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I Was Called ‘Mentally Retarded’. Here’s How I Went on to Inspire Dr APJ Kalam

I Was Called ‘Mentally Retarded’. Here’s How I Went on to Inspire Dr APJ Kalam

Siddharth Jayakumar was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was six days old. But instead of being cowed down by circumstances, he focused on building a life where he would accomplish every goal

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An accomplished author. An experienced banker. A pioneering Certified Documentary Credit Specialist. A sought after motivational speaker. Many achievements, one name – Siddharth Jayakumar from Bengaluru.

There is one more thing to know about Siddarth. Originally from Chikmagaluru, Siddharth was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP) when he was merely six days old.

CP is a condition that affects the coordination between mind and body. In Siddharth’s case, CP affected his body movement and speech clarity.

But Siddharth, a banker by professions, never let the circumstances win and instead focused on building a life where he would accomplish every goal, no matter how challenging.

And he did.

His journey from being labelled as ‘mentally retarded’ by society to being hailed as an inspiration by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam is real inspiration.

“I see the world very differently, where society has nothing to do with my success or failure. Only I am responsible for where my life goes. I believe that change begins with me. Having a disability is not easy in a society that is largely ignorant and insensitive. There are all kinds of people, some mock you and some support you unconditionally, but that in no way should affect me,” Siddharth tells The Better India.

A Fighter’s Spirit 

Six days after Siddharth was born, he was diagnosed with CP.

“When we took him to doctors, he was diagnosed with mental retardation. We were shocked,” recalls his mother, Komala Jayakumar in ‘Simply Being Sidds! My Fight with Life and God’, a book written by Siddharth along with his friend Umashree Raghunath in 2017.

His parents were appalled at the doctor’s comment, giving them an insight into how ignorant and nasty society could get. They refused to believe their son was any less. They were sure he was brilliant.

So they braced themselves and from very early on gave him the confidence that he could have everything he wanted.

“For nearly eight years, I stayed at home with no friends or schoolmates until I joined the Spastic Society of India in Bengaluru. I learnt typing with one finger and enjoyed doing maths. Seeing my quick learning abilities, I was directly promoted to second grade from upper kindergarten,” he shares.

He switched to Vidya Sagar, a school in Chennai for spastic children after his father, a PR professional, got a transfer. He continued his studies until the eighth grade and then joined a regular school.

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This served as a turning point for Siddharth as now he had to study alongside regular kids. Mocking and stares became an everyday affair, but he was glad to see more and more students learning about CP through him.

In his 10th boards, Siddharth scored 98 per cent in his favourite subject, Maths.

“I love the magical world of numbers where every sum is so unique and challenging. Solving problems came naturally to me, so I took commerce in 12th boards and scored 90 per cent. I felt like nothing could stop me, and no one would doubt my intelligence. But I was turned away by many colleges due to my condition. It was sad to see their ignorance triumph my brilliant academic records,” he shares.

When everyone told him that he was ambitious for dreaming about a Masters, he not only applied for the Masters but also secured a distinction. Once again, he smashed stereotypes – along with his exams. He also holds a Certificate for Documentary Credit Specialists, a course that enhances practical knowledge and understanding of the complex issues associated with documentary credit practice.

There were many bumps in his professional career as well where people would be bowled over by his capabilities but would not hire him due to his appearance.

“I was unable to get a job even after trying at many places until finally, a bank saw potential in me. They did not judge my condition, and I got the job on merit. Now it has been almost 15 years in the banking sector,” he says.

It was a mutual love

Siddharth Jayakumar distinctly remembers his encounter with late President APJ Abdul Kalam in 2013 during an event in Chennai. In a crowd of hundreds of people, the President instantly recognised him and walked over to greet him.

“After exchanging pleasantries, he asked me if I have considered his advice of writing a book. I was surprised he remembered our first meeting despite interacting with millions of people. But then that’s the reason why he was a people’s President. His humble nature, witty humour and kindness will always stay with me,” Siddharth shares.

Dr Kalam had come across Siddharth’s story in 2005 through a web portal and impressed by his indomitable fighting spirit. He invited him at Chennai airport for an informal meeting.

“He was so humble and friendly during our first meeting. He taught me it does not matter at what position you are in life or how much money you have, the important thing is to bring a change by being yourself. He even encouraged me to write a book and inspire others through my story. After that, I met him 7-8 times during different occasions and each time he treated me like a friend,” Siddharth shares.

Dr Kalam also inspired him to spread awareness and educate people about CP. So, Siddharth started delivering motivational talks. He has spoken at more than 250 forums/events/conferences reaching out to thousands of people.

Whether it was transitioning from a special school to a mainstream one, getting a distinction in his Masters or bagging a job in a bank, the 40-year-old confidently sailed through rough tides. An inspiration for us all.

(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)

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