On this day, exactly 16 years ago, a couple, their two daughters and their dog met with a tragic car accident on the Mumbai Pune highway. The accident took the lives of the couple and left their elder daughter, Sanam , paralyzed.
The Sanam I have the pleasure of knowing today is a warm and vibrant woman who is living life to the full despite the fact that she’s confined to a wheel chair. She and her husband, Suraj, run a dog boarding business called Perfect Pooch , in Mumbai. They are the angels I mentioned in this post of mine. I chatted with Sanam the other day and would like to share our ‘interview’.
Some of my readers have asked me to write on the topic of hope and fighting the odds. I thought Sanam is a perfect example of a person who constantly fights the odds and exemplifies hope.
In Conversation With Sanam Rabadi Karunakar
Sanam, I know that you were rather young when you had your accident – and it completely changed your life. Can you share some of the emotions you went through at that time?
Yes, I was just 16. We were on our way to Mumbai from Pune for our summer holidays when we met with the accident. My parents passed away the next day. I was very serious with head injuries and various broken bones and the doctors had advised my family not to tell me about my parents passing. I was told only after 10 days. I cried a lot. Afterwards I just thought it was a bad dream and they would walk into the door any minute. I was very independent and it was extremely difficult for me to imagine myself in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
Sanam & her sister
Losing your parents and the thought of being confined to a wheel chair – that takes a lot of inner strength to come to terms with. And you seemed quite the tomboy from the pictures I’ve seen of you….so the thought of depending on other people must have been terrible……
It was devastating. I had to rely on other people to help me with the smallest of things – from brushing my teeth, to changing me and feeding me. Right after my accident, I could not even move my arms so I had to have someone do everything for me. From being an active teenager to being in a hospital bed for 11 months was quite a transition. Thankfully, I had the support of my maternal grandmother and tons of support from well-wishers and friends. I had my bad days and my terrible days….There were no good days for some time.
I understand. The support of family and friends is vital. But finally it was up to you to accept the situation and find a way to cope with it emotionally. How did you manage that? What resources did you tap in to within yourself? There are people who give up on life for what seems like petty things…How did you choose to go on?
I was discharged from hospital after 11 months. Once I was home, I didn’t do much except lie in bed and watch TV. That was for almost 3 years!
I knew my parents would want me to do more – they would want me to finish my education and do something with what I had left of my life. Through a family friend, I got to know about the Indian Spinal Injuries Center in New Delhi. My family gathered funds for me to be admitted there for rehabilitation. I got a lot of financial help from well-wishers and once we had enough, I went to Delhi for rehab for 3 months. They taught me simple things; from holding a toothbrush to shifting into a car with help. They gave me back some of the independence I had lost.
At the Center, I saw people in worse situations than I was in. That made me realize I had to go on. My grandmother always said, “God has let you live because He has a plan for you”, and I thought maybe he did.
After I got back from Delhi, I urged friends to put me in a car and take me out. I saw the city after almost 3 and a 1/2 years! I started to get more confident. I enrolled into college and began my studies a few years after that. I did various data-entry jobs to keep myself occupied. With the help of a dear friend, I started painting. Slowly, bit by bit, I managed to put back the pieces of my life together. I could either lie there and waste away or enjoy life and make the most of what I had left, I chose the latter 🙂
Your grandmother was so right! I’m sure that prior to the accident you had many dreams for yourself. You now had to re-write them….How did you go about that?
I had wanted to become a vet. That was my dream since I was about 7 or 8 years old. I could not continue with studying to become a vet because of my physical impairment. An article about me appeared in a newspaper and I got a call from a lady called Shirin Merchant. This lady changed my life and I will always be grateful to her. She asked me if I wanted a dog that would help me with small day-to-day tasks and I immediately said yes!
A few days later she brought a jet-black Labrador to my place. I was so thrilled to see him. I had lost my dog, Ebony, in the accident. Seeing this puppy brought a big broad smile on my face.
With Magic – the perfect pooch
Shirin taught me and my husband Suraj how to train dogs and with her help we slowly stated to train this puppy who we called Magic. He brought so much joy into our life. After a few months, Shirin suggested I start a dog boarding facility from home. I was a bit apprehensive as I wasn’t sure I would be able to mange, but I gave it a shot. That is when Perfect Pooch was born. My dream was to be around dogs and I now had that. I had met my husband a few years before we started Perfect Pooch and it was with his support and help that we managed to start our own dog boarding service.
So as far as the dogs are concerned – you’re living your dream, but not exactly in the way you imagined it. And that you had the courage to do that is truly inspiring. Do you mind sharing a bit about how you ‘found’ the man of your dreams? 😉
I met Suraj through a common friend almost 11 years back. He came to meet me one day and it felt like I had known him for years. We spoke for hours on the phone, met often and he encouraged me to go out more. He used to come to meet me from Andheri and would take me places. That’s how our love story began 🙂
It is an amazing relationship. I’m sure he was drawn to your inner strength. And your relationship has given you the base to start your venture. Was Suraj always fond of dogs too?
He never had a dog and wasn’t really exposed to any growing up. He liked dogs but had never interacted with any and was surely not as fond of them as I am.
And now, from what I see, he’s crazy about dogs and they’re crazy about him too. Our Pablo goes absolutely berserk around Suraj!
Yes, Suraj has grown to love dogs. He now knows and has experienced the unconditional love they give us.
If you were asked to name three things that make your relationship work what would they be?
Our relationship is very different from a ‘normal’ couple. We have had a lot of challenges in these past 10 years. With me being immobile, he has been by my side all the time. It’s difficult to find a man who loves you so much and looks beyond what you are as a physical being. I would say the three most important things for us are understanding, trust and lots of love.
Sanam, Suraj and Magic
Now to talk about the other ‘man’ in your life…..Magic. Do tell me something about him.
Magic entered our lives in 2003. The minute he walked into the door, I knew he was the best dog in the world! He gave me company when I was alone; he sat by my side when I was sad and made me laugh with his silliness. We trained him to help me and now he is so good at it that if I drop something, I don’t even need to ask him to ‘fetch’, he will get up himself and do what he should!
That’s fantastic. Sanam, what motivates you on a day to day basis – to do all you do and be who you are?My main motivation comes from my dogs. I know I have to look after them and that it is what keeps me going, that’s my job. On days I am feeling dull, I always have more than one wet nose to nudge me and make me laugh! Suraj is also very supportive and without him I would never be able to manage, he keeps me going.
Unconditional love 🙂
You credit Suraj and the dogs. But those of us who’ve interacted with you realize that you have resources deep within you that you are tapping into as well! If you were to talk to someone who’s really depressed about their lives right now what would you say?
All I can say is that you can be sad and depressed or you can be happy. I know not many would be as lucky as I am but if only they can find what they are passionate about and enjoy life to the fullest, half their battle is won!
Sanam, my readers are going to get a lot of inspiration from you. Thank you for that.
A lover of words. A self-acceptance blogger. A blogging coach. A book reviewer. A woman happily journeying through midlife, moving from self-improvement to self-acceptance and enjoying being herself.
Corinne writes at Everyday Gyaan, reviews fiction at CorinneRodrigues.com and encourages writers and bloggers at Write Tribe and offers offline coaching to writers and bloggers at The Frangipani Creative, located in Secunderabad, India.