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Those Himalayas of the mind
Are not so easily possessed:
There’s more than precipice and storm
Between you and your Everest.

Cecil Day Lewis


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Once an ENT Specialist who was examining a young man asked in jest: "I’m going to give you a little test. Now if I take one of your ears off, what would happen?"

Patient: "I wouldn’t hear half as well."

Doctor: "Good. Suppose I took both your ears off, what would happen?"

Patient: "I wouldn’t be able to see."

Doctor: "How’s that?"

Patient: "I wouldn’t have anything to hold my glasses up with!"

You laughed at the above exchange, taking it for a joke. But consider the conclusion of the patient again. Does it not make sense? Each part of your body, apart from its assigned function, serves other purposes as well. Of course, if you are an able-bodied person, it is possible that you do not realize the number of inconveniences faced by those who are physically handicapped – both on the personal and the social levels.

There are more ‘disadvantages’ to a ‘handicap’ than meets the eye. People who are sighted, for example, cannot fully comprehend the travails of those who are physically blind. And more so when the sightless are trained to perform ’normally’ in life. Only those closely associated with "disadvantaged" persons appreciate the ‘superhuman’ efforts that the latter make not merely to survive, but to excel in life.

This book is about people who face innumerable ‘disadvantages’. They are the true heroes on the stage of life, often having to perform with "props" and "prompters", but generally staying away from the spotlight. They are exemplary, inspiring individuals to all who witness the inner power that drives their minds and hearts to transcend their ‘physical’ boundaries, and bring joy to their own lives as well as those of others.

More specifically, the ordinary heroes and heroines we are referring to here are those who suffer physical disabilities and deficiencies – blindness, deafness, muteness, low intelligence, loss of limbs, depression, those who are psychologically, intellectually, socially and economically disadvantaged..., either from birth or through accidents. For them, what the world considers their handicaps and ‘liabilities’, are but the springboards to achievement and self-fulfillment. Through ingenious methods these ‘ordinary’ heroes and heroines, let their spirits soar to unimaginable heights. Their ingenuity, courage and determination fill us with awe and admiration.

The speciality of these ordinary ‘heroes’ is that they began their heroic life as ‘zeros’ – not worthy to stand up and be counted, or who started their climb to "success" in life at point "zero" – from scratch, with nothing to help them on (save God’s grace), and even nobody to encourage them on. But in their own way, and in their own time, each of them rose to become a "hero" in his or her way, in his or her own world.

There are ‘stories’, too, of people who have been pillars of support to the ‘disadvantaged’ and have nurtured them to greatness. They serve as worthy models of the service expected of members of the human family – to which we all belong.

The first part of Zero To Hero describes the power and progress of ‘disadvantaged’ people from different parts of India. These human-sketches have been collected over the years from newspapers and magazines, and adapted or re-told. The anecdotes speak of inspiring individuals at a particular stage of their life. Unfortunately, there are no ‘follow-up’ articles to trace their further progress, or the fulfilment of their desires or dreams, but we can presume that their ‘stories’ do have happy endings.

The second part is a collection of historically well-known "handicapped" personalities from around the globe. The Third part contains stories about overcoming limitations and hurdles that are part of the ‘winning game in life, from ‘anonymous’ authors.

The gallery of portraits of such exemplary persons presented in Zero to Hero is meant to serve as a source of inspiration not only to those with ‘handicaps’ but also to those who are "able-bodied". If a person with a ‘disadvantage’ can show such great courage and determination, is not much more expected of those who are gifted with good physiques and health?

We hope that this book will help those who are of "sound health and mind" to have "deep compassion" for those who are not. We also hope that those who are physically challenged will derive greater grit and determination from the examples of those who are or have been "in the same boat" as they. It takes self-confidence and courage to weather all storms and cross new horizons.

We only see a little of the ocean,
A few miles distance from the rocky shore;
But oh! out there beyond – beyond the eye’s horizon
There’s more – there’s more.

