Fate fails to douse Aravind’s fighting spirit

Aravind with his mother Sheena. Photo: Rinkuraj Mattancheriyil

Aravind has been living in a wheelchair for the past one-and-a-half decades. His has been an extraordinary journey, fighting odds one after the other, after an accident left half his body paralysed.

He was rushing to arrange security for former President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam when the mishap occurred.

Life has not been the same since then, though he excelled in all his endeavors. He was posted as an officer in a nationalised bank after faring well in the competitive exam, but his colleagues there couldn't accept a high-ranking official coming in a wheelchair.

He passed the LLM with flying colours, often doing his lessons from the hospital bed. Still, his dream of securing a good job remains elusive. Life is all struggle for him, but then his big dreams steer him away from desperation and help him continue his fighting voyage ahead.

Now, he has learned to fill himself with fresh hopes and live the life he loves. The other day he drove to Bengaluru in a car, and his next scheme of plans include a road trip to Ladakh.
1) Aravind was scheduled to meet with President Kalam at Raj Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram. The President was in the city to inaugurate the National Science Congress at Karyavattom. Aravind had sought permission for a personal meeting with the country’s first citizen.

Aravind with APJ Abdul Kalam. Photo: Special Arrangement

After the event, Kalam waited for Aravind. The security was tight. It then occurred to Aravind that he too was entrusted with arranging a similar security to the same person on that ill-fated day four years ago. While he was immersed in his thought in the lobby, his name was called out. Aravind went up to the President.

He was having a one-to-one meeting with the great man. But he was sad that he could not get up and salute Kalam. The latter received the youth, who was paralysed below the waist while rushing to arrange his security, with outstretched hands. Aravind’s mother, Sheena, accompanied him.

Kalam was shell-shocked when Aravind narrated his story. The Missile man of India got up from his seat and came near Aravind, placed his hands on the young man's shoulders, and spoke to him at length.
2) The accident that threw his life out of gear happened on January 10, 2006. Aravind was a member of the President’s security team and was on his way to attend training when his bike slipped. He was thrown over the handlebars and landed on his back on the pile of granite on the side of the road. The impact damaged his spinal cord which paralysed him below his waist.

For the next few years, of his life were spent he spent his life in a Navy hospital. Sheena, then an employee of the Kerala Gramin Bank, took a long leave to take care of her son at the army hospitals in Mumbai and Pune.

After years of treatment, he was able to move his right hand, but he remained paralysed waist down. Aravind too realised that it was the end of his dream job with the Navy. He feared he will never be able to get up from bed again. The future became a big question mark before him. But his mother continued to instill hope in him. “You will be able to walk someday, my son. I can ensure that,” she used to say.
3) Months rolled by. The hospital became his second home, and the co-patients were his relatives. Slowly, the mother-son duo came to terms with the reality. Aravind began to cope with the trauma and move to a gradual recovery. He had joined the Navy at 17 before he completed Plus two.

He was 21 when the accident happened. Aravind was a marathon runner. He was expecting to be selected for the Asian team when fate turned villain. Now he wanted to complete his studies. His mother and the doctors motivated him.

He successfully appeared for the exam with the help of a scribe. After he was discharged from the hospital, he joined the Thiruvananthapuram Law Academy, from where he passed out with flying colours. He met Kalam at Raj Bhavan when he was pursuing his law degree.

4) “Study well, you can soon enroll as an advocate,” Kalam told Aravind after giving him his email address. “You should contact me after you obtain your LLB degree.” And Kalam then scribbled in Aravind's autograph book, “All the Best Wishes!”.

Kalam sighed and looked on for some time as Aravind bid goodbye and slowly began to move out in his wheelchair through the Raj Bhavan Hall. Though they promised to meet again, it was not to be. By the time Aravind completed his LLB studies, Kalam had left Rashtrapati Bhavan. The emails went unanswered. And Kalam soon passed away.

5) When her husband moved away from their lives, after the tragedy, Sheena was left alone to face the slough of despondency. She entrusted the care of her younger son Ashwin to his grandmother before boarding the train to Mumbai to look after Aravind.

A Malayali doctor, Dr Khaleel Issac Mathai, brought Aravind back to life during his days at the hospital, remembers Sheena. Dr Khaleel is now their family friend. “Your son's greatest blessing is that he has got a mother like you,” the doctor once said.

