Life On Wheels

They have fought their demons to stay sane in the face of rejection and hopelessness. Sehar Qazi narrates tale of three men who refuse to let their disabilities dictate their lives   

3-disabled-personsEvery morning, Iqbal Hussain, 55, crawls with the help of his deformed hands, including his fingers, trying to get on his wheelchair: eighth since his legs refused to carry his weight. He stammers, struggles for words, but ultimately shuts up as he struggles to articulate and the hoarseness of it overtakes his efforts to talk. But he is not an easy person to give up. Despite doctor’s strict advice to stay indoors and rest, Hussain earns for himself by selling tissue papers on his wheelchair.

Hussain vividly recalls painful memories of a particular day from his childhood when he was playing with his friends in a nearby ground. He was six then. “I got injured and bruises left me in great pain.”

Taking it as a normal injury that Hussain thought would heal itself with time, things only turned ugly. “I never knew a small injury could change my life like that.”

But he was wrong. The injury followed occasional nose bleeding, a sign his parents failed to notice. “My parents would give me a glass of milk to compensate the blood loss.”

Hussain’s relatives told him not to worry as this is just weakness! “But hardly did anybody knew my body was tearing apart from inside,” says Hussain with a subtle smile.

Twenty-five-year old Qaiser Yousuf is sitting in a dark corner of his shop, wearing a grim look on his face. From a distance only his face and shoulders are visible. His story starts immediately after his birth. Qaiser recalls how doctors had foretold his death at the time of his birth. “He will die before completing his 18th birthday.” But unmindful of the prediction Qaiser started enjoying his childhood like any other normal child. Not for long. As Qaiser turned ten he began noticing some changes in himself. “I couldn’t stand on my legs. It was difficult to even walk.”

Within no time word about his physical weakness spread among Qaiser’s relatives. Comments like: Qaiser ko kamzori agayi hai (Qaiser has turned physically weak), left 10-year-old kid in confusion about his life.

But things only got worse. One day, when Qaiser was in 6th standard, he was sent home by his teachers as he couldn’t feel his body below his abdominal area. “That day onwards people started calling me weak,” recalls Qaiser.

Confused, his parents sent him to a local gym. “How could a gym turn me healthy and strong? Instead I grew weaker with time,” says Qaiser smilingly.

But forty-four-year old Javeed Ahmad’s case is different. There is no mystery involved that how he landed on a wheelchair. Surrounded by specially-abled children of his school, Javeed recalls how a day before his final year exam changed his life and left him disabled for the rest of his life.

 It was 27th march 1997, Javeed remembers vividly. “I was at my aunt’s house. My exams were going on and I was preparing till 12 am. In the middle of the night I heard some noise and I went downstairs. I saw some people with mask and guns in their hands; they were trying to drag my cousin out. When we started shouting they left the place. While running away one of them turned around and shot me,” recalls Javeed.

For a year, he was admitted at SKIMS due to spinal cord injury and other organs that were equally injured by the bullet. “I felt frustrated about my condition and I was waiting for the day when I could walk again. After some months, I wrote a letter to my doctor complaining about my slow recovery. He replied that even a scratch takes time to heal, yours will take years!” Javeed sighs.

Losing Hope

By the age of 16, Hussain had completely lost control over the voluntary moments of his legs. “There came a day when I completely stopped walking.”

On a doctor’s advice Hussain left school and stayed home. In 1977, after brief stay at the SKIMS, Hussain was shifted to AIIMS, New Delhi for treatment. “But after three months stay in Delhi we returned home hopeless. I remember the gloomy face of my father,” says Hussain with sorrow.

As the age of 15, when Qaiser’s condition started to deteriorate, his parents visited every possible place to get their son treated. The first stop was SKIMS. “My parents visited every shrine, faith-healer, doctor they came across,” says Qaiser.

“My mother would sleep next to me and stare at my face all night while my father would watch us over staying awake.”

A year later, during an argument, Qaiser’s sister told him that he has left with only a few days to live. “She said, ‘tumey pata hai, tum marnay walay ho’ (Do you know, you are about to die).”

Hussain locked himself up in his room and cried silently for the whole night. “I told God if I will die at the age of 18, then you don’t exist!”

Qaiser left studies in 10th standard after he failed to use a geometry box during a mathematics paper. “I couldn’t use compass and other instruments simultaneously. At that point, I left studies,” recalls Qaiser with a dejected look.

But Javeed’s traumatic phase came at the age of 21. But proving everybody wrong he continued his studies and did his masters in sociology from University of Kashmir. At the same time he would teach students up to 12th standard at a coaching centre near his house.

“Initially it was difficult to manage things on my own in the university. Like going to a bathroom was a big task. But with the help of my friends and teachers everything turned easy.”

Javeed was instrumental in getting ramps constructed for specially-abled people like me outside every department and examination blocks.

A few years later Javeed started Human Welfare Helpline Society for the rehabilitation of people like him.

Presently Javeed is running a school for blind, intellectually weak, dumb, and some children with different types of syndromes. “We teach them basic skills besides regular education,” says Javeed proudly.

Standing Again

In 2003, when Hussain got his first wheelchair he decided to start something of his own. “Initially I sold household items. After that I sold polythene bags, tissue bags and paper bags. Now I sell only tissue bags to shopkeepers.”

Over the years he managed to save enough to undertake pilgrimage to holy city Mecca for Hajj. “Now I want to perform Umrah. I won’t die unless I fulfill my wish,” says Hussain.

 In 2008, Qaiser was 18 and alive, despite his doctor’s prediction, and his sister’s sarcasm. He got his first wheelchair in 2009. “When my father got a wheelchair for me I told him straight away that give me poison instead. How could I spend my entire life on a wheelchair?”

But despite his reservations Qaiser had to give in to his father’s wishes. “Wheelchair changed my social life completely. It made me feel inferior in front of my friends.”

Finally Qaiser joined his father at his shop. “With time my priorities changed. I got involved in business. I sell everything that a girl needs for her marriage etc.,” says Qaiser.

With a faint smile on his face Qaiser says he has surrendered to his fate thinking that God loves him more than anybody else. “That is why He has put me in this position. I even thought of committing suicide, but only one thought stopped me – I am special to God!,” says Qaiser smiling.

With the help of CRY Foundation and other social welfare organization Javeed started his special school named Zebaa Aapa School of Inclusive Education.

“Presently 70 children with visual, ortho, mental, hearing and other disabilities are enrolled. We teach them writing, reading and other basic skills of life. I feel content and no longer remember my past,” says Javeed.

Fighting Fears

Hussain continues to live in his small room and wishes to play again with his friends in the same playground. “I advise people to be independent and live a respectful life. Avoid being a burden. I wanted to stand on my own and I did,” he says.

Sitting in a corner of his shop, Qaiser is busy attending customers. “Before my father’s death I promised him that I will take care of my family now onwards.”

The life outside the shop keeps tempting him. “I wish I could move out of this shop and walk freely. I want to eat everything and visit places.”

But unlike other’s Qaiser could only ‘see and talk’. For everything else he is dependent on his mother. “I wish to die before my mother.”

The girl Qaiser loved got married last year. With no hope left Qaiser for himself, he wants to fulfill his father’s wish: marry off my sister and help my brother settle down in life.

Meanwhile, Javeed is continuously answering questions asked by children of his school. Javeed has one wish: he wants to play cricket like any other normal person. But given his situation he needs help at every step of his life. “I feel sad when I see my mother doing my work. I need help even to drink water. But I will continue my struggle to survive and live at my best.”

When asked about marriage, “Life can’t be lived alone!” Javeed said with a smile.

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