'If you want people to believe in you, then believe in yourself' - My Take by Vikram Agnihotri, double arm amputee rally driver
In My Take this week, Vikram Agnihotri, the first Indian without arms to get a driving license, talks about the various incidents and people who helped shape his never-say-die spirit.
When you are as young as seven years old, it's your parents who are instrumental in shaping you into the kind of person you turn out to be. In my case, that was all the truer because I lost my arms in a massive electric shock at that age.
In fact, whatever your age may be, your family in that critical factor that helps you bounce back, especially your mother, who is the homemaker and the center of the home. My mom was that central figure for me, and I miss her presence having lost her suddenly and tragically a few months ago.
My family helped me face up to the challenge of losing my arms, even overcoming it. This happened at a time when conditions in India were very different. Doctors were forthright and told my parents not to expect an artificial hand to make a substantial difference. They were clear that I should look at using my feet, mouth and shoulders instead.
The training to cope with this began at home starting with my mom who would sit with me and help me with my writing. Also, my parents had a different approach. They were not over protective like many other parents in a similar situation would perhaps be. I was given a lot of freedom and encouraged to go play outside with others. Within six months of the incident, they put me in swimming lessons and other activities, which when I think back was great because it gave me a lot of purpose. I also played football, and all these activities filled me with purpose made me very self-confident.
That approach also shaped may attitude towards my disability, people and life in general. I have seen that if you take the first step and show some confidence, people respond accordingly. They may be shocked and a little taken back at first but eventually they respond. But if you doubt yourself, it shows. If you want people to believe in you, then you have to believe in yourself.
I had a normal childhood and that gives me a feeling of normalcy. I have never thought of myself as disabled but as someone who just does things differently. I am comfortable with myself and the way I am that sometimes people forget I don't have hands.
Passion to Drive
My driving skills are self-taught, and it comes from being a keen observer of what's going on around me. Driving is something that came naturally to me because even when I was not driving, I would be a backseat driver. In the sense, I knew which gear the car was in and when the gears needed to change. I would watch others drive and keenly follow motor sports on TV.
I have a simple funda in life and that is if anybody can do it, I can do it too. If X can drive, there's no reason why I cannot. I just needed to figure out how to. There was no institution of person in India to teach someone like me, so I taught myself.
What made me happy was the huge impact my driving brought to my parents' lives, especially my mom. My dad is not that fond of driving and so when my mom wanted to go to the heart of Indore's markets, I would take her. It made her very happy. I called myself the official chauffeur!
But I was clear about one thing, that I would not drive without a license because if I was in an accident, my dad being a senior police official would get dragged into it. I had the confidence that I would get the license. I acquired a law degree, went deep into the Motor Vehicles Act and realized that it does not disqualify anyone from driving with their feet. So, I was confident they would not reject me on the basis of the law if I drove well.
I invested in a car and got a learner's license, but authorities were reluctant to give me a permanent driving license. I told them that if they reject me, I could challenge it. They came up with two reasons to say no. One, was that I could not signal with my hand while on the road, which I pointed out you are not supposed to anyhow and besides what about people inside AC cars? The second was that I would be a risk to pedestrians and other drivers. I questioned this too as there was no data to support this. Finally, with the intervention of higher-level government authorities, I got a permanent license.
I am currently a professional car rally driver and have participated in three motor sport events, including the iconic Desert Storm 2018 where. I bagged second runners-up podium in the Xplore Professional category, making history as the first disabled person to win a podium position, driving with his feet, in a national rally. This year I was second runners-up in the Malwa Sprint 2019 in the Amateur Stock below 1100cc category. With this, I have participated in five events with a podium in three events.
I am also the chairman of a non-profit, Vital Spark Welfare Society, whose objective is to motivate people to become winners. We do this through motivational training programmes, lectures and workshops for corporates, colleges and schools.