Published: 11th September 2017
Your daily dose of inspiration: After losing her hands at the age of 13, Malvika Iyer is now a world famous motivational speaker
She lost her hands in a bomb blast but that did not stop her from inspiring lives, giving speeches at the UN and being invited to co-chair the World Economic Forum summit
If time travel was possible and we could speak to 13-year-old Malvika Iyer, she would have told us how she wants to be a designer. She’d probably show us the crafts that she’s done and the designs that she’s drawn, enthusiastically. Also, you’d see her display her flair for Kathak. Show her how she’ll look in 2017 and she’d be shocked.
Sure, she would’ve been sad. But for Malvika, the accident that took both her hands marked the start of the second half of her life. She couldn’t hate her fate. She was always known to be a believer, a very firm one. She hated sympathy as it was that that made her cry years ago. Sure, she couldn’t become the designer she wanted to be, but the 28-year-old today is an accomplished motivational speaker and activist who has even spoken at the UN.
"Why don't you email the questions to me?" Malvika texts me. "I will reply in voice notes when I get the time," she adds. Now, foolish me was quick to presume that this was going to take forever. But I was wrong. Despite her busy schedule, she managed to Whatsapp me voice notes of her responses. "Don't hesitate to ping me if you want more information," she says. I was elated.
Armstrong : Malvika, who has been living by myself and travels alone, can do everything by herself, except tie her hair up
A day later, she texts me saying that she had clicked a few photographs exclusively for the story. "I've accepted myself now. I'm no longer ashamed to show off my amputated arms. I love myself, Parvathi," she says excitedly. What more does a journalist need to hear to be happy? Excerpts:
How was it for you to live the second half of your life as an amputee?
At this point, I've lived more number of years without hands than with. It was very challenging at first, but after I decided to look at life positively, I began to discover what I could do without my fingers and wrists. I began to understand that there were a lot of things I could do again.
How exactly was life different? Are there things that you miss now?
I was a trained Kathak dancer, but now I can’t dance as gracefully as I used to. That is something I miss terribly. You need to make these intricate movements with your hands. I also miss playing around and typing really fast on a computer. Another important thing I can’t do is make crafts out of waste like I used to. I wanted to be a designer when I was younger. My mom would curiously watch me collect the leftover material from the tailor and do something with it. My accident itself is a result of trying to do something creative. That's kinda ironical.
Coping would have been really difficult...
Not being able to do all these things was very difficult. It was very hard to accept. But eventually I started accepting things. In college, I was trying to be independent. I wanted to take notes on my own but it was so difficult. The prosthetic hands were very heavy. I wanted to be on par with everyone. I wanted to go to a cafe and eat like everyone else. I couldn't do that and it really hurt me. I used to come home and cry to my mom. She would always tell me that there are so many things I’m good at. I think with time I started to understand what I could do without my hands.
When I'm walking without my prosthetic hands, people look at me and feel, "Oh God! This girl doesn't have hands.” That attitude must change
How was it to use prosthetics for the first time?
The hunt for prosthetics began when I was hospitalised in Jaipur. My mom and I would search online for such limbs. The first ones I got were made in Germany. I could feel my fingers and I was using my hands. Even at the hospital, when I was observing the doctors as they were doing the grafting, I remember thinking that I could do anything with those hands and that it was upto me. I started writing legibly, I could eat with a spoon by myself, and could zip and unzip a bag.
I knew that prosthetics could never replace my real hands. I didn't want to focus on that. I always focused on the fact that it was fascinating to have robotic hands. I kept my spirits high and I was happy about the things I could do. But the hands were heavy for someone skinny like me. They would slip and hurt. Sometimes I wish I didn't have to wear them. But I am able to write with them.
What are a few things that people want to know about you?
Mostly people want to know how I remain positive and hopeful all the time. Everyone wants to know how I am able to do new things every day.
Malvika responds to texts and emails fairly quickly. And everyone is curious to know how she types. A small bone in her right hand protrudes from her stump and it is the only finger she has
Do people still look at you with sympathy despite having achieved so much?
No matter what I have achieved, I think there are people who will look at me as the girl without hands. A few months ago, I was with a few children and one of them said, “I feel like crying when I see you.” When I asked why, the child said that it was because I have no hands. I wasn't offended. I told them about the things that I can do and that there's nothing to feel bad about as I live a normal life. Even my PhD thesis is about the same.
What motivates you the most?
Every day there is a new challenge. That is a part of my life. But I make sure that I am not going to have a dull day. What motivates me the most is I remind myself that I was once hospitalised with iron rods in my bones. If I could come out of that, I can do anything. I have to be positive for my mom. She did everything for me all over again. I owe my life to her. I've now become a motivational speaker. People write to me and share their stories. They tell me how my story inspired them to overcome their challenges. That really inspires me to work harder towards my goals. That is the best thing we can do for someone else.
Scaling heights: Malvika was recently invited to co-chair World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit
Do you think this generation should be educated more on disability?
It is our duty to make children understand that disability doesn't make you different. Schools must share positive stories of people with disability. Teachers can change the perspective. My PhD thesis is aimed at understanding what makes a change. Staring is wrong and that has to be taught well. It is unhealthy. It has become a part of the society and I have felt uncomfortable many times. I had to live with it for a long time. But it is unfair to stare at people. Schools should teach a person to focus on their ability and not disability.