“Pratishtha! Stop taking selfies, people are staring,” my friend said. I turned around to look at a bunch of women bestowing their undivided attention upon me. Amused, I wheeled towards them and asked them the reason behind this generosity. A woman came forward eyeing my legs under my skirt and my shoulders visible over my off-shoulder top. For a moment I doubted her sexual orientation, but she did not have lust in her eyes, it was disgust. She opened her mouth to utter the words that would be etched in my heart forever – “Wheelchair pe hokar aise kapde kyun pehan rakhe hain?” (Why are you wearing such clothes being in a wheelchair?) I smiled at her, wheeled back to my friend, redid my red lipstick and took a beautiful picture.
That day I realised that I had failed in the eyes of the society. Yes, I failed. The society does not expect me to smile, wear nice clothes and take selfies. It rather expects me to sit in a wheelchair with a grim expression and a dull face. My actions confused, irritated and angered them. Over the span of six years of my disability, I have learnt a few things about the perception of people regarding a girl on a wheelchair.
You are disabled? You must be unhappy all the time
The other day I was in the elevator of a metro station with my boyfriend when a stranger came up to me and said,“Bohat bura hua beta aapke sath.” I looked at my boyfriend to check if he looked too ugly to entice this comment, but he looked handsome as ever. “Bohat mushkil hoti hogi aise jeene mein,” he continued. Then I realised that he was referring to my wheelchair. I looked at him; he had a frown on his face. I looked at my boyfriend who was smiling, and I looked at myself in the mirror of the elevator to find a smile on my face too. We were returning from a concert and happiness was written all over my face but guess what? All that the man could notice was my wheelchair. Yes, I cannot walk, and that can be a reason to be sad. But you know what? I have a thousand other reasons to be happy, and I prefer to focus on them.
You are disabled? You must be dumb
This incident occurred when I had just shifted to Delhi, and I went to a hotel with my friends for lunch. After we had the delicious food, the manager came over to ask for feedback. While he was listening to all my able-bodied friends intently, he didn’t ask for my opinion. I ignored it at first, but I was utterly anguished when he asked a question about the accessibility of the hotel from my friend sitting right beside me, totally ignoring my presence. Being the sarcastic girl that I am, I pitched in to say that I was the better-qualified person to answer that question. I am sure that the manager must have understood from our conversation that followed that the physical impairment of an individual has nothing to do with their mental capabilities. Don’t be surprised if you happen to bump into an opinionated, knowledgeable and confident girl in a wheelchair.
You are disabled? You must be unattractive
What can be more attractive than a woman being proud of her imperfections in this world where people incessantly crave bodily perfection? With time, I’ve come to realise that it is the mind that attracts more than the body. And even if we talk about bodily attractiveness, girls in wheelchairs have all the liberty to put on the most sensuous red lipstick, wear the prettiest of dresses and gracefully sway to the music they love. They can even choose to not wear any makeup at all. It is our choice. And we choose to feel attractive nonetheless.
You are disabled? You must not have a love life
I remember giving an interview to a post-graduation student once who was doing a research paper on disability. She asked me, “Why do you think are men not attracted towards disabled women?” I almost smirked at the absurdity of the question. Everyone has a particular taste, a choice and a need. There are men who prefer to date a girl wearing heels, but there are also men who’d date a girl on wheels. And the best thing about dating a girl in a wheelchair is that you wouldn’t have to pull out chairs for her to sit, she carries her throne everywhere, hah! Many of my disabled friends have a very active love life. Love is not about two perfect bodies being attracted towards each other but about understanding, care, cooperation and affection between souls. And souls are not disabled, are they?
I would reiterate, I have one disability, but a hundred abilities! Even though we all have days when we feel blue, but on the other days, the disabled can be as happy, confident and sexy as every other person on earth. So, my dear naysayers, I would humbly request you to please take a deep breath and shed these myths and preconceived notions about people with disabilities. We are happy. Disabled and happy.