Tuesday, December 9, 2008

One Memorable Day of My Life - A Personal Blog - Part 1

“Poor boy, you look so nice and good, why had fate been so cruel to you ?”, asked an old lady as I was waiting below the only tree outside the visa consulate office in Chennai.
I had never seen her in my life and neither did she know me. I was standing for almost an hour, abled by my crutches and holding on to all my documents needed for the interview. And she was selling flowers just close by there. I didn’t know what to reply her with as I was reminded of one more such question long back.
“So are you ‘really’ going to go to the U.S and live there alone ? Are your parents too allowing you to do this ?”, asked the watchman outside the exam centre for G.R.E. He too had seen me struggling and waiting for about 3 hours outside the building.
A fight with them or a talk against them would have been of no use. They’d think “As such he is disabled. And adding to that look at how egoistic and talkative he is. Guess that is the reason he is disabled. No wonder God punished him.” Such is the attitude of most people. Fight by a disabled brews hatred, silence brews gossip and overcoming the difficulties sympathy.
I thought I would write about them in some forum or some magazine. But then writing in disabled forums, after being silent infront of those two people, would be an insult that I would be inflicting on a fellow being from their backs. And i didn't want to do that.
Inside me I was fuming then and wanted to shout, “Why the hell on earth are you bothered of my fate and dreams ?”. But then if i do that, she'd say that she was only expressing her sympathy and niceness to me while I inturn was being rude to her !
So, I thought I should follow my words i once wrote in my blog. I thought i would convert her statement into a morale booster and become even more passionate about what I want. I smiled at her and moved on. She was happy that I felt her ‘sympathy’ for me and wished me all the best.
I got my Visa an hour later and made preparations for journey back to Hyderabad from Chennai. I wanted to see the old lady and boast to her of my success but she was no where to be seen.
That evening though, while returning in the train, I was wondering what if I didn’t get the visa. I was wondering what would have happened not only to my life but also to my attitude with regard to the old lady. Would I have wished to see her ? Would I have smiled at her when I returned with a failure too ? “Certainly not, you are no angel”, said my mind ! “Had you not got the visa, you’d have atleast said a couple of scathing words at her on seeing her and got off your anger and disappointment on her. And that infact would have actually helped a few people like you who’d face her in the future even if it meant you were bad. And now, this visa of yours is only a ticket for her to commit further sins and a chocolate to a crying baby in you that was hurt by her words but on seeing the chocolate is trying to forget it.”
“Hmm. I’ll not let that happen. Like people break coconuts at the temples, I promised myself that day that I’d do one act for people like me who had to face people like her. I’ll prove and at the same time make everyone see the proof that I am worth no less and that it was her fate actually which made her question me on my disability while overlooking her own state. ”, I thought.
I came to the U.S. very well remembering the promise I made to myself. I had to prove that I was worth the dream as well make people see it.
So, as three months passed and as I was well settled here apart from earning a contract of research scholarship for my studies, I thought I should start to work on my promise.
I thought i would write, write elaborately and write passionately against people for their attitudes towards the disabled. But then I was damn very sure that no one would read it purely for its length and that it’d not have the impact I promised myself to make. It would be like I attempted and intended to fulfill my promise but failed in its execution.
So words will not work. I told myself.
I had to make a hard hitting statement. Something which without saying anything says everything. Not only about me but also people like me. Something I thought that’d show the world through actions and not words what I and every disabled person was at heart – Courageous, risk taking, loveable, sensitive, caring, daring and full of life.
And I was looking for one act that would summarize and show it all. That was when I came across the advertisement for skydiving. An act that would require a person to take a flight from Chicago, U.S.A., go upto 14000 feet in air and tied to another person, jump out from the plane falling freely for about 12000 feet before pulling the parachute to land.
“That is exciting”, I thought. “And that would make everyone see what I wanted them to see ! A Courageous, Risk taking, Daring and full of life Sai”

One Memorable Day Of My Life - A Personal Blog - Part 2

So, 24 hours from the time I saw that ad, I called up those people, arranged for an appointment for the weekend. I had got my medical certificates ready in case any people object to it on medical grounds. It was as if I was on a mission.

After I met them up on the said appointment date, the people involved in skydiving said that its only the people in the army/those are physically very fit and fine having regular exercise, diet and stuff, who are eligible to do it and any other person would be risking his/her life. I said I’ll go ahead no matter what but then also told them that i wanted the entire act to be video taped. After many objections including a few from my own parents and several statements of guarantee from me stating that I was doing it on my own risk and willingness, my mother’s birthday 21st of june 2008 was fixed as the date for the act.

