Kamala Shrestha possesses a quality most of us can’t even fathom possessing—that of peace

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Published:
04 Jul 2017
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10 min read
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From the Archive (Nov, 2016): Despite losing both her hands and a leg at the age of 12, Shrestha has managed to live her life with such autonomy that her life story itself is a source of inspiration for many


What was young Kamala like?
Just like any other kid, I was full of life. I remember running around without a care in the world. But when it came to studies, I was very serious. I was a good student.

Then when you were 12, it all changed.
Yes, I was in fifth grade. I remember playing with my friends during the Dashain holidays, when I saw a kite entangled in the high-tension tower in front of my home. In my urgency to retrieve the kite, I grabbed an iron rod and touched the 11000 volt high-tension lines, and next thing you know, I woke up in hospital without both of my hands and a leg.

What went through your mind?
I was very young, so the enormity of the situation didn’t exactly hit me. Weeks after the accident, I was moved back home, and it was then that I was faced with the daunting prospect of learning to adapt to a life without my limbs. I do think a part of me died the day of electrocution, but I have been reborn a more resilient person, and much credit for that goes to my mother and sister, who have been my pillars of strength.


How did you overcome the most difficult phase of your life?
I struggled with dealing with the physical changes in my body, and even looking in the mirror was incredibly difficult. Being surrounded by a supportive and caring family helped me overcome the difficult years. My mother never gave up on me. She is one person who has inspired me in more ways than one. Another woman who is my hero is my older sister. Besides taking care of me, she has always pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and try new things. I owe it to her for making things easier for me than they really are.

Did getting prosthetic limbs make it easier to cope?
Before the wounds had fully recovered, I would be constantly plagued by blisters and sores. I was taken to New Delhi for treatment, and it was there I got my first set of prosthesis. Little by little, I began to learn how to use my prosthetic hands to do the simple tasks most of us take for granted. For those who don’t have to depend on them, prosthetic limbs might not seem all that interesting, but for those who need them, they can provide a huge source of optimism and lead to independence—both these aspects dramatically improve people’s lives.


After your accident, you were denied admission in your own school.
Back then, schools didn’t have conducive environments for people with disabilities. I guess the authorities were concerned that little kids might harm me or make fun of me. Giving up school was not easy. So I spent the next few years at home. It was during that time that I was flown to Australia to receive a brand new set of prosthesis, courtesy of the Australian Rotary Club. The new set of prosthetic limbs made my life easier, and to some extent, made me mobile.

How did you cope with all the staring?
Apart from the occasional outing, I rarely ventured out before getting my prosthesis. I used to be painfully conscious of the stares—many people are uncomfortable around people with disabilities. Some might feel sorry for us and assume that we are bitter about our handicap, but that’s  not true in many cases. Lots of people with disabilities feel that their lives are enriched by their experiences with disability. The first step to healing is learning to become comfortable in your own skin, and to accept yourself.

So you believe people are not disabled?
Definitely not. What most of us need are opportunities in all aspects of life. The differently abled have to make the best of the situation, realise what you have got, not what you’ve lost. Also, I feel it’s society’s inability to allow a differently abled person to express themselves that hinders their progress. We should let everyone embrace the quality that makes them rare, and valuable, and most importantly, capable in their own special ways.


What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
It has to be my elder sister’s life mantra: “You shouldn’t just stay at home. You need to do something with your life.”

Is that why you decided to join singing classes?
After getting my prosthesis from Australia, the first thing we did was to meet musician Nhyoo Bajracharya. Despite my condition, he didn’t make any exception for me, and he told me that I needed to take regular singing lessons. So for the next one year, I went to Do Re Mi Music School, Jamal, and got coached by Bajracharya himself. I soon recorded my first album, Kamalo Sapana, which was very well received. Right now I’m working on my second album, of which three new songs have already been recorded.

One act of change you have carried out or want to achieve.
I like connecting with people, and I want to help others by making use of my experiences. I find my involvement with Independent Living Centre, in the capacity of a board member, very enriching. Through my work with this organisation and with my attending various seminars, I get to change the mentality of others towards people like me. We have always maintained our stand that if a differently abled person is provided with opportunity, he or she can also lead a rather satisfying and self-sustaining life.


How do you maintain your drive to try new things?
I personally feel that struggle is part and parcel of everybody’s life, and most importantly, that that’s what sets your foundation for success—how you overcome your hurdles. Regardless of whether you are suffering from some form of disability or not, everyone has to confront and overcome adversity, one way or another. I promised myself long ago to not let negativity or doubt creep into my mind. I’ve always kept myself busy. I took singing lessons and did a course in radio and TV presentation. I’ve successfully hosted a show on Capital FM, for disabled people, for almost two years. I also ran a human rights show on Radio Reeyaz. Currently, I’m working as a newsreader at Himalayan TV.

What has been your greatest fulfilment?
When I think about all the things that I have managed to achieve, it gives me a sense of fulfilment. Recently, I was awarded the Rastriya Yuva Pratibha Puraskar 2072, and that has definitely motivated me and fortified my resolve to do more. I think I received that award for my work, confidence and determination to fight.

Do you think people’s perceptions have changed regarding disabled people?
I’ve had people give me that helpless look when they have to decide how to address people with disabilities—you know, are you handicapped, are you disabled, are you physically challenged? I just want people to call me by my name. But if you must get technical, then I’m a two-hand-and-a-leg amputee. It’s not so much the definition itself that is bothersome but how the words shape how we think about differences in our community. However, I do feel there has been a shift in the thinking of people, even amongst people with special needs. They don’t want to be marginalised; they want to create their own definitions of their identity. They want to identify themselves.

How do you spend your free time?
I don’t get down on myself anymore. I also don’t take for granted anymore how beautiful life is. And my senses have been so sharpened after the accident. I love listening to music. You’ll find me singing along to the radio, or I’ll be watching videos on YouTube.

What does the future hold for you?
I’ve been blessed with an amazing support system in the form of my loving family and appreciative friends. As long as I have these inspiring people around me, I will feel there’s so much that I have yet to achieve. After undergoing a near-death experience like mine, you come to realise how precious life is. That sounds corny, but it is true.