In March, this year, the president of India conferred the Nari Shakti Puraskar to eminent women who had excelled in various fields. The award is given to institutions and individuals who have rendered distinguished services to the cause of women. It was a long journey for Dr Malvika Iyer from surviving a bomb blast in 2002 to receiving the honour from President Ramnath Kovind.
Malvika has vivid memories of her birthplace Kumbakonam and the time spent in and around the town during her holidays. “My aunt lived in Trichy so went spent a lot of time at her place during my childhood. I remember going on several trips to the beautiful trips in that belt with my parents and sister. Of course, during childhood, you don’t appreciate those things but later, when you learn its history and develop a sense to appreciate its architecture, you see it in a different light,” she says.
Pictures take us down the memory lane and Malvika has gathered plenty of them from those days. “My dad would smear a lot of vibhuti on our foreheads and that is how I look in all the pictures! Besides, being a religious person, I feel positive vibes in temples. Also, you get authentic south Indian food in those places. I still remember the taste of kuzhpaniyaram with chutney that we would have. Having grown up in the north, the greenery of the south was inviting and traveling by train to all these places was an experience in itself. I remember the fragrance of mallipoo would waft through the streets while we walked past them and we would be taken to see the Cauvery as kids. Those are very enduring memories of my time in Kumbhakonam.”
Life was thrown out of gear for Malvika in 2002, when she lost both her hands in a grenade explosion at her home in Bikaner. While her hands were amputated, her legs sustained multiple fractures, nerve paralysis and hypoesthesia. But after being healed, her family decided to move her from Rajasthan to Chennai, where there were better medical facilities and support system for her family.
“My mother’s spirit to fight was my biggest inspiration in those years. If not for her, it wouldn’t have been possible and I had a wonderful support system of relatives and cousins. I was able to look at this accident as an incident and move on.”
But it is not that it was easy to continue with life. Insensitive questions and stares accompanied her everywhere but there were people who let her be herself. Today, Malvika is a motivational speaker, a disability rights activist and a model for accessible fashion. “I was called to speak at a few schools right after I stood first in class 10. I also met Dr APJ Abdul Kalam then but I had not embraced my loss yet then. I tried my best to be like others and it was exhausting me. I made a post on Facebook in 2012 about my journey and soon, I was called to speak at TedX Youth@Chennai in 2013.” Since then, Malvika has spoken in more than 200 places, motivating people to look at their life differently.
But while success attained with such huge battles brings its own high, there are a few lows as well. “I know I have set the bar high for myself. I can’t complain about little things anymore but I do encounter the emotions of any 29-year-old girl.”Malvika received a standing ovation for her speech at the 61st session on Commission on the Status of Women in March 2017 at the headquarters of the United Nations. Recently, a graphic novel was brought out on her life and Malvika also completed by PhD five months back.
“I have moved on from my story but when people call me, for them that story is important. Funnily they even want me to sound emotional sometimes while talking about it. I have now lived more years without my hands than I have with my hands. And while there is a lot of negativity on Twitter, I want to use it in a positive way and connect with more wonderful people.”
Diwali celebrations have been special for her all through the years and the time spent in Chennai are particularly memorable. From waking up before sunrise to having Ganga snanam to relishing the variety of sweets and savouries, there’s a lot she loves about the festival.
“In Chennai, it would rain invariably for Diwali and we relished the sweets and savouries made at home. I have experienced Diwali both in the north and the south. Once we moved to the south, we followed the usual rituals of Diwali and also tried to catch the Diwali releases in a nearby theatre. My mother is most excited during festivals and ensures the spirits of the household are high on such occasions.”
This interview was published in The Times Of India – Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai and Trichy