Irshad Ahmad Ganai was born with arms that were a liability and not an asset. His determination saw him putting his feet to work like hands. Shazia Khan reports.
Irshad Ahmad Ganai, 16, of Sever, Lolab, is looking forward to his secondary school examination. In this remote Kupwara village, secondary school examination is still a major landmark in studies, and Irshad is putting his heart into the studies. He will be writing the examination, like he has been doing so far, with his toes.
“Irshad was born with arms but they failed to mature. We tried to seek the help from many doctors but everyone told us that there was no treatment for such disability. However, they suggested that his arms can only be replaced by artificial limbs once he will be 18, but it’s not going to make any difference in his physically challenged life.” says Haneefa, Irshad’s mother.
Irshad is fourth among seven children of Muhammad Sidiq Ganaie and Haneefa, a family of poor landless labourers.
While his parents became apprehensive about his life after hearing doctors, Irshad refused to see himself less than normal. At the age of five, he tried to do most of his work by himself.
“It was most difficult phase of my life. I was restive for the things that God has not bestowed me with. I always wondered about the people around me. I thought when they can do anything why not me. Why have I become so dependent that even to drink a glass of water I need someone’s help,” says Irshad.
Stirred by his own queries, Irshad started using his legs for purposes other than walking. “My desire to become independent was something unimaginable and unachievable. It demanded constant and exhausting efforts. For instance to hold or carry a cup of tea, which a normal boy of my age can easily do without putting in any effort but for me it required several attempts to succeed.”
His ‘can do’ attitude turned out to be the turning point in his life.
Irshad not only learnt to manage small errands, but almost everything that mattered.
He picks up his school bag from the floor with his feet, carries it from one room to the next with his teeth and takes out a notebook. He then picks up a pen with his toes and begins writing with an alacrity that leaves one spellbound.
While flipping through his notebooks, it comes as a surprise that the neat geometric diagrams and flawless handwriting have been produced by the use of toes and not fingers.
As he trained his toes to be his hands, he did not expect to make it to a school.
“I never thought my efforts would ever land me in a school and provide me an opportunity to study with normal children.”
He would watch his elder brothers return from school. “The way they read and write at home always motivated me to study like them. At six I started writing with a charcoal and it took me a full year to hold a pen between the toes and train my foot to write.”
Education has never been that important in his remote village and educational assistance to a physically challenged child would be farfetched. But Irshad was fortunate enough. “My hard work yielded an impressive result. Once a teacher in our neighbourhood, Attiq-ul-ulah, saw me writing on a big stone on the nearby hillock. He was so impressed that he took me along and admitted me in Government Primary School Malgund Lolab.”
It was the beginning of his new life. After completing his primary education, his parents admitted him in a middle school at Sever Lolab and now he is studying in class 10 at Kuligam Lolab.
The guidance, care and affection of the teachers and a sense of togetherness with other boys of his age helped him gain confidence. In a couple of years Irshad emerged as one of the toppers in his school.
Like most children, Irshad has a naughty streak and loves to play with his friends. “I love to play football with my friends and I hope someday I will become an accomplished footballer and play at the state level,” says Irshad.
However, his parents want him to focus more on education. “We have no problem if he wants to be a football player but we are worried, if he injures his feet, he won’t be able to write,’’ says Haneefa.
However, Irshad has not confined himself to studies or sports alone. He is an earning member of his family. After his school hours he helps his brother Masood at his cosmetics shop and contributes to his family income.
Irshad is still facing lots of difficulties, but the confidence in his voice has overcome his physical disability.
He says, “We cannot let others measure us. We can measure ourselves only when we conquer our weaknesses and it can be done by being confident and independent.”