Deepa Malik dared to dream... and dream big. Hers has been the most inspiring “athlete story” of the year. The more I read up on her, the greater my admiration grows. It’s not just a story of a courageous woman who refused to let a serious health calamity keep her down; it is about her amazing spirit. Just look at her personality — whether on the track field or during the march past. Deepa radiates rare positivity — it was evident in her body language... the way she took her disability in stride, her decision to wear trendy clothes, boots, apply perfect makeup and flash that sunny smile. I thought about her life before the tumours — Deepa must have been one hell of a woman. A born champion! As she put it at the Rio Paralympics (her best throw was of 4.61 m): “I was the first biker, first motor rallyist, first swimmer and I am going to be the first Paralympian medalist.” Here was a never-say-die woman, determined not to let even the severest physical challenge stand between her and her dreams to be a winner, no matter what.
Diagnosed with a tumour in her spinal cord at age six, she led a healthy life till 2012, when a relapse of the tumour paralysed her waist down. After 31 surgeries which required 183 stitches, Deepa is out there, training and aspiring, making sure her two daughters and Armyman husband are well looked after. She calls them her strength and motivators. But I think it’s the other way round! Living with Deepa must be an extraordinarily empowering experience for her family members, who have been with her while she dealt with excruciating pain and finally emerged a victor. I was thinking of Deepa as I spent some time with another super achiever, but of an entirely different kind. This woman is a corporate supernova — all her energies are focused with laser-like precision on the career goals she has set for herself. When she isn’t crunching big numbers, she is on flights that take her from China to America, and God knows where else in between. Her take on the China story is pretty different from the standard narrative and she believes we, in India, are missing the point when we keep bashing our main rivals.
“There is so much to learn from the way the Chinese conduct business. Each time I go to China, I come back with a fresh takeaway that is constructive and useful. There is so much we can learn and adapt from them, if only we had a more open attitude.” In between her multi-million dollar deals, she has produced two children, and is a caring, devoted mother. “There is just one way to achieve career goals plus have a stable family life — get your own mother on board to look after the babies when they are young, and your job requires you to travel.” Well... I am not sure I agree with her on this one, but it sure is a great, big boon to have a hands-on grandma in residence while mom is busy climbing up the corporate ladder. There are dreams and dreams. Most women I know are too tired to dream! They are just about hanging in there and coping with the mundane challenges of everyday domesticity. They are physically drained at the end of the day, and whatever they might be dreaming, remains tucked at the back of the mind — which is where it often stays. I look into their eyes and see regret. The thing is, not every woman possesses the grit, determination and daring of a Deepa or the corporate supernova. In the real world, life is far more ordinary and concerns rarely goes beyond family budgets and daily commutes.
When stories like Deepa’s dominate the headlines, women experience a vicarious thrill. They start believing in the impossible. They tell themselves, “If she can do it, we can also do it”. They start dreaming again. This is Deepa’s marvellous quote after she won her silver, “I am permanently on a wheelchair and cannot even take a step. But I always find myself running with lightning pace in my dreams...” Robbing women of their dreams is by far the worst punishment to inflict on a human being. When my corporate friend readily acknowledges the immense sacrifices made by her own mother who leaves her senior citizen husband behind in their hometown, to spend time looking after rowdy grandkids, she is actually admitting, “I can dream, because my mother’s support allows me to.” That makes me wonder: What happened to her mother’s dreams? And taking it further, will her own daughters be in a position to nurture their own dreams? That may prove to be the hardest test of all.