Illustration by Popularium. Source images Madras Talkies
“Will you marry me?” Madhavan says.
He’s kneeling next to Vidya Balan’s wheelchair, the wind and rain swirling around their faces.
“Most of my time is spent in a wheelchair or bed, and if the caretaker does not come, then I wet the bed,” Vidya replies. “I only have 162 days left and my condition will deteriorate day by day. Why would you want to marry me?”
She breaks down as she says it, shaking her head and tossing her black hair back and forth.
“I want to live those 162 days with you,” he says.
They kiss passionately, exploring each other’s lips with hunger. He cradles her head and they embrace. Her answer is obvious, it need not be said.
I’m filled with emotion as I sit watching Guru at home, seated in my wheelchair. The power and romance of the scene crash down on me, and I struggle to hold back tears. I know firsthand everything that the character Vidya went through. The thing is, the men in real life rarely measure up to Bollywood’s chivalrous heroes.
The moment I heard about Guru I was fascinated. A wheelchair-bound girl like me, suffering from multiple sclerosis, finds love.
I waited patiently for months for Guru to be telecast after its theatrical run. I had to wait because Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) prevented me from being able to sit through a full movie in the theater.
I was diagnosed with SLE at 19.
I was diagnosed with SLE at 19. The doctors told my parents, “Your daughter has an autoimmune disease. There is no cure — we can only manage it.”
So I did. I didn’t have another option. But things got bad quickly. I started losing everything: my health, my hair, my muscle power, my career, my dreams, my freedom, my laughter, my skin. In winter, the skin over my toes and fingers would start melting. I couldn’t enjoy my favorite spicy food. I could barely salivate; my lips were like crushed paper, and I could not even move my tongue to speak. I was bound by invisible chains that wouldn’t allow me to do anything. My condition was miserable.
On top of all that misery, I became incontinent. My visits to the loo were countless. But why? Was I infected? Or something else? Those days felt like my life was being controlled by aliens. I had no power.
When I had an emergency, my mum would run with my wheelchair really fast for the bathroom. Western commodes are rarely seen in India, so I couldn’t sit down. Holding me while I went was really a challenge for a slim person like my mum. I would wrap my arms around her body and she would hold me with all her strength. My legs were like dead sticks that I had no control over.
Sitting in my living room, watching Guru, I wondered what lay ahead for me. On the one hand, I was watching a wheelchair-bound girl get a dreamy proposal. On the other, my life wasn’t a movie, it wasn’t going to end in three hours. It wouldn’t be tied up neatly with a bow.
A few weeks after watching the movie, I got a Yahoo message from Aradhya, a former classmate. It had been at least 10 years since we were in touch.
As I was in extremely bad health, I was reluctant to talk to him. But he kept messaging me again and again, saying sweet things. Yahoo, Gmail, Orkut, Facebook, he never stopped. Finally he wore me down, and I decided to reply to him.
“I love you, Priya. I don’t want anything but I have been searching you for the past 10 years to tell you.”
After exchanging a few messages, he told me, “I love you, Priya. I don’t want anything but I have been searching you for the past 10 years to tell you.”
I replied, “See, things are different now, you don’t even know what I’m going through.”
He wrote, “I don’t want to know. I just want to be in touch with you.” We exchanged numbers. My plan was to tell him about my disability and set his mind free. I think I wanted him to be with me but I never wanted to compel him.
On our first phone chat I told him about my disability and illness. He told me not to demoralize him. We continued talking daily on phone and became friends.
He used to counsel me, and, being a good singer, he would sing for me, “Mujhse naraz ho to ho jao, khud sey lekin khafa khafa na raho. Mujhse tum door jao to jao, khuse lekin tum bewafa na raho.”
The song meant, “If you are angry with me then you can get angry with me, but don’t be angry with yourself. If you want to go away from me, you can go away but don’t be hard on yourself.”
One day he said he wanted to marry me. I informed my mum about him, my mum’s response was positive. As long as we were both happy, she would be happy too.
That same day, I happened to speak with my friend Jyoti, who also knew Aradhya. I told her about his proposal. I was so excited and filled with joy. I felt like Vidya. But what Jyoti said next made my heart sink.
She told me that he’s a playboy. That he changes his girlfriends every six months. I was shaken.
I called him up and asked about his past. His mood totally shifted. He started shouting at me. Then things got worse. He told me that I was not compatible with him.
I went into depression. I asked help from him but he wouldn’t speak to me. Any tenderness he had shown was gone. He wasn’t my Madhavan anymore. My hope of marriage was gone.
Four years later, he sent me a friend request on Facebook. I declined. He wrote me on Gmail, telling me that he wanted to talk. Reluctantly, I replied, “Okay.” He called me up the next morning and told me that his marriage was at stake. His wife couldn’t stand his family, and it was causing serious friction. This was the same woman who used to massage his mother’s legs. Now she couldn’t stand the sight of her mother-in-law.
Finally, a soothing feeling was comforting my wounded heart.
I felt happy. My heart was still kind and humane. I was going to advise the man who gave me extreme pain, who was not there when I was crying bloody tears, begging for help, and depressed.
Even though he’d broken my heart, I chose to help him.
I chose to rise above. Even though he’d broken my heart, I chose to help him.
I told him, “See, you are a married man. You have to deal with your problems by yourself. Make peace with your wife. Divorce is not the solution. You have a son; don’t ruin his life. Also, don’t tell others about this. People will laugh at you. This stuff is private.”
He was so thankful.
To this day, he has never missed wishing me happy birthday. He still does that. I don’t know what to call the feeling that gives me.
I’m India’s Miss Wheelchair 2015.
Life isn’t always a Bollywood movie. You can’t wait around for a man to come and take away your troubles. I’m still here, writing this. I’m stronger than ever. In fact, I’m India’s Miss Wheelchair 2015.