We only see a little of God’s loving,
A few rich treasures from his mighty store;
But oh! out there beyond – beyond our life’s horizon
There’s more – there’s more




Armless Artist

Sheila, a woman in her mid-20s, is the eldest of five children in a poor factory-worker’s family in Uttar Pradesh. In 1977, when she was about four years old, Sheila lost both her hands in a train accident that killed her mother, with whom she was travelling.

As a child, she saw her friends go to school, scribble in their notebooks and draw houses and flowers. She began to imitate them. Except that, with no hands, she had to first learn to work with a pencil held between her toes. Seeing her perseverance, her father got her admitted to the local primary school. That was the impetus the physically disabled girl needed to make a mark in life.

After completing her intermediate education, the enterprising girl earned a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree and then decided to take up painting as a career at the National Lalit Kala Kendra (Art Centre) in Lucknow. People gawk at her as she sits down to paint, nonchalantly adjusting a brush between the toes of her left foot. And a trifle self-consciously, she says, "For me, this makes no difference. In my childhood I used to hold a pencil with my toes. Now it is a brush. That’s all."

Talking about her success at the Centre, she confided to a magazine reporter, "I vowed to become an artist when I grew up. This was a big challenge for me. Hard work and determination brought me here and, in the process, I often forgot that I had a handicap. Now it makes no difference." Sheila has participated in many state-level art exhibitions. She is equally at ease with both mediums, oil and water-colour. Her canvasses fetch around Rs 4000 each. Sheila paints not only for pleasure, but also to support her family.

Palsied Painter

Chirag Shah, 22, held an exhibition of his paintings in September 1998. His thirty sketches and five oil paintings are childish, but undoubtedly monumental. For Chirag is a victim of chronic cerebral palsy from his birth. He cannot eat, stand, walk, or even lie down without help. His is "the story if an abnormally grand will power, indefinable strength, and courageous zest for life. It’s the story of a tragedy he won’t let it be."

Dr S. R. Apte, a lecturer in Occupational Therapy remarked: "He’s strong and really intelligent. With the kind of limitations he has, it would have been impossible for anyone in this world to accomplish what he has." The paintings are a reflection of his strength more than his artistic imagination. For it is not easy for a cerebral palsied to do anything that involves muscular activity.

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That "may be it couldn’t" but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.

So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it."
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.

With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.

But just buckle right in with a bit of a grin,
Then just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That "cannot be done," and you’ll do it.
Edgar A. Guest



Blind Mountaineer

Yahya Sapatwala is a 30-year-old junior lecturer at the District Institute for Education and Training, Ahmedabad. And he is blind in both eyes. "They are light bulbs that can’t glow without electricity," he jokes about his dead optic nerves. He is a Visharad in music, and is doing his doctoral studies researching Gujarati proverbs. He is interested in literature and writes poetry. However, Yahya is no homebird. He is a strikingly adventurous outdoors man! He walks so fast on familiar ground that his friends and family members get worried. "Though we are sighted, he performs better than us in most activities," confided a colleague.

Yahya took part in a couple of trekking expedition organised by the Vadodara-based Nature, Adventure and Sports Institute, in early June, 2000. Yahya trekked to Beas Kund, the 12,000 feet point at Manali in the Himalayas. There, he also successfully took part in rappelling, para-gliding and river-crossing.

Recollecting his Beas Kund experience, Yahya said, "Up there, after 10,000 feet I felt oxygen was getting less and less. But at no point of time did I think that I won’t make it to the top." It took the group five days to make the grade, with three of them dropping off before the target. Yahya did lag behind others, but the group was never forced to reschedule the camp. Said the organiser, "We thought it would be tough for him. But his spirit is indomitable."

"I want to donate my eyes. The eyeballs will help someone to see, though they were of no use to me," he says with equanimity.

Weak-footed Climber

Bhupendra Modi was born with both his feet turned backwards, in 1961. After about half a dozen surgical operations the anomaly was corrected, but Bhupendra has to wear shoes to support himself when he walked. He lived a normal life, and after school got employed as an assistant in the office of the executive engineer, Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation, bagging the President’s Award in 1996 for best handicapped employee from Dr S. D. Sharma. His adventurous spirit did not allow him to rest content with a desk job, and he won the Yuvak Sanskrutik Vibaug (Youth Cultural Wing) adventure award from the Gujarat government for his mountaineering adventures.

