Narendra Bisht cannot stop talking about his company, DHL. When we spoke to this 42-year-old from Uttarakhand he repeatedly sang the praises of his employers. He says they have been tremendously helpful and accommodative ever since a traffic accident injured his spine when he was 25 and just a few months into the job.
Narendra is the eldest son of Durga Singh Bisht (64) and Hansi Bisht (58). Durga Singh used to work in a sugar factory in Sitarganj, which is where Narendra studied till 12th standard. He then did his B.Sc. from Kumaon University in Nainital followed by an M.A. in Sociology. He worked for Jaiprakash Associates in Dehradun for three years and joined DHL in the same city in May 2005.
One night in October 2005, he and four of his colleagues were returning from an office meeting in Rudrapur when their car collided with a bus. Two of them escaped without a scratch, one had a broken tooth and another sustained a minor fracture. Narendra, who was sitting in the back seat, bore the brunt of the crash. He remembers that he felt no sensation in his hands and legs. People took him to a nearby hospital and he told them to call his uncle; he feared that his father, who had high blood pressure, would be unable to handle the shocking news.
Narendra was shifted to Sai Hospital in Moradabad where he was operated upon for a cervical spinal injury. After spending 12 days there he was referred to another hospital for physiotherapy. Everyone including him believed he would get back to work after a few days, but he continued to lack sensation below the neck. He remained bedridden at home for months. “They would shift my cot outside the house in the morning so I could get some sun, and bring it back in the evening,” he recalls. “My mother and aunt would feed me. My hope was that my legs could touch the ground one day.” They got him a waterbed to prevent bedsores. The saving grace was his company, as it took care of all his medical expenses.
In 2006 an MRI scan revealed that his spinal cord was only partially damaged. This gave him hope, although the road to recovery was tedious. “I felt like a small child who had to be taught everything all over again,” he says. “I couldn’t even hold a spoon to eat my food.” Gradually he was able to open his fist and use his fingers to break off pieces of roti. In another six months his condition improved considerably and he started using a walker. By 2007 he was able to type a letter on his own to DHL, requesting the HR department to reinstate him.
“DHL jaisa koi nahi [There is no one like DHL],” Narendra says enthusiastically. In December 2007 he rejoined his desk job at DHL in Dehradun and he has been there ever since. “Full support and no discrimination” is what he has enjoyed. His younger brother Bhupendra used to drop him to office on his two-wheeler and pick him up. “My brother sacrificed a lot for my sake,” says Narendra. “He got many good job offers in other cities but he stayed back in our parental home so he could take care of me.” Their younger sister Hema is married and lives elsewhere. Bhupendra and his wife Himani have a six-year-old daughter Lakshita and a three-month-old son Pranshul.
Of course, Narendra’s life has more than its share of obstacles. For instance, to not have full control over one’s bladder and bowels is “like a form of mental torture”; he spends at least an hour and a half in the bathroom after waking up at 5.30 a.m. (his office hours are from 10 a.m. to 6.30 p.m.). He still has to eat his medicines and undergo physiotherapy, and his injury hurts in winter. However, he feels grateful when he sees others with greater challenges.
When you ask Narendra about his current state of mind he says, “hasi khushi jeevan chal raha hai [life goes on with joy and laughter]”. There is nothing more he desires, he says. “The way my family, friends and company have looked after me, I want to give the same back to society. I want to help people with spinal cord injury, and using my own experiences, guide them to recovery.”