I’m walking back from lunch at my Aunt’s place in Delhi and suddenly I hear a honk! It’s Navin… he’s come to pick me up to take me to the airport. My face breaks into a big grin when I see him. He has that effect on people. I’m leaving for Pune after attending a family wedding but I knew I couldn’t leave Delhi without seeing my friend, Navin.
I met this amazing spirit in January of 2001. He co-organized and spoke at an event in Pune for people with disabilities along with Win Phatak, Divyanshu Ganatra and other pioneers in the local disability movement.
Quiet and unassuming, he told the audience about his accident, which caused his paralysis, matter-of-factly, but passionately, urging other disabled members in the audience to take control of their own rehabilitation. He also told us of his recovery and his new life after the accident, and how his sudden challenge had only made him stronger and more creative.
As I was sitting there listening to Navin, I realized how important a role model is- not just to people with similar disabilities – but to all of us. Navin sets his mind on something and then analytically pursues it to its very end.
We are all capable of doing the same, but very often we allow obstacles to keep us from our goals.
Navin sees obstacles as inevitable – to him, they make the adventure even more interesting!
So now years later, he’s driving me to the airport, and we’re chatting about our work, our lives, and generally catching up. Then he shows me his amazing contraption of a car!
He engineered a manual geared car for less than $300 to suit his limited arm function. He can use a few muscles in his arms so he set up the gears, clutch, brake and horn (so important in India!) below the steering wheel to leverage those muscles.
In the US, it would cost at least $15,000 to modify a car this way, but Navin put his “kit” together with parts from motorcycle parts and anything else he can find in the junk pile. With no engineering background, a man who is classified as 100% disabled by the government and even by society, drives around nonchalantly in Delhi traffic, weaving his way through the auto-rickshaws and trucks, confidently.
“This is much better than the car you built in Pune four years ago!” I said. He smiled impishly. “Wait till you come next year. It will be even better.”
Sitting next to Navin, I realize that I am more comfortable with him driving than with anyone else. His instincts are sharp, his control of his car is absolute. Navin asks his assistant sitting in the back seat to hand me photo albums he brought to show me of his previous expeditions to Leh, Ladakh, and the Himalyas.
He tells me he is embarking on another adventure – to set a world record from Delhi to Marsimik La – which is the world’s highest motorable road at 18,632 feet, 332 feet higher than the base camp of Mount Everest.
I honour his fearless heart. I think about what Baba Amte once said, “Where there is fear, there can be no love. And where there is no love, there can be no God.”
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