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In Quest of the Last Victory

Oct 31, 2011

The victory song

Geeta Padmanabhan

INFINITE ABILITY Navin Gulia photo:  V.V.Krishnan

The wheelchair has not stopped Navin Gulia from pursuing academics, motoring through mountains or rehabilitating underprivileged kids. Geeta Padmanabhan on his book that tells the incredible story.

 

Writing his story, In Quest of the Last Victory is probably the easiest thing Navin Gulia has done in a while, a long while. At 22, a freak accident a few days ahead of his being commissioned stopped him in his tracks from a promising Army career. Instead, he lay in traction, with a rod in the skull to keep his spine straight. He spent four months in the ICU, unable to move, to breathe, to speak.

In one of a series of turning points in life, he decided to reclaim his life. In the two years in hospital, he taught himself to play chess on a chessboard hanging from the bed railing. Defying expert prognosis he sat up, got into a wheelchair. The 100 per cent disability label — and little movement in hands — only spurred him to complete a Masters in Computer Management and win a local chess competition.

Against professional advice, he learnt to drive and when the city roads were no longer challenging, motored through mountains. Even as well-intentioned friends and family cautioned, he drove through the highest passes in the world — the Khardung La (18,340 ft.) and Marsimik La (18,634 ft.), the latter giving him 55 hours of non-stop driving and a world record. He switched to manual transmission to have full control of the vehicle, inventing ways to drive with the limited control over his body. With the sky as his next stop, he went hang-gliding and Microlite flying, chased eagles at 20,000 ft. and at one point abandoned his wheelchair to lie in a mountain stream. “Thankfully,” he says, “the one thing I never did was stop.”

Once on level ground, he began to tour the country as a motivational speaker, an assignment that meets both his love for travel and an urge for sharing his thoughts with a wider audience in educational institutions. He has written poetry and passages for as long as he can remember, speaking was just another medium.

And then came his Siddhartha moment. In a Delhi parking lot, when he saw this little kid shivering in rags, he knew where his next conquest lay. The “victory over self” instant at Marsimik had removed his cloud of self-doubt, and he saw clearly what his life had been. He had opportunities, motivation, friends. Being in a wheelchair was just a minor inconvenience. There were others, kids, who would never get a chance at all.

With nil resources, he started AADA (Apni Duniya Apna Ashiana — Our World Our Home), an organisation to rehabilitate underprivileged kids, a challenge no less than that of reaching Marsimik La. Gulia, who would never ask for help, who put a “don't push” sign on his wheelchair now canvasses for AADA kids.

Gulia writes about all this and more in his book. He described it as the story “of an under-performing child who transforms himself through hard work to excel in sports and academics; of a young man, when left paralysed below the neck, uses the same qualities of self-motivation and the need to prove himself to claw his way up inch by inch.” True, as he journeyed from being a gangly kid with a load of self-doubt to a young adult who would forever try to make the cut, from an under-dog to an achiever, life prepared Gulia for what was to come. He narrates it in anecdotes of meticulous detail with precise analyses. It is a story told well, with little mush.

But it's too narrow a view to see the narrative as that of someone who works wonders from a wheelchair. It's a collection of vignettes from an eventful life told with humour and honesty; of neat turns of phrases (“I was a complete mess of compromised decisions”), of sharp observations (Was this related to my desire to be good or my desire to be appreciated?), of principles that guided him (“choose the toughest path”, “see things as advantages”). The book delineates his philosophy of acceptance without compromise. It gives you his concept of “infinite ability” and in some ways, lays out a blueprint for living life well.

[For an autographed copy of the book, mail to navingulia@gmail.com]

The original publication:The Hindu