In many of my blogs on leadership, I have mentioned Naseema Hurzuk who was a handicapped person. I had read about her in a Marathi book ‘Kharekhure Idols’(The Real Idols). The authors Anand Awadhani and others watched ‘Indian Idols’ series and decided to present the ‘real idols’ who the Society should cherish. (For those study leadership and who can also read Marathi – the two volumes of ‘Kharekhure Idols’ is a gold mine – but more about it some other time).
Back to Naseema Hurzuk. Her autobiography was published in 2001, ‘Chakachi Khurchi’ meaning a Wheelchair, which became her constant companion from the age of sixteen when wrong diagnosis of her back ache culminated in paraplegia. A young, energetic and enthusiastic girl who was fond of dancing and outdoor activities was bed ridden. Gaining control of her bodily activities was a huge problem with which she battled for many years. It shakes a person’s self-esteem. Catheter and bed sores become lifelong companions.
Coming from a family with modest means and battling a physical condition that confined her to bed was the greatest calamity of her life. Getting up, mustering courage and energy, ensuring other physically handicapped persons are helped, and setting up and organization ‘Helpers of the Handicapped’ was a herculean task. Hercules is synonymous with strength, which handicapped persons like Naseema did not have, but it was compensated by strength of her will power.
Persuading disabled children (and their parents) to undergo surgical operations which would help a them overcome disability was an unusual step. The first such operation landed Naseema in trouble as the young girl died, and her father threatened to sue her in the Court. But Naseema persisted in her decision, convinced that it was the right step, and it bore fruits.
Naseema’s world is different from ours – we rarely read about disabled children and women, disabled married women too – being abandoned after a ‘stroke’ and when we do, we wonder whether it is a result of poverty or sheer callousness. Such situations pained Naseema, but for her primary goal was helping them stand on their feet.
The road to achieving her goal – ‘to help the handicapped persons stand on their feet, helping them to be independent’ – was full of hurdles, many of them unforeseen. Naseema had no experience of running an organization, much less an NGO, and she stumbled many a times only to learn her lessons from her failures. She had mentors in Vijay Merchant (yes, the famous cricketer) and Babukaka, the latter was a handicapped person and who inspired her to work for others. Her biggest and the only asset was a pragmatic and decisive mind.
Naseema helped organize cricket matches for the disabled; it is difficult to believe that a boy who had small stubs for hands could hold a bat in his armpit and hit boundaries. We are unaware of the high potential held by the disabled, and this stark reality hits us while reading the book. She was behind several disabled persons winning medal and accolades.
Helpers of the Handicapped runs two rehabilitation centers. They run training institutions which impart knowledge and skills for setting up a small business. Everything to ensure that the handicapped can live with pride and without being dependent or burden on others. That is not a small achievement by any person. Naseema has won several accolades and awards, the book lists nineteen, all prestigious.
An astrologer told Naseema that she will never marry, she laughed and said that she did not need an astrologer to foretell it – the wheel chair indicated it any way. (Naseema later mentions, with deep regret, declining proposal from a man she liked) And the second statement of the astrologer was, ‘You will build a big house.’ She did.
Obviously, that was a man with clairvoyance, but Naseema had dismissed him, laughed him off. She created her future; leaders do not require astrologers.
Her story prompts us to ask – who really is handicapped? Those who are able bodied who contribute nothing to alleviate social problems or those who are physically disabled?
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” **** “Aroehan: Creating Dream Villages in Mokhada by 2025: “No Malnutrition Deaths, No Child ‘Out of School’, Reduction in migration by 50%.”