Our special series

‘Unbound’ … a spinal cord injury awareness series

Mrunmaiy Abroal celebrated the 2017 Christmas with her friends. She returned home and showed some of the pictures to her parents. Her mother beamed when she saw one picture and said: “You have blended so well with the others. It does not look like you are in a wheelchair. This picture makes your disability invisible.” For Mala Abroal, her mother, the picture is still very special as it blends her daughter with her friends. Inclusion … that’s all that people with spinal cord injuries ask for. The injury may have hampered their ability to walk, but they are still the same from within. It may have put restrictions on them, but it does not change their ability to love their better-halves, parents, and children. A spinal cord injury does not mean they should put their lives, dreams, ambitions, and aspirations on hold. No, they are not “different”.

I have known Abroal since college days. Some friendships are meant to last. It was that. Though we were not always living/working in the same city after we graduated, we stayed connected. In 2011, one Saturday, she invited me to her place to stay over. While gazing at the sparkling lights of Mumbai from her 10th-floor apartment, we chatted until the wee hours of the morning and even planned a trip to Turkey.

Two weeks later, a phone call at 10 pm informed me that her car had met with an accident while she was returning from Nagpur back to Mumbai with her parents. A few days later, I was informed that she had an ‘SCI’. I had no idea what that meant. I googled and read about spinal cord injuries (SCI). However, it was only after I visited her in Nagpur a couple of months after the accident that I came to know the exact nature of her “permanent” injury – quadriplegia … paralysis of all the four limbs and torso.

What’s incredible is the way she has handled the life-altering crisis. Today, when I see her chasing her goals at her workplace, travelling like she used to before, and finding time to pursue her hobbies like scuba diving and parasailing, my heart swells with happiness.

I have met her multiple times in different cities in all these years, mostly at high-end cafes that are wheelchair-friendly. And yet, we have had people stare at us when I would sometimes feed her, while she would manoeuvre her wheelchair around, or when her helpers would physically lift her and shift her in her car.

Unlike some of the countries in the Western part of the world, in India, because of attitudinal barriers, persons with disabilities continue to grapple with the challenges of access, acceptance, and inclusion. To sensitize people, September is dedicated to spread awareness about spinal cord injuries. We spent the whole month talking to those who are living with a spinal cord injury.

Our series, ‘Unbound’, is an attempt to bring to you their incredible journeys. Each story is an inspiration — some found strength in sports, others in academics, while a lot of them are busy looking after their children and managing their families and at the same time being financially independent. Inclusion and acceptance … that’s all that they are asking for.

Read Mrunmaiy’s story, Ishrat’s story, Rafat’s story, Garima’s story, Preethi’s story, Suresh’s story, Kartiki’s story, Ekta’s story

The voices among us – a series of interviews on mental health

Actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death and what followed thereafter gave an immediate impetus to do this series of interviews. We wanted to share real, lived experiences of people as well as mental health professionals.

The conversations that followed the actor’s death were certainly shocking, especially ones on the lines of ‘A person who has everything, how can he or she be depressed?’ But I did not have to look far, I had to only look within. Just a decade or so ago I had met a man on a date, and he had revealed in the course of that evening that he was bipolar. My own knowledge or the lack of it on what it means to be bipolar, was embarrassing to say the least.

I asked him – ‘You mean, you wear bifocal lenses?’ I do not know, how, after reading Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, I could have been so ignorant. What I found helpful at that point in time, were blogs, books (memoirs and first-person narratives) that told the story of what it meant to have a mental illness with honesty, without judgement and with empathy.

I loved reading Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom, and followed it up with A Book of Light, The Bell JarProzac NationMind on Fire, I’ve Never Been (Un) Happier. I kept adding blogs and books to my to-do reading list and with every book that I read, I found my understanding of mental health issues and sense of empathy growing several inches.

I also learned a lot from my relationship with the young man and from what he so honestly shared with me.

So think of these interviews as a pool of resources. Come to these interviews as and how you like — to hear voices that speak to you, to find shared, common ground, out of curiosity, to explore your own self, or to broaden your horizons. There’s no judgement here or an attempt to preach.

The voices are so clear, brilliant, and brimming with the poetry of life — I found myself richer for having had these conversations with each person I interviewed.

In the series, you can read the following stories and interviews:

Jerry PintoAmandeep SandhuShampa SenguptaShyam MithiyaAnjana DeshpandeTanika Godbole, Karishma Upadhyay and Kiranjit Kaur

Prerna Shah

Why write about grief? Why an ode to loss?

Why should one do a series on loss and grief? For one, these experiences are central to our lives. There’s not a single person who hasn’t experienced loss (via death of a loved one) or wouldn’t do so in his/her lifetime.

Who we lose and how … the situations differ and yet, it is rare to come across someone who has never grieved. Sometimes the loss is unexpected, or traumatic or takes place in circumstances that change us forever. It takes time for us to acknowledge and process the impact of that loss, and how it has shaped us.

There are no tailor-made solutions or one singular way to cope with loss. Sometimes writing it down helps, sometimes sharing helps, and at other times, all that we need is for someone to listen without judgement and with empathy.

Swati and I wanted to do this series for years now, but how do you ask people to share some of their most intimate, vulnerable experiences? We have both been moved to tears while reading some of the experiences that people have shared with us, and one in particular.

As it so happens, much before The Good Story Project came to be, one of us had reached out to this person two years ago and asked if she was willing to be interviewed or write a piece on her loss. That piece finally came to us this year, and once it was in, we realized it had been such a big ask from her. Writing about such a life-altering loss is always difficult and more so when you are going to share it with someone else and open it up for so many other people to read.

I should know this. It took me several years to write about losing my father and how it affected me, and even though I could write about many things under the sun, every time I tried to put in words my father’s last moments and the last hour leading to his death, I would end up staring endlessly at a blank screen. Though my father was calm and dignified when it was his time to go, his death and the aftermath affected me deeply and writing about it has also been one way to honour his memory as well as acknowledge my grief.

So we would like to thank each and every one of you who has shared or is in the process of sharing your deeply personal experiences with us.

And we cannot take without giving. Therefore, I am sharing links for a piece that I had written in 2019 and also for one that I wrote in 2020. These pieces are deeply personal and deal with my own sense of grief; having written them for my personal blog.

You can find the 2019 one here and the one I wrote more recently here.

Prerna Shah

Read Nitin Naik’s story, Lakshmi Kaul’s story, Darshana Shukul’s story, Gurudas Pai’s story, Eshwari Shukla’s story, Sunil Kumar’s story, Pooja Ganju Adlakha’s story, Zaida Jacob’s story