Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Saturday with Superwoman, or the day I met Deepa Malik

Deepa Malik

In case you didn't know..

Deepa Malik, mother of 2, overcame a spinal tumor, 3 major spinal surgeries (20 hrs each) & 183 stitches to find super human ability above & beyond a disability condition which left her paralyzed chest down from mid 1999 & confined to a wheelchair.

She became the first Indian woman to win a medal in the Paralympic Games & won a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Summer Paralympics in the shot put. Deepa holds all 3 national records in F-53 category Javelin, Discus & Shot Put throws, all 3 national records in S-1 swimming category Back, Breast & Free Style strokes & in 2008, swam against the current in the Yamuna for 1 km. 

Apart from athletics & swimming, Deepa is a path breaking & record setting biker & motor sport enthusiast, having fought against the authorities for 19 months in Maharashtra to ultimately become the first physically challenged individual in India to receive a license for driving a modified rally vehicle. Subsequently, she became a navigator & driver in the toughest car rallies of the country: Raid De Himalaya (2009) & Desert Storm (2010). In 2013 she owned the world record for the longest pan-India drive by a paraplegic woman, driving 3278 kms from Chennai to Delhi.

Deepa is also a motivational speaker with a remarkably long list of sports, role model & other exemplary awards including the Arjuna Award (2012), President Role Model Award (2014) & Padmashri (2017).

How did the meeting happen?

I am Madhur Daga & very blessed to be the Managing Director at Orient Bell Ltd. (OBL). We manufacture & distribute high quality tiles across India & are a company with some incredibly talented, committed & compassionate professionals. As part of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives over the last 2 years or so, we have adopted a couple of primary schools which were in very poor condition & transformed them with the innovative use of our tiles as educational aids for young underprivileged children. Word has spread about the overwhelmingly positive results & links to the videos of our 2 completed CSR projects are at the end of this blog.

Aradhana Agarwal heads OBL's 'Community Development & Special Projects' function, & along with her incredible team has driven our CSR activities with a relentless focus on improving the lives of hundreds of young school going kids. As it turns out, Aradhana & Deepa Malik were two of several amazing women who graduated Ajmer's Sophia College & their relationships which originated in the college hostel have blossomed into a beautiful life long friendship.

I am very fortunate that Deepa & several of her other friends accepted Aradhana's invitation to visit the 1st primary school OBL adopted in Til, Begumpur & then spend the rest of Sat 29th July at our North India tile manufacturing plant, located very close by in Sikandrabad, district Bulandshahar, Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Arrival at the School

Unsurprisingly, Deepa chose to drive herself to
Aradhana (brown top), Deepa & friends meet in Noida
Begumpur (& back) from her home near Iffco Chowk, Gurgaon via Aradhana's residence & friends' meeting point in Noida. How befitting that the first time I saw her was as she waved to everyone from the 'driver's seat', a place she has occupied in life despite challenges which are almost impossible to imagine. 

The students, all from Class 1-5, were extremely excited at her arrival & the positivity was palpable.

Waiting for Deepa (don't miss the roof tops)

We enter the school gate
However, I don't think anything compared to what I felt when Aradhana offered me to navigate Deepa's wheelchair & when I requested for permission, Deepa instantly agreed.

Memories at Begumpur

A quick cut of the ribbon
Official inauguration
& we were on our way through a sea of children to view the classrooms where our tiles had become familiar teaching tools. My sense of pride at OBL's effort to transform education was elevated as I pointed out the various content tile murals to Deepa.

Despite Deepa's extraordinary achievements, I realized very quickly that she is very grounded & full of humility. Her sincerity of purpose to be there for the kids wasn't lost for a moment. I was deeply touched when she abruptly requested me to stop so that she could adjust the tricolor headgear worn by a child who hugged her as we were going down one of the school corridors.

Anil Agarwal & Deepa in front of the blackboard where she wrote a beautiful message 

Aradhana's team had very thoughtfully constructed wooden ramps for Deepa to be able to access all parts of the school. She was so warm & gracious when introduced to the carpenter in charge of that activity. Drops in the character ocean which in my opinion are essential building blocks for becoming a role model.

We surprised Deepa by unveiling a tile mural with her iconic photo holding her Rio shot put medal & 'Tom', the games' mascot in each hand. It was awesome to see her do exactly the same live in front of the mural.

