Can and able
A graphic novel chronicles the life of an Indian Army major, who went on to become India's first blade runner.
What is it that determines grit in a person? It is the ability to find a bright spot in a sea of darkness. You display grit when you pick up the pieces even when the chips are down. And that's why the word lends itself well to the title of a new graphic novel about the life of Major Devendra Pal Singh, a former Army serviceman who lost his left leg during
the Kargil War, only to eventually become India's first blade runner. Grit – The Major Story (Hatchette India) chronicles Singh's life from the time he was a child living with his grandparents in Roorkee. It tells the story of a man who made lemonade when life handed him lemons, which it did at various turns. At first, it was a sense of abandonment that he had to overcome when his mother and father left him to live with his demanding grandparents so that they had some company, when he was only seven years old. Next, he had to undergo the disappointment of failing to clear a string of exams that would have ensured his entry into the Army, his childhood dream. But he kept his chin up and eventually did get through. Then came the most pivotal moment in Singh's life, one that washed all his plans away overnight.
Pages from the graphic novel co-authored by Major DP Singh, VR Ferose and Sriram Jagannathan
The Kargil War was underway and the Major was posted in Pallanwala. On July 15, 1999, a mortar shell landed merely 1.5m from him, injuring his leg to such an extent that gangrene set in by the time he could be taken to the nearest hospital. The doctors decided to amputate it. Singh's career as a soldier on the frontline was effectively over. Yet, he tells us over the phone from Gurugram, "When the doctor shared the news with me, my first thought was a really motivating one. I have often said that perhaps it wasn't of my own doing, but one that was spiritually sent. But either way, I felt, 'Let me now see how a person with disabilities — somebody who doesn't have a leg — lives. And maybe one day, I will be able to lead a life that isn't inspirational only for me but for many others as well.' It was a thought that lasted only for a fleeting moment. But I now see the story getting lined up like that. Everything has followed in that same direction."
The reason is that after going through an initial period of depression (which even led to the breakdown of his marriage), Singh eventually found a calling that, again, justifies the title of this book. He became a blade runner, or someone who runs with a prosthetic leg. No one in the country had done it before. The man thus gave immeasurable hope to many others who were in the same situation. And that eventually led him to start an organisation called The Challenging Ones, which motivates people with physical disabilities to look at themselves as more able, as opposed to less able, than those who have all their faculties intact.
All these life experiences are documented in the graphic novel, which is primarily in black and white. Only two sections have coloured pages, including the final few. The reason, says Sriram Jagannathan, who illustrated it, is that those phases represent the biggest highlights in Singh's life. He tells us, "If you look at the eight pages in between that are in colour, you'll see that they paint a picture of his days in the Indian Military Academy. That was the most important and enjoyable part of the Major's life. Then, the last 16 pages indicate how he inspires other people and brings colour into their lives."
That ability to inspire, in fact, has now become Singh's primary vocation. Apart from running marathons, he is also a motivational speaker. But this book, too, serves the same purpose as his speeches do. You understand over 160 pages that even when life seems grey, a sunny disposition can clear the clouds away. And that's the message the reader is left with after learning about a man who managed to stand tall even when his world had fallen apart.
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