|| AAKASH HASSAN
After a life changing injury left him bed-ridden Dildar Ahmad Shapo, refused to spend time cursing his luck. Instead, he drove from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in a customized car, reports Aakash Hassan. Some journeys are driven by thrill, some by passion, and some are undertaken just to break the monotony of life. For Dildar Ahmad Shapo, 40, who is bedridden since the last twenty years, nursing a spinal cord injury, journey from Kashmir to Kanyakumari was more of a fight with his disability than just a week off.
On September 5, 1996, Dildar, a part time worker at a local firm in Qazigund, left to offer afternoon prayers at a nearby mosque. After prayers, while on his way back, he spotted a friend, who was driving a passenger bus. “I signaled him to stop,” recalls Dildar, who was the sole bread earner of his family after his father’s death. Parking his vehicle at the road side, Dildar and his friend started talking. Before they realized, the vehicle began moving forward, pushing Dildar down on the road on his back. He was immediately taken to the hospital. “I was out for 72 hours,” recalls Dildar. He was admitted to SKIMS, Srinagar.
After a month long stay at SKIMS, one fateful morning the doctors announced that he could not walk again, ever. “The lower part of my body was completely immobile. I had an L2 spinal injury,” says Dildar. Despite financial difficulties, Dildar’s family took him to Chandigarh, hoping to see him walk again. “It didn’t help either,” says Dildar, who was now bedridden and could manage to move using a wheelchair.
After living a life of a bed ridden person for years, Dildar came across a magazine owned by a lady with spinal injury. This raised Dildar’s hopes. “I took a loan of Rs 4.5 lakh from a local bank and paid down-payment for a truck,” says Dildar. “I wanted to start a transport company.” Within no time Dildar’s business clicked. Now he was able to support his family.
That year internet became a new phenomenon in Kashmir. “I began spending time surfing the net trying to connect with people with the same injury,” says Dildar. Soon, he was making friends in USA, Europe and other parts of the world. “It helped me learn how people manage to live dignified lives despite their life changing injuries.” This prompted Dildar to look deeper into his condition and connect with more people like him. His interactions with the world outside gave him confidence to move out on his own. “I ordered a special scooter made for people like us,” says Dildar. “I was not dependent on anybody for mobility.”
Developing contacts across the globe with likeminded people helped his business too. The next big step in life was when Dildar learned about custom made cars for people like him. He immediately ordered one.
Despite financial difficulties, Dildar’s family took him to Chandigarh, hoping to see him walk again. “It didn’t help either,” says Dildar, who was now bedridden and could manage to move using a wheelchair.
“It took me no time to get familiar with the car,” says Dildar. Within a month, Dildar was covering long distances, without any worry of the weather or the roads. As life started to find a meaning, Dildar’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. “I was shattered. My mother had suffered a lot because of my injury. Now she needed some respite,” says Dildar with pain in his eyes. With his economic condition improved, Dildar decided to get his mother treated in Delhi’s best cancer hospital. “She was happy when I drove her all the way to Jammu in my special car,” recalls Dildar. However, at Delhi, bad news was waiting for him. “The doctors said her cancer was in the last stage. She had only a few months left”.
Once back home, Dildar made sure that his mother spent the remaining part of her life with dignity and in happiness. “She was one of the few people who never looked down upon me after my injury,” recalls Dildar. “Despite poverty, she always made sure that I got the best.” Seven months later, in 2009, Dildar’s mother passed away, leaving behind a heartbroken son. Her death sent Dildar into permanent mourning, effecting both his business and health. “I was not able to cope up with this trauma”. Disturbed, Dildar sold all the vehicles one by one, almost winding up his flourishing transport business. In the meantime, he started spending more time surfing the net connecting with people like him. “I joined many organizations with an aim to help people like myself,” says Dildar.
At the same time, he started looking for sponsors who could help him travel across India in a car. Finally, after spending months looking for the right people, Dildar got a call from The Spinal Foundation. “They agreed to help me with my travel”. The Spinal Foundation promised to assist Dildar throughout his journey by giving him routes, locations, find places where he could stop for medical assistance and rest. Finally on August 18, 2015, Dildar started his journey from his hometown in Lower Munda, Qazigund. It took him two months and seven days to reach Kanyakumari. “It was a memorable drive.”
The initial plan was that a friend from Dildar’s villagewould accompany him on his journey, but that didn’t happen. “He left after completing just twenty percent of the journey”. However, without anybody’s help, this brave heart continued his journey. “I visited every Indian state except Manipur and Nagaland due to security reasons”.
Presently, Dildar is in contact with a number of international organizations, trying to assist people like him in Kashmir live dignified lives. For his extraordinary efforts, Dildar was honored with a life achievement award by The Spinal Foundation. “Now I feel alive again,” says Dildar with a smile. “I wish my mother could see me like this.”