Walking Tall

It is common for society to regard people with height disabilities as objects of ridicule. But, as all of us know or should, these people are no different from us. They have dreams and ambitions just like we do, and possess all the intellectual abilities to function as productive members of society

We, as a society, are monumentally insensitive towards people with physical disabilities or handicaps. Our first reaction is to make fun of them, and call them all kinds of rude, crude and cruel names. Do we realise that a person with a handicap or disability is just as prone to feeling hurt and offended by such behaviour, just like any of us ‘normal’ people? This kind of hurt and humiliation are almost an everyday experience for the disabled or handicapped people.

The causes for their handicap or deformity may be a genetic disorder, malnutrition or any other reason. But they have to learn to cope with ostracisation and ridicule from a very young age. Schools can be very cruel places, and children with physical handicaps have a rough time indeed. This carries on into adult life as well, but by then these disadvantaged people have learned how to cope with the stigma, and to ignore the rude behaviour of society at large.

This insensitivity of society is a fact of life for the handicapped and there is not much they can do to change it. What they can do, is to not let their handicap get in the way of making progress, and getting to where they find their niche in society, and settle into a productive way of life. It may take more of an effort than what a normal person puts in. And if they are fortunate, they will have the support of the people who are close to them, like family, friends or teachers.

Life is difficult even for people who are free from any handicaps. It is likely then to be even more difficult when you have to face everyday challenges, while coping with a lifelong handicap. It may take a little time and effort for normal people to gauge the nature and dimension of the difficulties that handicapped people face in day-to-day life.

But, rest assured, there are people, who with fortitude and strength have come to terms with their physical handicap, and are now able to face life with optimism, and the willingness to overcome what challenges may come their way.

TGS has come face-to-face with a handful of people with physical handicaps, who have emerged through their initial trauma and heartbreak, to make their way forward, get an education, find an occupation, and settle into a way of life that offers them the possibility of leading a constructive life in society, and also to attain their dreams and goals, which once may have seemed impossible.

‘I decided a long time ago not to bow before anyone and to prove my worth’

Professor Dhiraj Nage engrossed in guiding his students at Fergusson College

Professor Dhiraj Nage engrossed in guiding his students at Fergusson College

Professor Dhiraj Damodarrao Nage, 40, of Bhosari, is a shining example of a human being who has not let being undersized come in the way of what he was wanted to achieve and attain in life. The four feet two inches tall Dhiraj has been working as an assistant professor at the computer science department of Fergusson College for eight years. Inspired and motivated by his father, his unwavering determination and strength have enabled him to acquire a BSc and MSc in agriculture, as well as Master in Computer Application (MCA).

Born in a farming family at Daryapur village in Amaravati district, Dhiraj’s physical handicap proved to be a burden since childhood. When he was in standard VII, his parents sought medical help, and also other means to bring about a regular physical development. The doctors however, told them that it was the genes they had inherited that were responsible for Dhiraj and his brother Prashant being undersized.

Dhiraj underwent much trauma in his growing years, and at times he would curse his fate that had led to him being small-sized, and an object of fun for insensitive people. But over time, he learned to accept his situation, and knew that lamenting his state would not bring about any positive change. He instead, as urged by his father, decided to get as much education as he could, to be able to function in and contribute to society.

“I learned how not to pay heed to the people who made fun of me. I had taken up a marketing job during my college days, which entailed a lot of travel. It was always an experience to be able to face people in different towns and villages, who were attracted more by my diminutive size rather than what I was selling. Some of them were just plain curious, while others would make fun of me, but I never retaliated. I think that 90 per cent of people are not friendly or helpful, and only ten per cent treat us with some consideration and kindness,” said Dhiraj.

Dhiraj wanted to join the civil services and even passed the Mahararashtra Public State Commission (MPSC) exam, but he failed to be selected in the interview. He gave farming a shot, but the drought foiled his plans. He then decided to come to Pune. That was 15 years ago.

He applied for a technical post with Larsen and Toubro, but was rejected because of his size, despite all his assurances. This incident has made Dhiraj even more fearless and determined. “I decided then not to bow before anyone and to prove my worth,” he said.

He first worked as a software developer for an IT company for two years. Then he applied for a lecturer’s post in the computer science department of Fergusson College in 2008, and was selected. As assistant professor he earns Rs 2.70 lakh annually. He is single and wants to get married. His brother Prashant is studying networking and lives with Dhiraj.