And when Aravind was discharged from the hospital, the doctor advised him to learn to see dreams sitting on his wheelchair. “If you have a dream, you won’t ever blame fate,” he told the youngster.

And Aravind never rued over his fate. He embarked on long trips with his friends with more vigour and enthusiasm. He visited all places where he could reach. He read numerous books. He slowly cultivated a dream to continue his studies. Sheena stood like a rock behind him.

Aravind never rued over his fate. He embarked on long trips with his friends with more vigour and enthusiasm. Photo: Special Arrangement

6) Aravind left the Navy, where he worked for four years, after his treatment at Visakhapatnam. He arrived at the Naval Base to bid goodbye to the captain of INS Kirch, where he was earlier deployed.

“What will you do when you stand up from the wheelchair,” he was asked, and Aravind replied instantly, “I will come back to the Navy.” But that dream never was fulfilled. But he began to see new dreams.

7) Aravind had to ‘Board Out’ from the Navy to continue his LLB studies. He struggled a lot for that. Finally, the then Defense Minister A K Antony's intervention solved the issue. He sat for the exams of all 10 semesters in his wheelchair and jolted down the answers in his handwriting.

He achieved a law degree, scoring good marks. He got a job as an officer in a nationalised bank after faring well in the competitive exam. However, he couldn’t continue there for long. Aravind encountered great difficulty in moving around the narrow room of the bank in his wheelchair. Besides the toilet complex was not at all disabled-friendly. Often, he would sit without going to the toilet for hours together. Despite being thirsty, he refused to drink water for hours together so that he won’t feel the urge to go to the bathroom. This resulted in severe infections.

Also, some didn’t like to see a man, paralysed from the waist down, as a bank officer. When he was sent to North India, as part of on-the-job training, he could not handle the harsh weather. Despite his bad health, he was forced to attend the programme.

That journey broke him down, both mentally and physically. Bad weather and food poisoning made him sick again. He was rushed back to the army hospital in Mumbai. He slowly walked back into his life again. He was left with no option but to put in his papers. Even in that adversity, Aravind didn’t stop seeing his dreams. New hopes sprouted in him and he carried them as his dreams.

8) Though Aravind attempted to train as an advocate, none of the senior barristers were ready to make a wheelchair-bound lawyer their assistant. Finally, Aravind decided to go for higher studies in law. That’s how he joined the National University of Legal Studies at Kalamassery in Ernakulam district. But again, the infection he contracted during his days with the bank returned to haunt him.

He was hospitalised again. His mother and brother sat beside him at the hospital. Covid too came in the way of his studies. But Aravind came back roaring again from a desperate situation and resumed his studies.

Meanwhile, the family, struggling financially, was relieved to some extent when his brother got a job in an IT company. And Aravind too passed the LLM course with flying colours.

At the convocation ceremony at NUALS, a proud Dr Khaleel Isaac Mathai witnessed Aravind receive his degree. But Aravind is saddened that a job as per his qualification still eludes him.

He approached many colleges to be a guest lecturer. But none wanted a teacher arriving in a wheelchair. There are openings in government legal departments where he can find a job. The authorities, though, are yet to show any compassion to him there too.

But fate fails to douse his fighting spirit and positive attitude. Keeping the faded autograph page, that contains the great Dr A P J Abdul Kalam's words, close to his chest, Aravind continues to weave new dreams while looking out of his rented house at P T Chacko Lane near Medical College Hospital hoping to have a good time someday.
9) From the International Film Festival to key cultural events in the city, Aravind’s presence can be witnessed in all such programmes, thanks to his close buddies. They are only happy to take him to all those places that Aravind wants to visit. Aravind campaigned through media for setting up ramps at all the government buildings and theatres to enable the disabled to arrive in wheelchairs.

He attended all the screenings at the International Film Festival.

He went on a trip to Bengaluru with his friends, driving the car himself. He travelled in a specially designed car where one can control the brake and accelerator with their hands.

His next goal is Ladakh. He plans to set a record by driving the car from Kanyakumari to Ladakh.

10) Many people call on him after learning his heartening story. In between, a girl with whom he was acquainted on the internet, expressed her feelings for him. She was a medical student, hailing from northern Kerala. One day, she came to his house to meet him. She insisted on marrying Aravind.

The family could not object to her decision to stay there and take care of Aravind for some days. But then Sheena advised her and forced her out of her marriage plans. She said the family could not accept the proposal without the consent of her parents. When she informed them, her parents came and took her back.

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