A beautiful moment

L-R: Village Pradhan,  photo bomber, Deepa, me, Anil, Aradhana & Sanjeev Gupta

Ajmer's Sophia College would be very proud 😊

I was lucky to get a close look at an Olympic
My 1st look at an an Olympic Medal
medal for the 1st time & learnt that Paralympic medals rattle when they they're shaken - so the winner not only wears but hears it. It is such a beautifully heavy object, signifying so much more than winning 'an event'. A symbol of ultimate
The silverware from Rio 😍
excellence at THE elite level of global competition, beating all odds & totally eliminating 'dis' from disability.

The afternoon at school ended with a small dance by the children, hoisting the national flag & Deepa's speech to the students. She spoke so eloquently & delivered insights in easy to absorb language. I am sure everyone left school on Saturday with the realization that indeed 'Nothing Is Impossible'.

So much excitement & appreciation from the kids despite the heat

Deepa inspiring everyone with her values & experiences

Jai Hind

My Conversations with Deepa

After spending time with the children at the school, we made our way to the plant. 

Deepa drives to the OBL plant from Begumpur

Everyone took some time out to visit our manufacturing facilities, interact with the team & see some recently developed new products. There was a simple canteen made lunch served in the staff mess.

Lunch about to be served

During our time at the plant, I had several opportunities to have short chats with Deepa about life & her relentless efforts at rising above a condition which would probably leave so many in a state of bitterness & depression. Vipassana, my choice of meditation technique, teaches us to see & accept reality 'as it is' rather than the way we would like it to be. Could there be a more compelling example of that than Deepa Malik? Of course, she has transcended acceptance & evolved into an agent of transformation, rising above seemingly insurmountable challenges. A real life super hero with a rare combination of grit, determination & humility. While still paralyzed from the chest below, I learnt that she continues to face daily obstacles which could easily break someone of lesser resolve. Her simple explanation for success: 'I have to be at it, putting in the hard work. Constantly.'

Deepa is the speaker.. not me 🙈

A few days prior to the visit, when I received a request from Aradhana to include an agenda item of me speaking to her friends about being healthy, I was not only hesitant but felt a sense of awkwardness. What could I talk about which would add value to an audience which includes a super woman? After giving it more thought, we agreed that a short talk on meditation would probably be most appropriate & likely to add some value.

So meditation & calming the mind is what I spoke about & am so grateful for being provided the opportunity. It felt humbling to have everyone listen to what I had to say & then, the best form of response was a validation from Deepa that stillness of the mind which helped her block out external 'noise' was an integral part of her success at Rio. She went on to explain that a mental trainer was on hand to assist with quietening the mind as part of the training regime. It is indeed a fact that even at the highest level of sporting performance, mental fortitude is a more significant differentiator than physical abilities.

Deepa leads the way at our plant

Just before saying goodbye

With this, my day at the plant ended & we said our goodbyes. I left feeling inspired & motivated, with the resolve that from this very day, my 2 hours daily Vipassana practice will begin in preparation for the 2 year qualification of the 20 day long course in 2019. 

This is a big deal for me. So, thank you Deepa & my respect & prayers are with you to continue #wheelinghappiness

Thank you everyone for reading this blog. I hope & pray that you too find inspiration to achieve your goals.

God Bless & Be Happy 🙏🏽😊


Acknowledgements & Gratitude

Aradhana Agarwal & her team for driving OBL's incredible CSR initiatives (videos below) & so thoughtfully organizing this amazing visit to the school & plant. Deepa Malik & all other friends for taking time out of their schedule to visit us & spend quality time. Til, Begumpur for its hospitality and the school's staff & children for all their love, affection & appreciation. Anil Agarwal, OBL's COO for supporting Aradhana & the rest of OBL's team for making sure everything went as planned. Pankaj Dhiman for the photos & school visit videos above.


    1. When Ms Deepa Malik speaks about her journey...it always energises and motivates with the line "i can, i will"..!
      Our company is doing very well in CSR activities.

      Sanjeev Yadav
      Orient Bell Limited

    2. I am thrilled to read & watching videos of this blog. Great initiative from OBL.

      Deepak Verma

    3. A thrilling 1 day experience of MD Sir with "The Superwoman" & Team just came live in this blog. Repeated great CSR Initiatives by OBL indeed. It started from the very root : Adoption & Basic Education Facilitation to Primary Schools by making them healthier, neater & beautiful. Kyunki Jab Padhega India Tabhi Toh Badhega India! & this blogging made me thorough search for Vipassana Meditation. A real inspiring blogging I've read today..