On that day, at 4 in the morning, me and a group of my friends here took a car and travelled about 150 miles to a place close to Chicago. An awesome journey that was ! Full of vibes, energy and fun. We played loud rock music to pump my adrenalin up and all through the journey were shouting our throats out with fun for what was about to happen.

We arrived in the field of play at 6 30 in the morning. The team that I was supposed to fly with was already there. The temperature was around 5 C in the open. But having experienced the winter of Madison which had temperatures of -10 C on average throughout the year, it was like summer afternoon.

So, me and my friends had high fives before I was dressed up for the act. An Indian flag was handed over to me by my friend for the occasion. The team that I was supposed to fly and jump with was also at its perfect best. They professionally checked, double checked, triple checked and cross checked every equipment that’d be involved in the act. The slightest error could prove fatal and I knew it too.

And at 9 in the morning, all was set. I was dressed up in blue and in a way that’d represent some astronaut. My friends accompanied me till the plane, pushing me in my wheelchair. I was lifted into it and made to squat. My legs, which serve no other purpose except making me photogenic, were tied together. I was asked to rethink my decision again and I refused to back out. So all was set.

At 10 00 a.m. precisely, the flight took off. And within minutes me and my team of professional skydivers and video recorders were up at about 15000 feet traveling at 500 miles per hour. The team asked if I was ready to take the plunge and asked me to have a look out of the window to see what I am up against. I saw the borders of three states beautifully lined, green fields and what my act would mean to those people who are laughed at for their dreams. I said “Let’s go !”. There were claps all around.

And in a few seconds, I was at the tip of the plane’s door with my friend. He asked me what I was feeling. I said “On top of the world !”. And he replied “You must be a psycho” :)

The plane was traveling at almost 600 mph now skywards. I was staring at three states for records and literally the whole world ! My heart was pumping blood with a pressure of some water flood and I could feel it. The winds were hitting me like a tornado would be hitting a house. And I was ready to be blown off. It was a strange sense of peace, love, happiness and thrill.

“We are ready to jump !” my teammate said and even as I could hear that completely, he jumped.

And there I was feeling like a bird. Shouting my heart, out of the excitement I was in. Shouting my mind, out of the anger which made me to do it. Shouting my love out to my mom, who was celebrating her birthday and had no clue as to how I was wishing her that day. Shouting my pain out at the way the world was indifferent to the sufferings of a fellow being. Shouting my frustration out at the way people kill a person’s dream with Gossip, back talking and a sardonic smile. Shouting at the injustice meted out since centuries to people like me.

The free fall continued for 9 minutes. The winds blowing at 500 MPH were tearing the skin out of my face. All this was being video recorded and photographed.

We were 2000 feet above the ground now. I could see the entire city of Chicago with just a glance. I saw Lake Michigan and it was as beautiful as Asin, my favourite heroine. :) I chuckled to myself at that thought even as we were fast hitting the ground and any malfunctioning in the next step would mean I would become history rather than creating one !

My team mate was in the heights of excitement. He asked me if I was ready to pull in the parachute as we were some 1500 feet above the air. I said yes. And he asked me to go ahead. I pulled the lever for it and it was as if I had put sudden brakes to a car that had traveled at some 100 mph. I was experiencing a tremendous pull of weight and me going up rather than falling down. The sudden pull hurt my back but I managed to hold my nerve as I handed over the lever to my friend.

And what happened from there on was, is and will remain one of the most romantic moments of my life. We were literally standing still at about 1000 feet and it felt God to be still, above the world, watching the toy cars, watching the rush people were in to go to their offices, watching my friends who were in anxiety about what’d happen to me, thinking of my mom who had no clue what I was doing and being myself in what I was doing.

And through all these, My friend maneuvered the parachute and we swirled our way to the ground. One metre of swirling would cover 10’s of kilometers of the windy city. And it certainly was windy today, I thought !

And at about 50 feet above the ground, when it wasn’t as exciting as the free fall and when I knew that all had gone tremendously well, I was waiting for us to reach the ground and celebrate it all.

As we moved down further, I could now see my friends waiting eagerly. We would be there in a few seconds. Me and my friends saluted the flags we were with and at the video camera.

And 12 minutes after I was at the tip of the plane, top of the world, heart racing with love, frustration, anxiety, anger, expectations and adventure, I was at the ground having fulfilled a promise I made myself an year back.

My friends congratulated me and we had high fives again. We started celebrating even as the video was being played on my laptop. We had group photographs taken and began our journey back home. And thus one of the most memorable days of my life ended.
I wished my Mom a happy birthday later that evening passing her the video over the internet and as i did that I thought of the old lady and the watchman who once asked me of my fate and abilities, wondering if I can share the fairy tale day with them.

Hereby providing the links to the photographs of the event as well as the video of it :)


Video-1 : The Jump

Video-2 : The landing