humans of leap — virali modi
“i was raised in the hills in pennsylvania, usa so i have always been a mountain girl. you would always find me snowboarding, playing a sport with friends or taking part in hide and seek. my favorite memory of playing was picking myself up every time i fell! so, playing & running around is what i miss the most about my life — i mean, you can’t play hide and seek in a wheelchair.
my life changed in 2006 when we made a short trip to india and i fell sick with a high temperature. after multiple tests and no diagnosis, i went into a coma for 23 days and only regained consciousness on my 15th birthday. i didn’t realise how bad things were for me till i started going for physical therapy — i was completely paralyzed from the neck down. but i didn’t want to give up. with the help of a lot of therapy sessions, i finally gained mobility in my upper body.
if you think my miseries end here — i have also been sexually harassed since i became disabled — from doctors to porters at railway stations, who did it in the name of good. i can never forget an incident that happened to me in 2008, when my mom & i were travelling from mumbai to delhi. my mom called over 2 porters to carry me since the railways are not accessible for the disabled. one of the porters wrapped his arms around my chest and he started molesting me. since i was a teenager, i initially thought it was a mistake but it took me a while to comprehend what was happening. i could not say a word because i was so worried he would drop me if i said anything. and then who would pick me up?
in 2017, i wrote an open letter to the pm and railway minister highlighting everything that happened to me within the railways. it was published widely in india but no one took it seriously! that’s when i started my own petition called #mytraintoo — which currently has over 6 lakh signatures! with the help of railway officials, we ended up making 9 wheelchair-accessible railway stations across the country! plus we sensitised the railway staff too through local ngos to shed light on the issue.
through all of this, my mom was my biggest pillar of strength. she showed me what loving yourself means and without her, it wouldn’t have been easy. but the tables turned back in 2018, when my mom was diagnosed with stage 1 gastric cancer. from her being my go-to person for everything, the shift happened with me becoming her guardian. i remember during her last few days, i flew to the states from india to meet her. she could barely talk or move her arms but she somehow managed to give me a hug. on the 3rd day, i had an anxiety attack and i was taken to the same hospital where my mom was. i cried to her and i asked her to not leave me till i’m back and she nodded. after my return, i met her and assured her that i would take care of dad & she can leave peacefully if she wants to. the next morning my mom passed away! i did all of her last rites and moved back to india.
disability in india is not a grey area, it’s black or white. you’re either an inspiration for everyone or a source of pity — that’s the truth! with the lack of representation in our society for the disabled, i want to be the voice in the community and make the country more wheelchair or disabled-friendly.
my ultimate goal for myself is to become the first wheelchair actress in india. and spread the right message across which is — no matter what happens, be true to yourself and don’t give up on your dreams. if you fall, pick yourself back up — just like snowboarding!”