He commutes from Bhosari to Pune by PMPML buses, facing the usual hassles while boarding a bus. But he does not take injustice lying down. “If I see wrongdoing, I will oppose it and even argue. People try to dominate me because of my stature, but I make it a point to let them know that I am a college professor. Then they view me differently, even respectfully. I like my job and try to give my 100 per cent. My students know and appreciate this,” said Dhiraj. He loves the cordial atmosphere at Fergusson College. “I have the full support of my head of department and principal. I like working here,” he says.

Dhiraj is the kind of person who is always eager to learn something new. He is polishing up his English, and his hobbies include karate, action movies and chess.

‘Going to the gym enabled me to find what I wanted to do with my life’

Ajinkya Joshi (right) with one of his proteges at the fitness and health club

Ajinkya Joshi (right) with one of his proteges at the fitness and health club

Ajinkya Vasudev Joshi, 30, is a trainer at the Soman Health and Fitness Club, at Khajina Vihir, Shukrawar Peth. He has made a name for himself in the power weightlifting arena, having won a gold medal at the 2006 Asian Games in South Korea, and a silver medal at the 2007 Asian Games in Taiwan.

His childhood was a traumatic time as Ajinkya faced the barbs and taunts from people owing to his size. He remembers it as a humiliating experience, but he had to learn how to cope with it, the hard way. Ajinkya is 4.6 feet tall and it is his small stature that has led him to find his calling in life. “I joined a gym in Vitthalwadi on Sinhagad Road 15 years ago. What I really wanted to gain from going to the gym was to increase my height. That may not have happened, but going to the gym has enabled me to find just what it was that I wanted to do with my life. And over the years, my liking for keeping fit has kept growing, and now I find being a trainer a rewarding occupation, as I am able to teach others what I have learnt. The gym is also the place where I became interested in the sport of power lifting,” he said.

It was when he was 15 that his parents realised that Ajinkya’s physical growth had stalled. They consulted a number of doctors to seek a remedy, but the efforts proved to be in vain. Then a chance suggestion by a friend led him to the Soman Health and Fitness Club.

“I have been inspired by my parents, and also my teacher, the late Swapnil Soman sir. He guided me and taught me everything I know about power lifting. He motivated me to improve my skills and excel at the sport. I participated in power lifting competitions in school, and then progressed to the national and international levels,” he said. Ajinkya has won 40 district level, 16 state level, 11 national and two international championships. He would have continued his career, but a ligament injury he suffered in 2008 has forced him out of the competitive arena.

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With all the experience in the gym, it seemed logical for Ajikya to settle into a career as trainer. He worked with Persistent Company, Nal Stop, Karve Road for four years before joining Soman Health and Fitness Club, where he has been working for four years. Fondly known as Appa, the club has a clientele of 125 male and female fitness enthusiasts. Ajinkya aka Appa guides them in losing or gaining weight, weight lifting, power lifting, and other assorted physical fitness regimen. He is the only trainer and also manages the club, for his remuneration of Rs 4.5 lakh annually.

Ajinkya, who has a Commerce degree, was refused jobs by Emcure, MSEB and other companies, but it has all been for the best. He now wants to set up a power lifting academy. He also has other interests such as playing the dhol in a drum troupe during Ganeshotsav.

Ajinkya is unable to drive a car or ride a bike owing to his disability. He lives with his parents and brother.

‘Why should people make fun of my disability which is not my fault at all?’

Abbas Inamdar going about his newspaper rounds

Abbas Inamdar going about his newspaper rounds

Abbas Nabilal Inamdar, 51, resident of Rasta Peth, is height-challenged and as a consequence, he has been used to being called names and treated with ridicule by society. Everyone in his locality knows him and with his elderly status he is not the object of fun anymore, but he cannot forget his past. “As a child I felt humiliated when people called me names like ‘butkya’ (dwarf in Marathi), and made fun of me. Initially, I would retaliate but this only made matters worse and they would tease me even more. So, I learned to ignore such people, which was the right thing to do. Why should people make fun of me for my physical disability which is not my fault at all?” he says.

Abbas works as an office assistant at B J Medical College. He also runs a newspaper stall in the Poolgate area. Abbas’s day begins at 4:30 am, when he leaves home on his bicycle, to go to Poolgate. There he collects the bundles of newspapers from the depot, and goes around on his cycles distributing the papers to around 300 households. He has a boy for company on these rounds. His wife Shahnaz, meanwhile, looks after the newspaper stall at Poolgate.

“I have been in this newspaper business since 1980, and I barely earn Rs 7,000 a month from this,” said Abbas.

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At 10:30 am, he goes home for breakfast, after which it is time to report to B J Medical College, where he has been working since 1995. Abbas’s duties include making photocopies of documents, filing documents and other assorted office chores. His working day ends at around 8 pm.

