“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – Francis of Assisi
Words of one of the greatest Saint of Christianity keeps reminding me to fight the difficulties without giving up, never to surrender. Twenty years back I was young freshly out of college and full of energy.stars in my eyes lofty ideals to flaunt had an exciting future beckoning everything looked rosy.but one fateful incident changed all that.lying in ICU I heard two doctors whispering between themselves “he will not walk again”!!!.yes I just met an spinal-injury which devastated my life changing it forever. It was like several Tsunamis, earthquakes hitting all at once.
Recovery was extremely painful, of course physically you’ll never come out of spinal injury.you are confined to bed and rely on wheelchair to move about. Which means you lose the most precious thing in this world “FREEDOM”.always dependant upon family/friends its psychologically massive massive burden.Not to mention dozens of health related complications. Many settle and compromise with hard reality.I’m NOT one of them.For me self-respect is non-negotiable. One thing which is most dear to me is freedom, but my own back had betrayed me. There must be some way out. I already gained financial freedom starting coaching classes within a year of accident, now I was looking for freedom from taking help from friends to move about..
However I must add something here though I’m unlucky enough to be 1 in 1,00,000 to suffer spinal injury it wasn’t that hopeless regarding friends. I had great friends around me all the time. Rohit Padil took care of me from the day on one and he still does everything to keep me happy. Jerome Lobo-Angelore is another amazing person despite his busy schedule he makes time for me comes every Sunday assists me to sit in wheelchair. From Jerome I have learned a lot, to be patient and humble. There were others like Jones, Alwyn ,Sydney, Naveen and Ginnu to name few, but I always thirsted to move on my own. Of course my sweet mom was always there tolerating my mood swings.
Finally I came across an interesting piece of machinery, stair climbing automatic wheel-chair aptly named “TOP-CHAIR”. Pheew, that’s it-I couldn’t ask for more. My hunt for a machine which will free me from relying on others finally does exists.but excitement soon turned sour, first it wasn’t available anywhere in India because it’s manufactured in France and worse it’s prohibitively expensive at 15 lakh+, it was more costlier than top end Ford Eco-Sport!!. There’s no way I could invest so much on wheelchair so I turned to my childhood friend Alwyn, we grew up playing cricket and he still plays fantastic cricket, I asked him whether he can find similar chair “used-ones” at lesser price which I can afford on my own. After couple of months of hunt Alwyn couldn’t get one. There was no such thing anywhere as my hopes dashed, I continued searching for alternatives but no progress.
In a strange matter of twists Alwyn had mentioned all this to his boss.
January 2015:Alwyn offers something I couldn’t refuse!!-his boss wished to foot entire cost of wheelchair which was now available for 10lakh (Au$20,000) from Australian seller in Melbourne. But that was because seller ‘Codacare’ offered whole package on hefty discount and they also agreed to give free shipment (without all these it’d be far more expensive). Generosity of the person who made it possible was unbelievable. How can any one be so outrageously generous. Giving 10 lakh just like that to a person whom you have never seen, that part still baffles me.
But now my treasury has enough to buy my dream machine. I place the order online and in the meantime I also do my own research on “how to import” the complications, import duty, paper work related to it etc on Internet (God bless the inventor of Internet Berners Lee!). Convinced, I ask seller codacare to ship. It leaves Aussie shore on 23rd Feb reaching Singapore on February 26 and in INDIA on 2nd march right at Bangalore airport. Cargo company(TNT) informed me I’m just 2 days away from having it!! wow it was too good to be true, but chain of events which would follow, soon indicate otherwise.
MAR-3: Received an e-mail from TNT indicating they need few signed documents from me to get the WC released. I sought an opinion on this from Mrs Asha Dsouza an CA who put me in contact with Pais -Mangalore and Chandru who runs Bengaluru based custom agency “ocean liners “. I also contact few more friends to find out actual position with customs. Here Mr.Somashekar (Nandini Hotel-B’lore) and Mr.Hameed- Shivabagh deliver me ominous news. My WC will attract as much as 3.5 lakh duty.
The figure they got informally from custom official came like huge bomb exploding right under me. By this time already two weeks have passed. I’m now incurring daily demurrage charges too!. I’m being whacked both ends, and it drives me crazy. What began as dream boat now its turning in to virtual nightmare. It was not about paying duty but my fundamental question was why Govt of India wants so much of a duty on wheelchair? It’s not a Rolls Royce, a luxury item but basic mobility vehicle.
Someshekar/Hameed & Chandru try their best, meet every official concerned all my medical records presented but nothing happens. I’m repeatedly told there is no way I can get duty exemption. It was that same feeling “SO NEAR YET SO FAR”!!!. At this time the person who gifted this chair , asks Mr.Louis Pinto to find a way and after a week of trying Pinto gives up. Now its almost a month since WC coming to Bengaluru. Just when all hopes being crashed and I get ready for dolling out my hard earned 4 lakh for releasing,just in nick of time like Divine intervention, Jerome introduces his journalist friend Ronny Fernandes, the chief of DH Mangaluru. Ronny has a jaw dropping reputation, and he also heads Red Cross Mangaluru and he’s equally sympathetic to social causes.
I’m so glad that I got a chance to meet him. Ronny puts an article highlighting problems that I am facing from dept.of Customs. The article evokes nationwide response. I get calls from across the nation.100’s of them offering all sort of help from finance to moral. While I make them all clear that aim of the article was not to collect funds but to highlight flaws in system.a The article wasn’t aimed at custom officers per se but the strange rules and regulations. As media report goes viral I receive a call from no less than the Additional commissioner at customs Dr Harish Kumar – he offers me complete exemption of demurrage but declines to give any relief on duty again citing rules.
Well my fight had resulted in something, and as I make arrangements for paying presumed duty of 3.5lakh, a stranger from Bengaluru calls up saying that he read the article and said there’s a way out and I actually can bring the WC without paying any duty and its not hanky-panky, because but strictly going by the books. That angel was Purshotham of a logistics company, and he promises to help me out!!!. Wow good Samaritans do exists! and they come in all forms .Chandru and Purshotham work frantically as April 1st is last day before flurry of holidays begin.
APR-1:4PM- I was teaching maths to some of my 10th std students, Purshotham breaks the news that I was yearning to hear for last 30 odd days. My WC is out of customs ready to be loaded and I will get it in 24 hours!!. Best part of it?- well its a thriller like hitting last ball to six!!! Customs generously waive off all the duty all the demurrage all the cess in fact they let it go without any charge!!! UNBELIEVABLE right? yes its true-after all custom officers are not that bad. They too have heart and it beats fine. I am hugely thankful to the kind gesture showed by custom officers. Irony is on April fools day, I got best possible news!!
APR-2:GOOD FRIDAY:The chair is inside my room after long and seemingly never ending battle to get it, shows up on Good Friday!!!.it could have showed up on any other day.Is it a mere coincidence or is there any larger meaning to it i don’t know.
In the end as the saying goes “All that’s well ends well”, I have learned several lessons in all. A)- there are 1000’s of extremely nice people who respond positively. B)-when you fight a just battle, victory is always yours, but path for victory is filled with every possible hurdles you cant even imagine. C)-always remain well informed, hope for the best but be prepared to swallow bitter experience.D)-never ever forget the people who supported you, be civilized enough to thank them all.