Meet the man who climbs mountains, does paragliding, parasailing, scuba diving, tracking, cycling, all sorts of adventure sports, who plays fantastic drums and travels Khardung La Pass in Ladakh even after God took away the one thing that humans can’t live without – eyesight.
In 1998, Divyanshu started showing warning signs of serious health problems. After suffering a severe bout of tuberculosis, Divyanshu Ganatra lost his eyesight to glaucoma when he was just 19. He was in a state of utter shock and denial. He didn’t know what was happening. He was deeply shocked, angry, disturbed. He struggled with reality and challenged it. He didn’t believe it, he didn’t want to. But when he lost his vision completely, he had no other option left than to accept it. It was a life-changing event and only the beginning of a series of challenges, the first of which was to keep learning after quitting school.
On April 2014, Divyanshu Ganatra flew an Indian paraglider and became the first blind solo pilot. His dreams of achieving this feat had been fulfilled after many years. A clinical psychologist and corporate trainer by profession, Divyanshu had nurtured many aspirations, dreams. and ambitions.
Days, months, even years can go by. We look back and wonder how it all went by so fast, yet seemed so slow when we trudged through the difficulties. Losing his vision at the age of 19 did not stop him from pursuing higher education. And about 12 years ago, he also received a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience. He is a clinical psychologist, researcher, behavioural facilitator, and a serial entrepreneur.
He is a fast learner and his knowledge of application software which directly assists end users in doing their work is quite exemplary. A good knowledge of ERP, PeopleSoft, CRM, HR modules and Applications and Operations Management did prove to be a boon when he started his own company – Yellow Brick Road, which is mostly an Information Technology counselling and facilitation firm, whose clients now include Larsen & Toubro, Mahindra & Mahindra, Citibank, Volkswagen Deloitte Tax Services, Adani Power, Tata Trent, Coca-Cola – just to name a few. However, all these factors put together would certainly not stop him from pursuing his first love – flying.
And if that wasn’t enough already, more unexpected things happened. They are like the dreams you think would never come true but they did. In 2016, he earned his elementary pilot’s license having completed a paragliding course (he receives instructions on radio), and later this year, he plans to go scuba diving in Bali. In August 2016, Ganatra also became India’s first blind tandem cyclist to traverse the 550 kilometre stretch from Manali to Khardung La.
Today, he also runs Adventures Beyond Barriers, a non-profit initiative that aims to promote adventure sports for persons with disabilities and able-bodied people together, shattering stereotypes and bringing about social transformation. Alongside establishing a successful IT career and earning a National Award for the Welfare of Persons with Disabilities, Divyanshu is now trying to give back to the blind community.
There’s no lack of things to worry about, and fear is never far from our hearts. Part of life is living with the unknown. As much as we try to create security, structure, and certainty in our lives, no one is able to predict the future. Not one of us is able to stop the unexpected. None of us is capable of controlling events and circumstances beyond our capabilities – like the weather, the stock market, or our health. Meanwhile, the only thing we should be worried about is the fact that we worry so much! Indeed, every moment is perfect as is right now. But we miss it because of worry over the past or future.
Whether in sports, business, or the movies, we always like to see characters overcome the obstacles in their paths. It stirs our souls because we secretly wish we would have the courage to accomplish something extraordinary.
Nimisha Ganatra-Mehta is an accomplished trainer and has successfully completed a program in ‘10,000 Women Leadership And Management Program’ initiated by Goldman Sachs and ISB. Anita and her husband Avi Malik, who is the founder and chief trainer at Temple Pilots, were responsible for providing training and speeding up the process of a five-day high intensive training programme. The programme contained a variety of different activities and tried to help Divyanshu develop a wide range of skills before his ride.
Avi Malik, of Temple Pilots who trained Ganatra for 5 days prior to the big day described him as confident from the very first day of training. Malik said that Divyanshu was a quick learner. “By the third day, he could run with the glider,” added Malik.
“Touch and feel were Divyanshu’s plus points and we gave him his orientation considering these advantages in terms of senses. He learnt things quickly and carried out a successful ride, serving as an inspiration to many,” says Anita.
Divyanshu has several achievements to his credit which includes being a Limca Book of Records holder for flying a plane. He treks the Himalayas, he is a winner of the “National Award” for the Welfare of Persons with Disabilities by the Honourable Vice President of India. He has worked in the field of IT for five years and worked as senior HR executive in TATA Serwizol. He was awarded “Ten Outstanding Young Indians Award,” for personal accomplishments and achievements, by JC’s, an International Youth Organization. He is a mountaineer and adventure sports buff. He is a voracious reader with over five thousand books in his personal collection! He also makes and plays electronic-drums as a hobby. Yes, we’ve achieved a lot, but there’s so much more that has to be done. We need to include people from the differently-abled community in every aspect of society because they can successfully fulfil these roles now.
Divyanshu’s struggle has not been against physical constraints but for breaking through societal attitudes.
“Disability should be the last word used for describing a blind person. What hurts me more is the assumption of the able-bodied that it must be difficult for one to live with ‘disability’. Not with any ill-intention, but it is a misconception the mainstream community carries in its minds, and which has crippled their approach towards the disabled,” he said.
“Persons with disabilities are the largest invisible population in our country. There are around 200 million people with disabilities in India but we are barely noticed,” he added.
“Ask us how our life is, don’t assume! We do not need sympathy, but empathy. The narrative of disability needs to be changed, the language needs to be changed. How disability is portrayed is sad and people need to know that we don’t lead a sad life. We are perceived with pitying eyes — this needs to be stopped,” he maintained.
Talking about the constitutional rights of the disabled, Divyanshu said that though there were a number of laws, implementation was tardy.
“If the legislation is not practised, then it is of no use. First, the majority of the disabled are unaware of their rights. Second, the rights are not implemented properly for the betterment of the disabled. There is a certain quota for the disabled in both the private and public sector, but the disabled are just made to sit out and no work is assigned to them, which is worse,” he pointed out.
However, Divyanshu has always been an optimist and strongly believes change will come.
“There is a change in people’s attitude towards the disabled. When the change is much more meaningful and once we have more mainstream people opening up their educational institutes, work places and public spaces for us, we will see a huge change,” he said.
A couple of years ago I enjoyed watching ”Aaj Ki Raat Hai Zindagi” episode hosted by Amitabh Bachchan on Star Plus, applauding Divyanshu Ganatra for his courage to not perceive blindness as a disability but to shine with it through bravery and live life to the fullest.
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Great accomplishments are often attempted but only occasionally reached. What is interesting (and encouraging) is that those who reach them are usually those who missed many times before. Failures, you see, are only temporary tests to prepare us for permanent triumphs.”
We can focus either on problems or solutions. It is up to our perspective towards looking at things. With this frame of mind, any disabled (differently-abled) person can overcome any challenge in life.
As Divyanshu himself puts it, “Loss of sight does not mean you can’t have perspective. I have been lucky enough to find the kind of people who believe in my aspirations. Nothing is impossible, till you don’t believe so for yourself.”
Let us remember that when we think that life has taken us in the wrong direction, we are actually headed exactly where we need to be. Everything works out for our good in the end. Even when we can’t see how, let’s trust God who can.