Traveling alone as a woman with disability is not impossible, believes Parvinder Chawla. This feisty Mumbaikar has gone to places, strange and familiar, on her wheelchair. Undeterred by the lockdown, Pammu, as friends and family call her, is currently driving around across India and posts videos of her experiences on Instagram. Follow her stories on @wheelchairandeye.
“I know my Waheguru will come to my rescue”.
A strong faith in God, never say die spirit, and an unquenchable thirst for new experiences defines Parvinder Chawla, better known as Pammu to friends and family.
The attitude explains this 51-year-old Mumbaikar’s energy and drive to do things that many of us would think twice about during the coronavirus pandemic. Like get behind the wheel and drive across India.
It is this undefeated spirit that helped Parvinder cope with the onset pf disability shortly after finishing college. “I had rheumatoid arthritis, my knees were bent, and I acquired other deformities”, she recalls. Even a touch was painful and what hurt most above all was giving up activities like swimming.
That did not keep her down. “I decided not to struggle in trying to walk but instead get on a wheelchair and direct my energy towards smiling”.
The idea of traveling around the world was triggered after a trip to Dubai and some Indian cities with her cousin. The gift of an automated wheelchair was a confidence booster. “That turned my life around 360 degrees”.
Parvinder gives top marks Dubai for accessibility. “Dubai is 90% wheelchair friendly. Traveling to Dubai gave me the confidence to venture elsewhere.”.
Parvinder visited 59 countries in five years, even doing a marathon stretch of 12 countries in two months. Not all experiences were smooth.
“In China, I did not know the local language, my hotel was demolished, and I was stranded on the streets at midnight. Waheguru heard my prayers and a passer-by booked me into another hotel, but I fell ill and decided to fly back”.
She did not let such experiences scar her. Instead she got more ambitious. “By the time I hit the age of 50, I decided to complete visiting 50 countries”. Her last trip outside India was to Egypt in March this year.
Now that the lockdown has partly lifted Parvinder is back doing what she loves best. This time she is exploring India by road. She drove from Mumbai to Delhi last week and is now the road to Punjab. On her to do list is a tour to all of India, “especially because I want to spread the word that India needs to be accessible”.Videos of her travels are regularly posted on her Instagram account @wheelchairandeye.
Her stories are being followed closely with many disabled people posting requests. “While in Delhi many people asked me to check if certain monuments are wheelchair friendly”, she says, “so I extended my stay there”.
Recording Parvinder’s experiences is family friend Sarthak Khanna. “When I heard about her plans, I immediately offered to shoot them”, says the actor-filmmaker. “I want the world to see Pammu’s spontaneity and sense of fun. She is totally independent and does not need my help”. Sarthak is proud to be a companion on ‘Pammu di gaddi’, as they refer to it.
The experience has also him aware of the barriers people with disabilities face.
“At Hawa MahaI (outside Delhi), there is a ramp, but it is so steep that Pammu would have fallen off if I had not caught her wheelchair. She does not drive for more than four hours at a stretch and when we go around looking for suitable hotels, I realise the problems people with disabilities face everywhere”.
Pammu refuses to let these experiences change her plans. Instead, she urges people with disabilities to come out of their homes and travel.
“Awareness is required, and we must create that as people with disabilities. India may not be fully accessible, but people have done out of their way to help me and I have had some beautiful experiences. We have to be fearless and that comes from faith”.