The Story of Malvika Iyer’s Rise from a Bomb Blast
I had to learn to believe in myself without a perfect body, based on who I am, not what I look like.
If you look into Malvika Iyer’s eyes, you will see both the fierce survivor of a brutal bombing and the steadfast woman who inspires many globally today. She is a TEDx Speaker, a Global Shapers Community Member-An initiative of the World Economic Forum, and is in demand for interviews and speaking engagements. Malvika also represents the Able-Bodied and this April was honored as the first ‘Women in the World Emerging Leaders’, at the seventh Annual Women in the World Summit held at Lincoln Center in New York.
When I discovered Malvika through social media, I was instantly drawn to her compelling story of tragedy turned to triumph, and I could sense her passion to encourage others in her written words. She is no victim- and she made that clear as soon as we began our conversation.
Malvika Iyer was a vibrant and confident thirteen year old girl who as a trained, classical dancer had a promising future in the art. She dreamed big dreams and could envision the life she believed was her path. As a teen, she loved fun and adventure with her friends, but one day her outdoor escapades shattered her vision of her future, her body, and much of her spirit as well, but not all of it.
On a typical day in her neighborhood in Bikaner, India, while enjoying time with friends outside, she picked up a hunk of metal and used it as a hammer. She knew of the recent explosion at the nearby ammunition artillery depot, it had scattered shells and grenades, but the neighborhood was assured that no live shells remained. The charismatic girl with the promising future tapped the hunk of metal onto metal until it exploded in her hands, ripping them from her body, bursting into her flesh, and devouring her legs to shreds. That day she became a bomb victim. But Malvika would quickly correct that term today to define her as a bomb survivor, because, “You can’t remain a victim forever.”
Can you remember yourself at thirteen with the angst most of us experienced as we tried to determine who we were, who we wanted to become, and where we best fit in? Most of us dealt with many insecurities during those years, but Malvika had to begin framing who she was after her accident- no longer as an agile dancer who used her body for self-expression, but as a girl who lost her hands and whose legs were no longer able to carry her and precariously held together with rods.
Malvika would spend the next two years in a hospital bed trying to work out life’s questions.
Malvika, besides the physical changes you endured after the accident, what was your experience like internally? How did that tragic event shape you?
I have experienced trauma at a very early age. My accident scene was a bloodbath. The stench of smoke and blood mixed together was nauseating. I have experienced exclusion from the society I lived at a very young age which disheartened me and perhaps eventually made me strong.
In India, women who are physically disabled in some way face a double disadvantage, and I had to face this at so young an age. Women face pressure to be beautiful, acceptable because of external cues. Now when I looked at my body and stared in the mirror, I knew I would be viewed as less than whole- damaged. But I could not take pity from my society, and I wanted to stand up for myself. My doctors gave up hope that I would ever walk again, but my mother never gave up.
Who or what was instrumental in helping you take your tragic events and channel them into your strength?
“One day you will love these wounds, you will accept them as a part of you.”
I would say my mother was most responsible for helping me during that time. She believed in me and spoke strength into me. She never left my side those two years and she challenged me to believe in myself without a perfect body. She said, “One day you will love these wounds, you will accept them as a part of you.” That changed how I looked at my body and how I thought of myself. She also added a lot of light and humor into the struggle to recover; she made it bearable and a positive experience.
I love her words and think that they are profound. They say that we have to not only accept ourselves as we really are, but we have to love those parts of us that are imperfect, broken, or that we believe are flawed. They too make up who we are, so therefore, they too are worthy to be loved.
How are you able to say that your journey from the bomb blast and losing limbs has been positive? What is something you have learned you would hope to pass on to others on a painful journey?
This journey has changed me for the good.
As a teen struggling with this event, I had to grow in confidence, being shy and passive wasn’t going to help me. I had to learn to believe in myself without a perfect body, based on who I am, not what I look like.
I think too many people in my society are so focused on being competitive, to reach the top, and they are so goal oriented, that when one event arrives to challenge them, they struggle to overcome it. It shatters their cocoon of comfort, and they focus on the “why me?” questions. “Why didn’t I graduate at the top? Why didn’t I get that great job?” But they are so focused on just their experiences in life, that they don’t recognize all of the great things that they have, just on the things they don’t.
I think people need a much larger experience. They need a larger picture of life, of what others struggle with around the world every minute and still have to fight for another day to live. When you face death, or serious life-changing events, it shifts your perspective.
What shapes reality is how you overcome painful events in life- it determines how you come out of it.
Your message is one that many people need to hear. How have your speaking opportunities affected you?
My journey as a motivational speaker has been life changing. I still remember the feeling of welcoming and joy I received from the audience when I delivered my first TEDx talk. Since then, I have been receiving hundreds of messages from people around the world. They tell me that they feel hopeful after reading about my life. They tell me that they have stopped complaining and blaming themselves and started living life to the fullest. This I believe is what changed me. I realized that I have been given this second life as a gift and I must use it to help people understand that one must never give up in life.
Where is your journey leading you now? What’s next?
I currently live in the United States of America. I have just completed my Ph.D. in Social Work, and I am a Gender/ Inclusion/Disability Rights Activist. I would like to continue as a motivational speaker and a model for accessible fashion, and to impact positive change in the world. My career goal is to work towards building an inclusive society, particularly to address the attitudes and perceptions with regards to disability and gender.
Of everything that you will certainly accomplish in your life, what would make you most happy?
Influencing the lives of people in a positive way would be my greatest accomplishment, and I want to continue doing so.
You already are and will continue to do so! Thank you very much for our time together and for sharing your beautiful story with We Triumph.
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