"It's ironic that I, an Occupational Therapist who helped the sick get back on their feet, should be reduced to a quadriplegic state through a freak shooting accident," says the 50-year-old Johar of that fateful day 13 years ago. Paralysed chest down, Johar, married with two children, returned from Lucknow where he worked at the St George's Medical College. To a life at B I/500, Janakpuri, Delhi, confined to a windowless, airless room.
But there's a limit to grief. Tears dry up. And the old lust for life surges back. Till it becomes a tide. As it did in Johar, who propped himself up on his pillows, got a phone installed next to his bed, designed a writing tool—a combination of a steel ballpoint pen refill and a geometrical compass—which he strapped to his wrist. And the sunlight poured in through the many windows he opened.
He contacted hospitals and resource centres for information on the disabled and slowly drew those who responded into the warmth of his Family circle. "We begin with interaction. Most handicapped people feel isolated. They suffer from depression and an acute sense of despair because they feel they cannot communicate with the so-called 'normal' world," explains Johar. Members need only pick up a phone or write a letter to receive a fresh lease of life through counselling, group activities, promotion of individual talents, cultural events, latest news on medical advancements and, in some cases, monetary help.
"Moneywise, we can't do much," says the Manav Sewa awardee, operating as he is without any aid or government assistance. What the Family does is instil self-esteem and the feeling that a disabled can be of use to society. In short, promote positive thinking. His determination shines through as he talks of his 300-odd Family members comprising the physically and mentally challenged and a surprising number of 'able' volunteers. His efforts have spawned members all over the country and led to the opening of the Patna and Bangalore chapters of the Family. "I don't know how it spread but it did," says Johar, adding, "if I can put a smile on someone's face even for a short while, my purpose is served." In 1992, Johar started Voice, a magazine for the disabled, packed with news from all over the world, profiles in courage and success stories.
"We have this obsession for coming up with firsts," smiles Johar. "We held the first-ever photo-exhibition on disability last year. Then again we came out with T-shirts on disability," he reveals, "printed with messages like 'Look First at my Strengths/Not at my Weaknesses'." "When we become disabled, people take it that we have lost the right to smile, go out and enjoy ourselves," he says. The Family has fought such notions by organising over 17 outstation trips for the disabled and many more are in the offing. The Family also promotes disabled artists by buying their paintings and printing cards. "Our problem is marketing our handiwork and the paucity of funds," says Johar.
But that hasn't stopped them from trying, faltering and then rising again, bruised but not broken. A Family member is working on the designing of tail lift vans, the first of their kind in India which can accommodate five wheelchairs with the occupants in them.
Through all this, Johar maintains that he is no saviour incarnate. Merely a Family member. He dedicates all the awards that have come his way, including the Manav Sewa—Delhi government award, National Award for Best Self-Employed Person and the Professional Excellence Award—to his Family. His only request: "Please publish my telephone number so that my Family grows." If you want to join the fold just dial (011)5597328.