My review of this book has appeared in the Jul - Sep 2014 issue of Success & Ability.
I have always felt lucky to be born disabled. No, it is not because of the privilege that I have been looked after by people from the time I was a baby till well into my forties as if I haven’t grown up, as some friends like to joke. But, it is because I have seen a few people (who are my friends now) becoming wheelchair-users in their prime, they all have been brave and somehow surmounted the ordeal. The latest addition in this list of friends is Shivani Gupta. I had heard a lot about her as an award-winning crusader for the disabled.
But, when I heard about a book on her life on the social media, I felt a little sceptical as we Indians are not good at saying it as it is in writing at least in writing. Yet, I got the book without being sure that I will ever finish reading it. And, to my surprise I was visualising the author’s life without knowing that I had started turning pages (though I was reading an ebook).
What happens when the dreams of a twenty-two year old girl’s dreams are crashed in a car accident. Obviously, the fact would take time to sink in, and, it would be a painfully slow. The realisation that your life has gone topsy turvy and things will not be back to normal ever again is hard hitting. You may find Shivani’s life story familiar to some extent, as it covers medical negligence and the lack of knowledge in the medical staff to deal with her case.
For me, the book really begins when Shivani starts describing things after the rehabilitation (meaning that she had accepted being a wheelchair user). She dwells on matters that we in India tend to brush under the carpet or gloss over. The family is believed to be sacrosanct here, especially if you are disabled they become your support system. Shivani tells us about the issues between her father and her helper about how to take best care of her that made her wish to get out of the protective umbrella of the family. She achieved this when she gets a job as a peer counsellor at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (where she herself was treated) and she started living on the premises to avoid travelling from home to the centre on a daily basis. The space provided to her was far from comfortable, but, with dogged determination she survived there until she got apartment of her own in the vicinity.
There are more nuggets from her day to day life that endorse her determined outlook and her wish to make everything she went through worth its while.
The other thing that strikes you about Shivani is the audacity with which she talks about her relationship with Vikas, an occupational therapist whom she had met at her place of work. He was a much younger man full of life and passion for his work. He saw a hero in her and their relationship developed into something that would be a taboo even in this day and age. They got romantically involved and their courtship continued for many years before his parents agreed to their marriage. In between they did many interesting things like learning about inclusion and accessibility in foreign lands. Most importantly, they launched an accessibility consultancy and audit firm (not a NGO) AccessAbility, a pioneering thing in India.
But, as luck would have it Vikas lost his life just a few months after the marriage in a car accident. And, this book is Shivani’s tribute to him. In a way, writing this book helped in coming to terms with her loss. A word of caution to the people who read books to experience the flourish of language, this book is not for you as it is plain, simple and to the point.
As the final words, we can say that the book No Looking Back is more about the Art of Bouncing Back.