“I feel I was born as a star. You know why? Because I have this joined thumb on my left hand – just like Hrithik Roshan,” 22-year-old Shivam Porwal says and joins in our laughter.
Porwal was affected by phocomelia syndrome, a disease in which the arms and legs are either missing or impaired while he was still in his mother’s womb.
Shivam was born with just three fingers in his right hand and a joined thumb in his left hand. His legs were completely impaired, and he still walks on his knees.
“When I was born, most people told my parents to kill me immediately. People would come from far off places just to see me and would pity my parents. But I was a rebel right from the beginning. I would always take it as a challenge to do everything that normal kids did,” recalls Shivam.
Shivam was staying in his little ancestral home, in a joint family of 16 members, in a small town called Mahidpur in Madhya Pradesh.
His father was working at a paan shop with a salary of Rs. 100 per month.
Though Shivam could not do the physical activities of other kids, he was a very quick learner and was highly determined in whatever he would do.
“I was the first one in my school to write in cursive, which was kind of an achievement for a kid in Hindi medium. That’s when my father realised that only education could make me self-dependent. He left no stone unturned to do that. Imagine a person having no education, no money and not even a normal child, but still aspiring so big. He was a true hero in that sense,” says Shivam.
Though most of his teachers loved Shivam, other kids would make fun of him or tease him for his condition.
Moreover, as the school had no facility for the disabled, Shivam had to face a lot of difficulties.
“There was only one washroom, which used to be dirty and wet all the time. We didn’t even know about kneecaps those days, and so I would walk bare-kneed. To avoid going to such a place I would hold for six hours straight and would use the washroom only when I came back home,” he explains.
Eventually, Shivam moved to an English Medium school. Despite being from a Hindi Medium background, in Class 10 he stood third in the entire city.
The college presented even more hurdles in Shivam’s path, and the difficulty of going from home to his classes would often cause him to burst into tears.
But a turning point came when his father bought him a scooter – despite it being a huge financial burden.
“That was the first turning point of my life. You can’t imagine what the right assistance can do for a disabled person. It was the first time that no one had to pick me up and drop somewhere. It was the first time that I was going out all alone. It was the first time I could interact with people socially,” says Shivam.
Another turning point came during his B.tech when he was staying with a relative for his studies.
That relative happened to be a national level swimmer. One day Shivam accompanied him to the swimming pool. The coach there asked him to try swimming.
Shivam had never failed to try something new, so he did. Impressed by his attitude, the coach began training him for the Para-Olympics.
The third turning point came when his father pushed him to apply for a station master’s job since he felt a government job was better than a private sector one. Shivam had a good chance as he was applying through the physically challenged category.
“I am glad he did that because that changed my life completely. I saw people who were in worse condition than I was. They lacked what I had the most – hope.” he says.
“There were people who had never tried to dream anything bigger than just settling down with a government job. Many did not even want to think about places like IIT or even engineering. I realised that if you want to help physically challenged people, then the biggest thing you can give them was ‘hope’. And now I wanted to be that hope for them,” says Shivam.
Shivam took another path. He prepared hard for GATE and got into IIT Patna. He then took up an offer to work as a telecom officer for BSNL.
“I blamed the government for everything. So I wanted to join a govt job to see how it works. I was the first one from IIT here and was surprised to know that everyone wants to enjoy government services, but none wanted to serve as a govt servant. I wanted to utilize my time in learning as many things I could, so I could let others know that one can do anything if he/she is determined,” he says.
Today Shivam is a motivational speaker, a singer, a swimmer, a poet and he has also learnt to play the guitar recently.
“Someone once told my father that instead of wasting money on my education, he should ask me to sit in his paan shop. When he took me to a computer institute, he was told that I would never be able to type because of my fingers. There was a time when I tried to hide myself from the world. I thought I was ugly and useless. But today I am an IITian, a computer engineer, a programmer and enjoy my appearance on the stage. All that my father gave me was hope – hope to grow as much as I can and I want to become that hope for many others like me,” says Shivam.
In the end, here’s what Shivam wanted to say to everyone reading his story –
“I was brave enough to fight with the world. But the more dangerous fight is the fight with yourself and the key to win that fight is acceptance. Just accept yourself! If you don’t accept yourself then how can you expect the world to accept you? I can just say one thing, that ‘If I can, then You Can’. If it is possible for a disabled paan seller’s son to reach till here, then anything is possible!