One limb is good enough to shoot for the stars: Pooja Agarwal
It was New Year’s Eve the next day. The newly married woman, totally in love with her bright lipsticks and waist long hair had gone to New Delhi railway station to see off her husband. As she was walking on the platform, a crowd she had never harmed suddenly pushed her towards the railway track. Within seconds, Pooja Agarwal was crushed by a roaring train. Three of her limbs had to be amputated to save her life.
It has been eight years to the accident. Pooja now sports a short flip haircut. On a bright winter morning, she meets us near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, flashing a brilliant smile. She tells us her day started at 4:30 am with yoga and exercise, and she is feeling quite energetic. In a few hours, she will leave for Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range in Tughlakabad to begin her shooting practice.
Pooja Agarwal, 35, is a para shooter who currently ranks 14th in the world and 11th in Asia. “I want to win a medal for India at the Paralympics someday,” says Pooja, who won her first International medal at the World Shooting Para Sport World Cup in Al Ain, UAE in 2017, a silver for the 10m air pistol event.
When the pandemic struck, Pooja had to stop training for a few months. Employed as a probationary officer in a bank, she was working from home. That’s when she came up with the idea of launching a Youtube channel that could help specialty-abled people do tasks that they thought were impossible. “I had learnt using my right hand for everything. So I decide to demonstrate through videos how someone who has just one hand can easily do everything from chopping vegetables to yoga,” says Pooja, as we settle down for a long chat.
Pooja was 27 when the tragedy struck. After finishing Masters in Information Technology, Pooja was working as a lecturer in a college in Meerut. In December 2012, she had come to Delhi where her husband worked. She had been married for six months. After the train accident, Pooja was admitted in ISIC (Indian Spinal Injuries Centre). After the saving triple amputation, Puja came to her in-laws’ home. Her mother moved in with her to help her with daily chores.
Soon, Pooja sensed a drastic change in the behaviour of her in-laws and husband. They became so indifferent towards her that she could no longer bear to live with them. Within months, her marriage fell apart. She separated from her husband and filed for divorce.
Pooja moved into a rented accommodation in the city along with her mother. Confined in her room, she found it excruciating to carry out day to day activities. Pooja had to cut her waist long hair as it was becoming tough to manage. “I had learnt to tie perfect plaits as a kid…I loved long hair, so my mom had told me to learn making plaits to be independent. Now, once again, I had to be independent, so I had to cut my hair short,” she says with a tinge of pain.
But instead of accepting that destiny had mercilessly written her off, she fought back. “The teacher in me gradually motivated me to move forward in life with whatever I was left with. I realised that I still had my right hand with me, so everything was only going to be right,” she says.
Pooja started preparing for competitive exams and struggled to fit into her prosthetic limbs. Soon, she managed to walk without bleeding. She prepared for IBPS and cleared the exam. Pooja got a job in Allahabad bank as a Probationary Officer. “I badly needed a routine, a job and financial independence to get a grip on life,” she says.
An athlete friend encouraged Pooja to get into sports. “I got to know that I could take part in para sports. I began with table tennis but soon lost interest. And then I took up shooting in 2016 and there was no looking back. I had found just the sport that kept me totally hooked,” she says. She borrowed shooting equipments and a shooting wheel chair from others to fulfil her dreams and made a place for herself in the sport.
In the pandemic, her YouTube channel - Pooja Agarrwal PCreations, took shape. One of her school friends who lives in the US encouraged Pooja to shoot videos to help out so many others who could be facing challenges due to amputation. “I had no idea how to go about it. My mom who had never ever taken a photo before learnt how to record videos using the phone. Sometimes, I shot the videos myself and I also learnt how to edit them,” she says.
Pooja’s videos show how the specially-abled can do most of their day-to-day tasks independently. How to exercise at home, fold clothes, chop onions and tomatoes, peel almonds, sew with one hand – there’s a lot that Pooja teaches people through her videos to make their lives easier. “One subscriber recently asked me to demonstrate how to shift from the wheelchair to the bed with ease. It feels great to be able to help out others,” she says.
Every pain leaves you with a lesson that helps bring out the best in you, believes Pooja. “It’s for you to turn the mess into success. One you decide you won’t sink into gloom despite how unfair life has been to you, you see that so many doors open up for you. You just have to make a beginning,” she says. Pooja’s inspiring journey vividly exemplifies this.