Despite Paraplegia At A Young Age, She Took A Determined Journey To Create Beauty

An illness at the age of 17 left Sharmishtha Patel paralysed waist downwards, but it couldn't shake her spirit and determination.

Sharmishtha Kantilal Patel has never believed in giving up.

An unforeseen medical incident left her paralysed from waist down, at the tender age of 17 years.

Such a tragic incident, so early in her life, did not deter the youngster.

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She accepted her disability and moved on. Hers is a story of extraordinary courage and determination.

The day is still fresh in her mind. “It was December 15, 1986. I had a stomach ache and was admitted in hospital. There was a doctor’s strike that day and I could not get a proper diagnosis at that time. I went to the hospital walking and came out with paraplegia,” she says matter-of-factly, hiding the trauma that she must have felt 37 years ago.

The paralysis was later diagnosed by doctors to be a result of transverse myelitis (inflammation of a part of the spinal cord caused by infections or autoimmune diseases).

Born in 1969, Sharmishtha belongs to Saroda village in Ahmedabad district. Her father, who was a farmer, passed away nine years ago. She lives with her mother.

Objects of beauty

Today, the 54-year-old faces several health issues. You would not know that seeing her pleasant, composed face. What is truly remarkable is that she spends at least four hours a day creating objects of beauty. She makes embroidered dresses for deities, tablecloths, and other small articles involving both hand embroidery and the use of a sewing machine. Since she cannot sit for long periods, she does her work lying down.

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She embellishes the dresses with lace, mirrors, stones, pearls, and ‘tikis’. Friends and neighbours buy her beautiful creations to sell in their circles. She also does mirrorwork on blouses, sarees, and ethnic dresses.

Embroidery was an activity that gave Sharmishtha joy from a young age. She picked up embroidery skills by watching women in her village as a child. She could embroider small handkerchiefs when she was 10 years old. She has continued doing embroidery work ever since.

Cherished memory

Sharmishtha competed at the national level in an embroidery competition in Delhi in February 2007. It was a vocation skill contest, organised by the National Abilympic Association of India (NAAI). The event enabled talented PwDs (Persons with Disabilities) to showcase their talents.

Blind People’s Association, Ahmedabad, the largest NGO in the country in the disability sector, gave her full support in this venture. Before the embroidery competition, the participants received training for a few days.

“I have received a lot of motivation from BPA. I really enjoyed the three-day trip to Delhi. I was accompanied by my mother and a large group from BPA. I could not win due to speed issues, but just competing gave me great happiness,” she says.

This Navratri, with help from BPA, she got a new sewing machine from a donor in Mumbai. When she talks about her new machine the joy is evident on her face. “Now, I don’t have to rotate the peddle and the needle gets automatically threaded. I can work faster. I do not get arm or shoulder pain anymore and feel much less tired. This new machine saves me considerable labour and time,” she explains.

Break in studies

Before the paraplegia, Sharmishtha was studying first-year B. Com at Vivekanand College in Ahmedabad. “The college was around 35 km from my village and I would commute by bus. After the paralysis, I had to quit the B. Com programme,” she says.

Her parents shifted to Ahmedabad so that she could get better treatment. The family spent a great deal of their savings hoping for a miracle. The paraplegia department at Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad eventually told them that Sharmishtha’s condition could not be reversed. However, they guided her on how to live a better life with paraplegia.

Thirst for learning

She did a six-month receptionist cum telephone operator course in 1988 at BPA. She also completed a one-year computer course from BPA. The thirst for learning and achievement continued to motivate her. A determined Sharmishtha also completed a BA in Sociology externally in 2008 from Gujarat University.

Sharmishtha worked in a company called Maxwell Automatic for 12 years. From 1989 to 1997, she worked on soldering of printed circuit board (PCB) components. From 1997 to 2000, she worked as a computer operator at the company. In a letter, the company has appreciated her for being sincere and hardworking.

“BPA gave me an auto tricycle in 1989 which I used to commute to office. It would take me 45 minutes one way though there was less traffic in those days,” she says.

Another challenge

After 12 years of working in an office, she had to quit on health grounds. “I would develop bed sores due to sitting for long hours in the office. I underwent extensive plastic surgery twice for this problem. The doctor advised me not to sit for long hours. That’s why I had to quit the job,” she says. This was a big blow to her.

These days she makes a living primarily by embroidery work and stitching. She also does some soldering of PCBs for small companies. She earns around Rs 6,000 a month through both these activities.

Her mother is a great source of support. “My mother goes to the market to get me the materials I need for my work. She also cooks and takes care of the house. She helps me by placing objects within my reach. I try to be as independent as I can. We take care of each other,” she says with a smile.

BPA gave her a wheelchair twice but these days mobility is restricted as she has to wear a catheter constantly. However, she enjoys socialising with neighbours who keep dropping in.

Sharmishtha is a keen follower of news whether on television or by reading newspapers. “I try not to have negative thoughts. I try not to dwell on the pain and suffering I have gone through. What has happened has passed. With that belief, I go on.” What gives her so much strength? “God is with me,” she says with conviction.


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About the Author

Aruna Raghuram

I am a freelance journalist and write on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes. read more...

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