Abbas’s family includes his mother Jainabi, 95, wife Shahnaz and only son Ali Jabber, 17, who is a standard XI student. Abbas was unable to pursue his education owing to the impecunious family conditions. He has studied up to standard X. Then he was forced to earn a living by doing the newspaper rounds, in 1980. He got the job at B J Medical College in 1995, but was relieved of his job after a year. He got the job back after a court order. He earns Rs 12,000 a month as an office assistant. He likes to read, and finds some book, periodical, or newspaper to browse through in his spare time.

Abbas has had some difficult times to deal with. In 1995, he was addicted to the lottery, and found himself in debts amounting to Rs 50,000. It was a desperate situation and he ran away from home to Mumbai. His parents filed a missing person complaint with the police station, which was published in the local Marathi daily ‘Sandhyanand’. After about a week Abbas returned to Pune. The police caught him and handed him over to his parents. He had to work twice as hard to pay off his debts.

‘If you give us the opportunity, we can prove that we are just as capable as others’

Maya Anvekar (right) dispenses the prescribed medication to a patient

Maya Anvekar (right) dispenses the prescribed medication to a patient

Maya Uttamrao Anvekar, 47, resident of Ravivar Peth, is just 4.4 feet in height. She has been working as a compounder at general physician Dr Parag Rasane’s clinic at Sonya Maruti Chowk, Budhwar Peth, for 14 years. Everyone knows her at the clinic, and her expertise in giving injections, saline, medication and first aid, is well appreciated.

Her parents were aware of Maya’s deficiency in growth and did all they could to deal with the problem. They consulted doctors who gave her injections and prescribed physical workouts, but nothing seemed to help. Moreover, there was the added trauma of facing society and being made fun of due to her diminutive stature. All through school, Maya learned how to cope with her handicap and put on a brave face. “I knew that if I showed any sign of being scared or angry, the people would trouble me even more, and make my life a living hell. So I learned to ignore the people who made fun of me, and concentrated on my studies. Now of course, no one teases me anymore,” said Maya.

Maya’s father Uttamrao, a goldsmith, passed away when she was in school. She was forced to leave school after standard X, as she had a younger brother and sister to look after. She did a typing course in the hope of finding a job. But her brother Suresh stepped in and lent a hand, in looking after the younger siblings. Their mother passed away 15 years ago. With her physical disability, Maya was unable to get any marriage proposals.

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“The proposals I got turned out to be frauds as the suitors were only interested in getting dowry,” said Maya. She started looking for a job when she was 17, but it proved to be difficult with her handicap. But then came the interview for a compounder’s post at Dr Prakash Rasane’s clinic. “I was asked if I would be able to fulfil my duties. I asked them to observe my work for two days. They did and then I was selected. Now Dr Parag treats me like his sister, and trusts me,” said Maya. Maya had some nursing experience through looking after her ailing mother.

Maya has always had a positive approach towards life. She has many hobbies and interests such as weaving, reading, and music.

“Don’t just see the physical side but try to see what’s in the minds of people like me. If you give us the opportunity, we can prove that we are just as capable of others of doing our duty,” is Maya’s advice to society. And for others like herself, Maya believes that they should not lose confidence in themselves, and to ignore the people who just want to make fun of them. She lives with her brother Suresh and his wife.

‘I want to be a businessman, make lots of money and become very rich’

Kumar Laxman Rathod

Kumar Laxman Rathod

Kumar Laxman Rathod, 17, is a standard XII student of Marathwada Mitra Mandal College (MMMC), Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce Road, Deccan Gymkhana. He is just 3.2 feet tall.

Life is hard for Kumar, who lives in Kasarwadi, with his parents Laxman and Sushila, who work as construction site labourers, brother Prakash, 15, and sister Sharda, 14. His day begins at 6 am, and after the morning ablutions, he does his studies. Then he commutes to college by PMPML bus. College lectures last from 11:30 am to 5 pm, when he returns home.

Kumar has been fortunate as he has not faced too much ridicule or harassment owing to his stature, in everyday life or at college. “I am fortunate that I have parents, friends and teachers at my college, who are always there to give me support if I need it. Even Principal M B Lawrence has always been supportive,” he said.

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Kumar is determined to put in all the hard work needed to make something of his life. He is seeking medical help to overcome his disability but the doctors can’t guarantee success. But he has learned to come to terms with his physical handicap, and will not let it come in the way of achieving his goals.

“I want to be a businessman, make lots of money and become very rich. I have had enough of being poor and helpless,” he said.

Originally published on The Golden Sparrow

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