METRO PLUS

Drive to a Limca entry

OVERCOMING ODDS WITH GRIT Navin Gulia PHOTO: R.SHIVAJI RAO

OVERCOMING ODDS WITH GRIT Navin Gulia PHOTO: R.SHIVAJI RAO  

Navin Gulia never let his physical disability stop him from chasing his dreams

April, 1995. It was the last day of the training course. The gentlemen cadets at the Indian Military Academy were about to clear an obstacle in an inter-company competition. Navin Gulia, 22, climbed a high ramp, felt a strong push, rolled down, landed on his neck and severely injured his spinal cord. Gulia, who was about to be commissioned to the Indian Army, would now be fighting a different battle.

Doctors in Delhi and later in MH Kirkee, pronounced Gulia 100 per cent disabled. No, he said, and began his fight back lying on his hospital bed. He practised mental calculations; found a way to hang a book over his bed to read; had an empty chessboard propped up and played mental chess. After four months, they put him in a wheelchair and said one day he might be able to move it on his own. But they were referring to his body; not to his spirit. Once in a wheelchair, Gulia joined a computer course, topped it by dictating the answers. Won a chess competition.

He was discharged after two years in hospital. He moved to Delhi looking for more battles to win. He began to teach Math and computer science for a living and took up adventure sport as a hobby. He bought a second-hand Maruti with auto transmission, managed to get a licence, and began his love affair with the Himalayas.

On September 12, 2004, Gulia entered the Limca Book of Records when he drove non-stop from Delhi to Marsimik La, the highest motorable pass in the world, (at 18,632 feet, it is 332 feet higher than the base camp of Mount Everest), in the Ladakh range. He covered a distance of 1200 km and 7 of the world's highest mountain passes. Something that had never been attempted before.

"I just prepared myself for 55 hours of driving," he said. Gulia was in Chennai to address officers at the Officers' Training Academy at St. Thomas Mount. He had driven down from Delhi and at the Ability Foundation in Adyar, he talked to disabled students. Quietly but passionately, he told them of the accident, the recovery, his disability and how it has made him stronger and more determined.

"Do not allow your disability to stand in the way of your dreams," he said . "Master whatever you set out to do. Obstacles are inevitable. I fought and got my licence. I fashioned my own car. You won't enjoy life if you choose to sit in comfort."

The boys and girls may not have endorsed his "cup of tea tastes better if you work for it" edict but they gave their complete approval to his modified car.

Finding no large car with hand controls, Gulia decided to design the modification. But car manufacturers didn't find them an exciting addition to their drawings. Gulia simply got hold of a mechanic. For about Rs. 10,000, he attached gears, clutch and brake to the left of the steering wheel and the horn to the right door where he can press it with his elbow. When you watch the dark Indica race down the road, you'll never guess it's being driven by a man with minimum movement in his hands and none in his legs. Thumb a ride and you marvel at his quick instincts, total control and practised ease.

Gulia now has a hand-driving "kit" which can be fitted to the car in minutes. He hopes to sell it. But that's only when he is not rallying in the upper reaches of Leh or power gliding somewhere nearby or scuba diving along India's shoreline; when he is not being chief-co-ordinator at the War Wounded Foundation that works for "soldier entrepreneurs"; when he is not providing ability solutions through his own outfit, ASFA. "I can't ask the disabled to live life to the full if I don't."

He's obsessed with travel. "Meeting one new person a day is living one more life," he says. "I've always found help when I needed it. In college, friends waited to carry me 40 steps to classes on the upper floor. In the Himalayas, villagers came out in the middle of the night." He doesn't view disability as a challenge. "We have infinite ability," he insists, "restricted only by our thoughts." That's it: Gulia decides to do something and finds a logical way to do it. Disability no bar. Kushi, his wife, says, "Navin is never depressed. When I feel low, he always cheers me up."

Navin Gulia's formula for success: Decide what you want to do, love it, qualify yourself, work on it, take the first step. Trust yourself. Being disabled, you will be appreciated.

GEETA PADMANABHAN

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