“I was born in 1972, apparently not a good phase for medical services in India.
When I was of 3 and a half months, I got a normal fever. Everything was okay until the age of 6. But then I had a fever again and this time, it was quite severe. It lasted 7 days and I lost consciousness after the third day. My parents took me to a doctor.
Penicillin was newly introduced in that time. So the doctors wanted to use it more often. In that attempt, the doctor gave me an overdose, enough penicillin for four people. It so happened that I was allergic to penicillin right from birth. So then instead of fever going away, it shot up. I lost whatever consciousness I had. My mom became really scared, so she took me to another doctor.
The second doctor declared me dead after examination and moved me to the mortuary. He asked my parents to get 6000 rs for claiming the body. In that time, since it was quite a big amount, it took them half a day to arrange the money. When they came back, the mortuary attendee told my parents –
“I don’t think your child is dead yet. I have put him on another table. And I think he is breathing.”
My parents then came inside and found that the dead body wasn’t quite dead yet. What they did not know was that I had regained consciousness a couple of hours before they came in. That’s a very bad place for a 6-year-old to regain consciousness. Took me 5 years to get this incident out of my head.
“Mortuary is a very bad place for a 6-year-old to regain consciousness.”
The 2nd doctor stuck to his diagnosis that all my vital organs were at a zero. And he had no idea how I had regained consciousness. Parents took me to doc 3. By that time, my right hand and leg had swollen completely. The doctor flat-out said to my parents “This kid is going to be a vegetable for the rest of his life – he will not speak, or respond to any kind of stimulus ever in his life. Instead of having him in your home, you should go drop him at an Ashram somewhere and have another kid.” All this, while I was sitting there right in front of him.
My mom got very upset, but she refused to give up on me. She told the doctor that if my kid can wake up from a dead state in a mortuary, he definitely is destined to do something in his life.
She took me home. We went to the fourth doctor. My swelling had subsided by then but I couldn’t move my hand or leg. On examining my condition, the doctor told my parents about the overdose of Penicillin and that it had screwed with my nervous system and my motor nerves were affected. My right limbs became paralyzed and the base area of my spine got affected with it. And they have been paralyzed ever since.”
– Shakthi V.
~ these are the lines by Shakthi V, whose son is his superhero, and who himself is a mentor to startups and is a celebrity on twitter.
Going back to School –
He couldn’t stand up, but he insisted on going back to school like any normal kid saying that if others can move on their twos, he would move on his fours. Neither his friends nor his school had any problem with his condition. Moreover, he used to always top his class. His school & CBSE gave him a scholarship till 10th std and his mom didn’t have to pay anything for his school fee.
When he reached the age of 10 or 11, his parents found out about a doctor who had flown to Chennai from the US. He suggested a surgery which would help him to at least stand up a bit and move around while wearing calipers. Calipers were made out of iron in those days and they used to have sharp edges. While sitting down, if you moved your leg, those sharp edges would poke your skin, causing it to bleed. He used to bleed from afternoon till evening. After a couple of months, he decided to take them off and continue his studies in his normal physical state.
While figuring out what to do next in life, he got a lot of suggestions from a lot of people because of his disability.
Of course, they were to open an STD booth, or become an accountant for a company, become a teacher or better yet, to go and join an Ashram. He took neither of these and decided to pursue engineering and study computer science. Getting there was tough because he got a seat in an engineering college in Selum which was far away from his home in Chennai. His parents became worried because of this, and also because the college was not quite accessible. It was on a hill with a rocky terrain, and a lot of steps in the way while entering or even while going to the washroom.
He still insisted his parents on joining that college because he did not want to give it up because of his limitations. His parents got him a house not far away from the college. With slight modifications here and there, he made it through four years of engineering. And not just made it, he also got the highest score in his university for Discrete Mathematics!
His friends helped him out to move around wherever possible, because India, in the late 80’s wasn’t what we could call ‘accessible’. So the buses or any public transport or the basic amenities were hard to get for any individual with a special condition.
But accepting all of that, Shakthi looks back to his college days and says that yes, it is difficult but if you think about it, anything worth doing doesn’t come without difficulties.
Further Studies –
After finishing college, the suggestions again flowed in that now that he is done with his whim of doing engineering, he should go and take up that job of accounting or teaching.
At that time, BITS Pilani had come to their campus with a drive for Masters. They took his interview and his project was AI – he wrote an expert system. They offered him to do his masters with them as they were really impressed by his work and skills. He accepted their offer.
Shakthi happily says that they were the first institute in India to address the issues of accessibility for the special needs students. They gave him a room that best suited his needs and rearranged the classes such that he didn’t have to move around a lot. They even made the classes non-mandatory for him, as long as his grades were not affected. He happily says that out of a 5 point CGPA, he scored 4.7!
Career and Early Jobs –
SSI – Software Solutions Incorporated was setting up in India and they needed someone to manage their data center in Chennai. He was appointed there as a Unix System Admin and was later made the in charge of networking.
Cisco was setting up their office in Bangalore and they came to SSI to learn Sybase. Shakthi and the India head of Cisco used to have daily conversations. At the end of their two months course, he offered Shakti to be the Networking Specialist at Cisco in San Francisco. He took up the offer and cleared all the rounds of interviews.
One thing lead to another and he went on to becoming one of the first 15 Indians to clear a CCI – Cisco Certified Internetworking expert. He became a technical expert at Cisco in a bunch of things.
He then continued to work in network and communications for a while before shifting to India and becoming a Social Media Influencer.
Life as of today –
On recalling his childhood, he says that after getting wheelchair bound, for the first six months he felt like his life had ended. Because he had to depend on other people to carry out his basic human activities. He couldn’t go his favorite place – the terrace anymore without asking someone for help.
Today he has around 163k twitter followers and gets around 3 million average monthly impressions on his tweets. He also mentors startups about marketing on a regular basis. He has even helped the prime minister to set up the social media campaign of #startupindia.
Shakthi also runs a website – thequill.in where he critically reviews upcoming smartphones & other hardware products. Shakthi is a well-known speaker in the marketing summits of India and around the world. He quotes –
Your disability is like a stone. If you pick it up and hold it close to your face, it will block your vision and will be the only thing you’ll see. But if you let it stay on the ground, after a point of time, you won’t even notice that it’s there.
It took him more than three years to wrap his mind around his condition. But then he chose to pick the option of adapting to his condition and making the best use of it.
He credits his mother for being his biggest support. Shakthi quotes his mom saying “You have the best brains in the family, try to use it. It’s a virtue and it will get you from point A to point B and further in your life.”
He shares his lesson that he focused on where he wanted to get rather than how he got there. This thinking helped him to think of his limitations as minor hindrances in his journey of becoming who he wanted. And he directed all his focus into learning and moving ahead in his life.