When 25-year-old Chirag Chauhan looks back over the last five years that changed his life, many emotions come to his mind. “It seems like a long journey,” he told The Hindu on the phone. Mr Chauhan was among the survivors of the serial train blasts on July 11, 2006 which claimed over 180 lives. That day he had left for home early when a bomb exploded in the suburban local at Khar Road station. His spinal cord was damaged due to the explosion and some particles are still embedded in his chest and close to the trachea.
Mr Chauhan, who dreamt of becoming a chartered accountant (CA), was doing his articleship then. He has made an amazing recovery. Wheelchair-bound now, he is a full-fledged CA working as a senior manager in the internal audit division of a private bank for one and a half years. He even drives the 20 minutes to his office in a specially designed car with a dual system which can be operated with his hands. He has little time for hobbies but could not resist driving to Lonavla, a hill station outside Mumbai, recently. “I wanted to see how far I could drive and it was a test for me,” he said. It was a fun trip with his friends. Immediately after the terror strike, Mr Chauhan, like many others, spent long months in hospital; but he maintains he was optimistic from the start. In an emailed statement to all those who have kept in touch with him and followed his case, he quotes Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Despite his debilitating injures, he pressed on with his course and completed it on July 12, 2008. “To continue where others thought “It is impossible” — that’s one thing I dared to do,” he says. He lost his father when he was 18 and was faced with the prospect of looking after his sisters and mother, something he can proudly do now. Mr Chauhan considered himself an average student and it was only in the tenth standard final examination that he managed a first class. His determination to do his CA led him to do his articleship and things were going well. “July 11, 2006, was a day like any other day for the rest of the world. I went to work in the morning and caught an early train back home as my work was over. I never thought in my wildest dreams that it would be my last train journey,” he says.
It was for the first time that he and his family heard of “spinal cord injury.” “I am now termed as a paraplegic in medical terms,” he adds. The biggest problem initially that he had to deal with was the loss of freedom and the inability to carry out personal chores. Next came the total dependence on other people. However, Mr Chauhan is grateful to his doctor Dr. Rajul Vasa who helped him become independent in doing routine tasks and made him practise using a wheelchair for three to four hours at a stretch. He had to undergo rigorous rehabilitation training and make extraordinary efforts. It soon struck him that being a paraplegic was irreversible. Many times he was plagued with the question, why me? “I had tons of questions but no answers.”
“I have been very optimistic from the beginning after my injury,” he remarks. To deal with his situation, he learnt to “live in the present” and soon realised that paraplegics have a normal life span. However, even after passing his CA, getting a job was tough. “One company after another rejected me only because I was paraplegic. Most of the companies overlooked all my education qualifications and concentrated on my only defect,” he says.Despite all this, Mr Chauhan bears no rancour towards anyone and does not blame the government. However, he is disappointed that the facilities for disabled people are very poor in this country and there is a huge lack of awareness about their problems and needs. He acutely realised the problems faced by the disabled only after what happened to him. People and governments should work against terrorism, he feels. There seems to be no looking back for this cheerful youngster who has fought a terrible injury and has come back to take life head on.