Monday, April 28, 2014

When I met the Indian counterpart of Aron Ralston

One amazing thing about being a journalist is that you come across a lot of interesting people regularly; people with different life experiences. When you interact with them, you realise that the world is not as small as you think it is. These people inspire you – to overcome the odds in your own life and to understand that life is not as bad as it seems. It’s all about perspective - a simple thing which you tend to forget when life throws lemons at you.

I seldom go to watch movies in the movie hall, but I make sure that I see many of them on the television in my leisure time. One such movie I saw was Danny Boyle’s – 127 Hours which is a story about Aron Ralston, the physically challenged mountaineer from the US. I was thoroughly inspired by the movie. So, I was very happy when I met, who I think is the Indian counterpart of Aron Ralston – Ashok Munne, a 30-year-old physically challenged adventurer from Nagpur. I later did a story for Nagpur Times, The Times of India when Ashok decided to lead a 15-member group for a weeklong bike ride of Vidharbha.  The group also included three more physically challenged men: two from Pune and one from Mumbai who joined the trip and citied Ashok as their inspiration.
Here’s a little more about Ashok which he shared with me in a conversation…

The accident
Ashok Munne lost his leg in a train accident in 2008. Ashok said, “Though I had a sleeper class ticket, I got in general compartment as the sleeper class was too crowded with people travelling without ticket. I was near the gate and somebody pushed me and I fell outside the train. One of my legs came under the train wheels. The pain was unbearable. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital in Nagpur.” Ashok lost his right leg below the knee in the accident. For the next one year, two operations were done in the government hospital on his leg which went wrong. He lost 25 kgs of weight in one year bringing his weight to a mere 40 kgs.

The hopelessness
When in despair, even the closest of your friends’ desert you and Ashok experienced the same after the accident. Many of his friends and relatives started maintaining a distance from him thinking that they may have to shell out money for his treatment. They stopped visiting him in the hospital as well. Ashok said, “I felt really sad when people started treating me so badly. More so, because I knew that, had the same thing happened to them, I would have helped them.” It was a pit of hopelessness that he was approaching to and he could’ve fallen in it, but he didn’t.

Against all odds
Fed up with his situation and wishing to make a turnaround, Ashok took his life in his own hands. He said, “I understood that if I wanted to do something better with my life, I would have to do it myself. I heard my inner voice which told me, ‘Ya toh mar ja, ya toh sab kuch bhul ke aage badh!’ I started reading inspirational and motivational books. I stopped taking medicines completely and started doing Yoga. It was working as I was starting to feel better. I guess it was the positivity which I was brining in my life which was working for me. I learnt Martial Arts thereafter. With the help of an NGO, I went to a private hospital for an operation in Pune. It is there that I saw the news of Krishna Patil, the mountaineer scaling the Everest on a news channel. Something in me changed at that moment and I decided that no matter what, I want to do the same.”

One legged wonder
Mount Everest – Earth’s highest mountain and the Mecca of mountaineers became Ashok’s dream. And so he started preparing himself for the same. Ashok said, “Agar aap pahado ka hilano chahte ho, to pehle pathar ko hilana sikhna padega,’ and that’s why I started practicing at the nearby small mountains around my village, Katol. Afterwards I came to Nagpur to join an adventure camp. The head at that camp looked at me and told me, ‘Beta, pehle zameen pe chalna sikh le, phir pahad chadne ke khawab dekhna!’ I felt bad but it didn’t discourage me for I knew that my destiny was in my hands. I kept working hard, kept trekking and kept scaling small mountains. An article was written about me in The Times of India after which life changed for me drastically.” Ashok shocked everybody when he scaled Mera Peak (21,247 feet) in 2012. He also took a bike ride from Delhi to Ladakh in June 2013. Ashok now heads an adventure company along with his friend Mukesh Sonbarse in Nagpur. The company organises adventure camps for people. Ashok is now eyeing at his dream – Mount Everest – which he plans to scale in 2015.

An inspiration
By the time, I finished talking to Ashok, I was completely in awe of him and I couldn’t help but thank God that somehow, in some way he made me meet this guy. I got up and hugged him; not out of sympathy, but because of a strong sense of desire to achieve things and overcome the odds he gave me. He touched a chord inside me and gave me courage to complete those dreams of mine - those childhood dreams which I thought would be impossible to pursue now. He said it right when he told me, ‘Losing a leg or a hand doesn’t make you incapable of things, lack of will does.’ Ashok now gives motivational speeches and wants to inspire physically challenged people like him. I don’t know what will happen when he will scale the Everest finally, but I’m sure of one thing – Whatever he does, he will always be inspiring people wherever he goes with his inspiring story, just the way he inspired me and a lot of people I personally don’t know.

Rock solid: Ashok Munne at Ladakh

Victory: Ashok at the Mera Peak after scaling it

Cheers to life: Ashok during his Ladakh trip

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