While studying in Class IX at the Moothedathu High School of Thaliparamba in Kannur, Shaji Thalora -a 14-year old boy- frequently felt his hands shiver. He chose to ignore it, only for the doctors to later confirm that he had Muscular Dystrophy which could paralyze him. This happened in 1991.
Within a span of four years, he was forced to use a wheel-chair. For the next 17 years, Shaji spent his life inside the four walls of his house, all hope lost, with his dreams shredded to bits.
Shaji was however a huge fan of SK Pottekkatt, Kerala’s most popular travelogue writer. Gradually, Shaji began to travel around the world through the books he devoured and the movies he watched.
It was in 2007, as a 34-year old, that he first associated with an organisation called ‘Fly’, a place where people who spend their lives in wheel-chairs came together. Some were paralyzed below the neck, a few below the waist, while others were not able to move due to spinal injuries or diseases.
It was here that Shaji met people who shared his interests, and together, they started dreaming about travelling, rather than being cooped inside their homes all the time. From among its 100-odd members, a few then decided to actually go about chasing their dream.
“We were in wheel-chairs, but one day we decided to attach wings to them,” grins Shaji, while speaking to The News Minute.
With quiet determination, the group started to travel, at first -tentatively- to places close by, then across Kerala, slowly and steadily, expanding their travels across the whole country.
All of them hail from rural Kannur and have spent decades holed up inside their homes. All are from a poor economic background, as none have permanent jobs. Yet, they always manage to do small jobs, and save money for their travel.
“Each one is supposed to bear their individual expenses. As we are disabled, we need someone to accompany us. At times, we end up bearing their expenses too. But then we manage somehow, as travelling is our only source of joy,” says Shaji.
For long journeys, they split into small groups for easier management. “Two of us just returned from Pune. We visited Ajanta Ellora. Four others accompanied us to help out. Another two are also planning to visit soon,” shares Shaji.
Their first trip was to Mookambika in 2011. Seven of them with the help of friends and family visited the temple. The success of that trip encouraged them further.
The next one was to Wayanad: “We were a group of six. I cannot explain the excitement each of us felt, when we found ourselves in a new place. We were seeing things for the very first time. Like a newborn, every single sight gave us so much of joy.”
Sadly, Jisha, a woman team-member, could make it only for the Mookambika trip, as physical ailments restricted her from further travels.
Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were next on their list. In 2014, the team visited Delhi. The trip was undertaken in groups of three, with three accompanying ‘helps’.
“Even in my distant dreams I could never have thought of visiting Delhi!” Shaji’s eyes light up with happiness as he recalls the trip.
The group has till date completed around four long distance trips across India. Money is however a hindrance to more frequent travel.
“We plan to visit all the historical places in India. We would also love to go abroad. Though we are reined in by physical and financial constraints, mentally however, we are strong.”
Shaji Thalora with his companion in a trip
Almost all of them struggle to find money for their treatment, but all of them are of the firm belief that travelling heals them more than any medicine could ever do.
“We are disabled. But more than medicines, we need the environment -we find ourselves in- to change. Mental healing is what we need. That gives us strength. Travelling endows us with mental strength and positive energy.”
Shaji plans to write a travelogue –a compilation of his travel experiences. He also freelances for the radio and the magazines.
Source: The News Minute