Even when life threw curve balls at her, young Malu Sheikha was not deterred and took on life with confidence and courage. Now her friends look up to her as a role model to survive the difficulties in life with a smile. People began to notice Malu when she was in the news for becoming the first woman to swim the 9-km stretch across the Vembanadu Lake. It was only later that her admirers realised that Malu had swum many a times across the hard currents in life and emerged winner.
Malu was a happy kid who led a normal life until she turned 8. Her parents had separated when she was in class 3 and thus began Malu’s ordeal for survival. "Both my parents had remarried. My father used to call me ‘Sheikha’ which means ‘princess’ in Arabic. I had stayed with my mother till class 11. It was she who called me ‘Malu’. Though I later lost both of them, I retained the names that they used to call me. That is how I became Malu Sheikha," Malu reveals the secret behind her unique name.
"Even if parents spurn their own children, we cannot forget them easily. It was them who brought me to this world, even though only to struggle,'' says Malu about her parents.
When she was studying in class 11 at Bangalore, she dropped out of school, and was brought to Aluva, her mother’s home town. It was during that time, a few of her relatives planned to arrange a marriage for her. Realising that her relatives were trying to get rid of her, Malu decided to end her life as she didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, or lead a miserable life by marrying at a young age. She says, “I decided to end my life in the river. There won’t be any blood, and I thought I could die by drinking some water. One evening I reached the river bank and made sure that I was alone there. When I was about to jump into the river, someone had called me from behind. I was startled and turned back to see a man. I have been reading the Bible from childhood and believe that God appears in many forms. At that moment I believed that he was not any random human being but God himself."
The strange man said to a distressed Malu that giving up life was not a solution for her problems, instead she should live courageously to win in life. "He told me that God has given special gifts and talents to everyone and one must seek it, to turn it into a successful means of life," Malu recollects the words of her savior, which inspired her to take on life with courage.
Back to life
This episode was a significant incident in her life, and Malu soon decided to live her life with her head held high. She enrolled at the Queen Mother's College in Aluva for B Com degree. Malu fondly remembers her teachers Prasad Kumar and Varghese Moothedan for their unflinching support and inspiring her to face the challenges in life with confidence.
"God would have plans about a person even before he/she is born. Else I wouldn't have led the life of an orphan even when I had parents. I, who had decided to end my life in the depths of a river, later had swum across the same river. Though my father used to call me a princess, I don’t remember us having a meal together as a family. We never went for trips together," Malu recounts her bitter experiences as a child.
The youngster did odd jobs even when she was an under-graduate student at the college. She loved vehicles as a child and learned driving at a young age and made it her means of life. Malu worked as a driving instructor in the mornings before she went to college, and would continue her sessions after returning from her classes. She began to earn her own living without depending on anyone else and soon moved out of her mother's ancestral home to a women's hostel.
Though Malu learned driving primarily to earn a living out it, she took the heavy vehicle license solely for her love of vehicles and gadgets. Now she can easily drive even heavy-duty vehicles like a container lorry or an earthmover. In between she also worked as an LIC agent in Aluva to earn some extra income.
Malu had always wanted to swim and that must be the reason why she chose water to end her life years ago. "I met Saji Valasserry sir who is a swimming trainer. But he insisted that his students should be accompanied by their parents. When I told him my plight, he agreed to take me as his student. I saw a graceful light in the river water which inspired me to swim with confidence. On the 15th day, I conquered the depths of the river by swimming across it in just four-and-a-half hours. That performance in Aluva gave me great confidence. It was only as a joke that I told Saji sir that I could swim across any river now. He, however, took it seriously and asked me whether I had the courage to do that. I told him if he trusted in me, I was ready to take up the challenge. I trained hard for the next six months and it became a history when I swam across the Vembanadu Lake where it is the widest," Malu says excitedly.
Many asked Malu what was in her mind when she was swimming across the treacherous Vembanadu Lake. The young woman who had survived many troubled waters in life said, "If someone like me who grew up like an orphan can accomplish so much, those who are lucky enough to have everything in life can reach extraordinary heights. We will be all alone until we succeed. Once we are successful, there will be lots of people with us. Everyone likes those who win in life, not those who quit mid way," she reasons.
"There are so many people who held me close during tough times, like Fr Jose, Stepto sir, Jose uncle, Lalithambika Ma'am, Divya chechi (Divya S Iyer IAS)," remembers Malu gratefully.
However, the young girl who was abandoned by her parents at a young age had to suffer many harrowing experiences as well. It was the sub-inspector at the Binanipuram police station who had helped her when she became the target of 'predators' who prey on women.
People came to know about Malu's life when a news article on her appeared in the weekend special edition of Malayala Manorama soon after she became the first woman to swim across Vembanadu Lake. Actor Mammootty too was impressed by her great courage and perseverance displayed by the youngster in her life. Malu confesses that she was overwhelmed with emotion when the screen icon praised her during a TV awards function. He also gave her Rs 1 lakh to pursue higher education. "In his speech he called me 'princess,' just like my father had called me years ago," says Malu.
Malu says that she has made a promise to Lord Almighty who brought her back from the verge of death on the banks the river. She dreams to crack the IAS exam and become a civil servant. Malu, who has enrolled herself at an IAS coaching centre at Ernakulam, believes that civil service is the best way to serve the society.
She says, "When I teach driving I tell my students that life too is as bumpy as a road which is full of curves, turns, blocks and potholes. We can only take our vehicle forward by driving through these difficult roads. I have done many jobs, from that of a driver to that of a housemaid, to make my ends meet. Those experiences have given me the courage to face life with confidence. If I have to become a 'princess,' like Mammootty sir called me, and to fulfill my promise to God I should do something for this society. I see civil service as a means to that noble end. I need the prayers of everyone."
Malu, who has inspired many, shares a recent incident which touched her heart deeply. A plus-two student had met her to confirm whether she was still alive. When she enquired about his whereabouts, the boy said that he had read about Malu's life at a crucial juncture in his life. He had decided to end his life just like she did.
"The boy told me, 'I decided if you are still alive, then I wouldn't kill myself, instead would fight back and succeed in life. So I came to see for myself that you are alive.' I was taken a little aback when he told me this. But I could easily understand the grave situations in life which force us to speak like that. After talking for some time, he seemed relaxed. That boy went back with renewed confidence to face life with courage," smiles Malu.