Some scars leave a mark but some leave behind a story. Malvika Iyer is the definition of courage and determination. From surviving a tragic accident at her early teen, she has come a long way to winning the Woman in the World Emerging Leaders Award at the Seventh Annual Women in the World Summit in New York teaching us how giving up is never an option.
At the age of 13, in Bikaner, Rajastan, Malvika did what any normal kid would do – be playfully experimenting, but fate was written differently for her. The day she still vividly remembers like it was yesterday, she was just being her own exuberant self and as she was trying to stick something to her jean pocket, she looked for something heavy to hammer it with. Little did she know about an ammunition depot that had deployed a few days earlier and hand shells and debris from the explosion had landed in her neighbourhood. She friskily took one of the shells and hit it against her pocket. That was when her whole life changed. On the first hit, the shell exploded on her hand.
The severe bomb-blast caused her to lose both her hands and left her despondent with severely damaged legs. “I remember a lot of blood, a lot of my own flesh being burnt and the mere smell of it was appalling. I blacked out for a few second; but did not lose my consciousness. I heard my parents bawl. It took me a minute to realise what just happened. I lost my sensation as the main nerve that connected my hands and legs was cut. There was 80% blood loss instantly,” says Malvika recalling the tragic incident of her life.
Anyone would be horror-struck after such a terrifying accident. That day changed her whole course of life and it is surprising to hear how intensely she remembers the incident. “When my dad carried me to the hospital, I could see my left leg dangling up-side down. No one seemed to notice my legs as all their attention was on my hands that were cut off from the shoulder immediately after the explosion. I tried acutely to notify my uncle who was holding my leg that it was literally falling off,” she says.
There was fire wherever she looked. All she could see of her body was blood dripping and pouring out. Her whole life flashed in front of her and she thought that was the end of it. Though she couldn’t feel anything for the first few days and her body remained numb, she knew it was bad and she knew that it had hit her hard.
Being a naughty child, she was always funny, cracking jokes about everything but not that day; not after what had happened. She knew it was serious. “I realised the intensity of the accident. I could hear my mother crying her eyes out and I remember apologising to my mom because at that moment, the terrible situation I put my parents through, dawned on me and the only thing that I wanted to do was to apologise to them, says Malvika.
But through all the affliction, she gave no way for weakness. It was her time to stay strong and determined. At that point of her life, hope was her therapy and that was her strength.
Even when the doctors were negative about her survival, it was her perseverance that kept her going.
After several extensive treatments and multiple surgeries, she was bedridden for two years. “I had external fixators and rods inserted inside me and at that point I never thought I would be able to walk again,” she says. Throughout the 14 years of rehabilitation that followed the accident, Malvika and her mother had shared many emotions and feelings. There was a string of sentiments that filled up the room ranging from sadness to frustration but ‘patience’ was what helped them overcome it. “My mother always kept me grounded. Reaching the state of happiness and content was the goal and that is what we worked for, together,” says Malvika recollecting the days she spent with her mother.
After all the surgeries and damage fixing, her hands were replaced with a skin grafting operation. The doctors were still unsure about saving her left leg which was dangling from a small grit of skin and amputation was the doctor’s say. As her parents did not want to take any more risks, they suggested that they try to save the leg. “After intense treatment, the doctors were able to save the leg and though it was completely disfigured, I was happy to have them,” she says with an ironic smile.
At a time when any other person would have felt the need to give up, she rose to ace her Tenth Board exams with only three months to prepare. Making it as the State topper, she made heads turn and all the media channels wrote about this inspiring woman.
She was invited to meet the former President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. All this attention boosted her self-confidence which made her feel that she can still do wonders with her life. “Initially, during the first few years, I always felt very inferior and I felt my complex taking over me. I was only 13 when the accident happened and I had honestly not seen anyone without hands or a disability like mine. That made me feel insecure about my body. I had people stare at me and whispering to each other that there was something wrong with me. It took a lot of courage and support from my mom to get over it and accept my body,” she says.
Going ahead to blend with the society, she graduated from St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. She continued her education doing a degree in Social work. She believed that it was the encouragement and the support that the society gave her that made her who she is now, giving her the confidence in herself. Thus, she wanted to give something back to the society where she found herself a part of.
She started helping differently abled children. She engaged herself in many social services. Never giving up on her thrive for social service, she did her Ph.D in social work and continued to motivate, inspire and support the differently abled.
The years of social work, though it made her feel good, did not erase her notion that she was still different from the others. While she was still getting over her little complexes, TEDxTalks approached her and offered her a platform to talk about her life on a public forum.
This was a perfect opportunity for her to find herself and she realised that she was much more than what she thought she was. Talking about her stories got rid of all her insecurities. It helped her realise that she was indeed much better off than many other people in the world. In days to follow, she became a motivational speaker inspiring millions to bid goodbyes to their insecurities and take on the world with courage and confidence.
Soon enough, she was invited to host the India Inclusion Summit in Bangalore which gave her the opportunity to be present among a lot of other inspiring differently abled people. Apart from all the speeches, she also became a dashing model for accessible clothing, an initiative of Ability Foundation and NIFT.
She is now not only known as a bilateral amputee or a bomb-blast survivor but also as a Global Shaper, a social worker, International motivational speaker and a model.
Through ups and downs, she made it out of the ugly twists that life threw at her with utmost determination. In a world where people give up so easily, this story of Malvika Iyer would be a perfect example for all of us to learn how to hold on to life even when it is hanging by a thread.