I first met Farrukh when I was speaking at an International Education and Resource Network(iEARN) event in Karachi. I saw him sitting there on his motorised chair, smiling and listening attentively. As soon as I was done speaking, I stepped down from the podium and went straight over to him, to sit down and talk.
Farrukh is an inspirational person because he has not allowed his physical disability to slow him down. He has command over just a hand below his neck, not much else, but he is a photojournalist who held his first exhibition just this year.
Farrukh’s family says that he was born healthy but later, when he was almost a year old, he had to be admitted into a high-end hospital in the city, upon getting diarrhea while teething. He suffered from a respiratory arrest in the facility and as there was no oxygen ventilator available, he had to be driven across the city to the Aga Khan Hospital to be admitted into the intensive care unit there. He remained without oxygen for nine minutes and this caused him to suffer from brain haemorrhage. Farrukh’s condition is not an illness; it is rather a neuromuscular disorder called dystonia.
When Farrukh returned home, after awakening from a two-week long coma, he was like a newborn again. He couldn’t hold his neck up or sit without support. However, through extensive physiotherapy and other methods like acupuncture and surgery, he gained enough strength back in six months to allow him to sit on his own, hold his neck up again.
Talking to Farrukh’s family made me realise that he needs independence more than the rest of us do. We take our well-being for granted. And then there are the likes of Farrukh — hardworking and self-sufficient despite their disability — achieving what they want to achieve. Most public spaces in Pakistan don’t have special ramps for those bound to wheelchairs; still, people like Farrukh are living a normal life. Can you imagine what it would be like if we had no stairs to go up the floors in a building?
This lack of access is manifested not only in all spheres of life in Pakistan, but in our minds as well. We force families with individuals like Farrukh to keep them hidden away or we stare at them with contempt or pity when we see them around us.
The real truth is that individuals who are challenged aren’t scared or in need of our pity or help. They are incredibly strong, courageous and have the guts to swim against this tide of hatred we have imposed as a barrier in front of all of them in everyday life. We limit their access and we don’t give them jobs; we mutter words of pity in their presence or behind their backs. What we cannot do is take away their spirit to survive.
Their invincible spirit empowers them to go out there and live life as they are meant to live it, unlike the home-bound life society expects them to live.
I asked Farrukh what he wanted say to the youth of this country; he told me tell them to never give up on their dreams.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2013.