In 1998, the 37-year-old Modi undertook a 14-day trek across the Alps in Switzerland. He successfully scaled the 10,000 foot high Mount Jungfrow, generally known as the "Top of Europe", at freezing temperatures of minus 5 degrees centigrade. He is now planning a trip to the North Pole.

Lowly Sherpa

In the 1970s Peter Habeler from Austria and Reinhold Messner from Italy initiated speed climbing in the Alps. Soon after, German climbers raced up the Eiger Face. Then speed climbing took off in the Himalayas with the rapid ascents of K2 and broad peak in Pakistan by French climber Ben Voits.

On May 21, 2000, Babu Chiri Sherpa reached the summit of the world’s highest peak for the tenth time in exactly 16 hours and 56 minutes. "If the weather had been better, with less wind and snow at the summit, I’m sure I could have done it in 13 or 14 hours," he told his colleagues over his walkie talkie while on the descent.

Nicknamed "Heem Bhalu" (Snow Bear) because of his physical built, Babu Chiri broke the climbing record (of 20 hours 20 minutes) set by Kazi Sherpa in 1998. Unfazed by reports of strong winds higher up on the mountain, which were conveyed to him by other Sherpas at various camps on the Everest trail, Babu went on to accomplish his feat.

Babu Chiri hold a Guiness World Record for spending 21 hours atop Everest. Babu hopes that his latest accomplishment will make it easier for him to raise funds to start schools for children in his home village of Thakhshindoin located in Solukhumbu in the lower Everest region.

Said a veteran Italian mountaineer Sergio Martini: "Babu is extremely strong and his record is very important for promoting specialist climbing in Nepal. Normally, the world recognises Sherpas as climbers who only transport and carry loads up the mountain. His record proves otherwise."


Another inspiring collection of thumbnail biographies from Hedwig Lewis. The theme of this collection is the way men and women with obvious physical disadvantages have been able to make their life worth living. So his title Zero to Hero. In one section he gathers stories about Indian heroes. In another section he gathers stories of people from different countries and in the last section are stories of people who in a way won inner battles. this is a good resource for speakers and good read for young and old.  Vidyajyoti, November 2001


By Rev Fr Giles Ngwa Forteh

Zero to Hero is the title of a truly edifying and inspiring book by Hedwig Lewis. Setting out with the intention of galvanizing the despondent to explore their latent talents in view of getting the most out of their lives, the author presents a gallery of "heroes", illustrious persons who were either classified as "zero" - not worthy to stand up and be counted, or who started their climb to the summit from a point of total obscurity ( the point of "zero")  - from scratch, with nothing on which to cling and thrust forward (save God's grace), and even nobody to encourage and orientate them.


Defying all odds and refusing to become impotently obsessed with their handicaps, they took the direction of their strengths, big and small, each one in his or her own circumstance and time, and rose to become heroes and heroines in their own way and in their own world.


The inner power in them drove their minds and hearts to transcend their "physical" limitations and bring joy to their own lives, as well as those of others. Nothing in the record of human achievements will ever be more spectacular than those cases of handicapped men and women who, accepting themselves and putting to maximum use the little they have, have illustrated what Dr. Alfred Adler once called "The human being's power to turn a minus into a plus." We speak specifically of the ordinary heroes and heroines  who suffer physical disabilities and deficiencies - blindness, deafness, muteness, low intelligence, loss  of limbs, depression, those who are psychologically, intellectually, socially and economically disadvantaged, either from birth or through 'accidents'.


For them, what the world considers their handicaps and deficiencies are but the springboards to achievement and self-fulfilment. Through ingenious methods these ordinary "heroes" and "heroines" let their spirits soar to unimaginable heights. Their ingenuity, courage and determination fill us with awe and admiration. What marks these achievers apart is the fact that they began their heroic life as "zeros"....

leffortcamerounais.com, Newspaper of the National Bishops’ Conference of Cameroon,

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