers but all your support, in whichever way you can help me as well, as I am starting out from scratch without any institutions behind me. I need the people of India to come forward and support me.
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alex: What does your day look like?
Preethi Srinivasan: I get up at around 9:30 in the morning and I get dressed and transferred to the wheelchair by 10:30, then from 11 to 5 I work as a content writer for a website called Moviebuff.in purely using a speech recognition software, round 7 pm, I transfer back to bed.
ganesh-nadar: Heard you went to the University today, were they positive?
Preethi Srinivasan: Right now they are trying to process my request, once there is something definitive, I will keep you updated.
vijay: What are your hopes and aspirations? Do you feel cheated of being robbed of your dreams? How do you deal with that?
Preethi Srinivasan: I don’t feel cheated at all. I feel like this has given me the opportunity to evolve as a human being and serve a larger purpose.
ganesh-nadar: How is Soulfree funded, have you started work?
Preethi Srinivasan: Through soulfree I want to ensure that people with severe disabilities, especially women are able to live a life of dignity with basic quality of life. My vision is to go schools, colleges and corporate houses and give inspirational talks and also spread awareness about how to prevent spinal cord injuries. Whatever they wish to pay me could be given as a donation to Soulfree and those funds will be used to support the cause.
rakesh: This may be a tough one, but how are you preparing for a life by yourself? Has that thought occurred to you? I think of it often and must confess it scares me a fair bit
Preethi Srinivasan: Very much so, it scares me to think of a life without my mother, but what is even worse is that there is not even one long term live-in centre that is equipped to handle women with serious disabilities all over India, so I have come to the decision to start one myself and have created a public charitable trust called Soulfree.
hitansh: do not mind my asking this but how do you get by? Are you the only earning member of the family?
Preethi Srinivasan: Yes, I am. I only have my mother, who at 61 has had a quintuple bypass two years ago and an 84-year-old grandma, but thankfully my father has left us financially reasonably stable, but when I think of all those from the lower economic strata, who have suffered such disabilities and are left to fend for themselves by their families, I really feel heartbroken.
rakesh: Your advice to people your age?
Preethi Srinivasan: First of all, know that you are not invincible or immortal. We must all take basic precautions like not drink and drive, not speed or use cell phones while driving and do rash things that may look macho and cool in front of friends, but can destroy your life, all it takes is a moment of misfortune.
The other thing I would like to say that there are people in your world who face extra challenges like physical and mental disabilities, please do not reject them or be indifferent to them. A little support and encouragement from your side can go a long way towards improving their lives and putting a smile on their faces.
ulfat: surely you may have gone through depression when you discovered what your life would be after the accident. Could you tell us how you got over it?
Preethi Srinivasan: Honestly speaking for two years after my accident, I had completely lost my identity and did not even come out of the house. If people saw me I would get panic attacks and not be able to breathe because they either saw me with pity or tried to studiously ignore me-I felt completely invisible.
Over the next decade it took a great deal of introspection, self-inquiry and a lot of reading of spiritual books from enlightened masters like Ramana Maharishi that bought me to a stage of acceptance and equipoise. After 15 years in a wheelchair and two near death experiences, I feel that my purpose in life is to be a divine instrument and to spread light, love and laughter in the world. I am just somebody who would like to spread awareness about the severely disabled in India through my own story and work towards a more inclusive and sensitive society.
Preethi Srinivasan: Thank you all for joining me today, it is my humble request that you continue to support me and Soulfree throughout this journey we have just begun. Please go to the website and tell all your friends to support us on our facebook page and twitter page as well.
Please join me in helping create a more inclusive and wheelchair friendly India!