As I struggle with the scorching sunlight and dust in Berhampur village of Orissa, I see her beaming like a sunshine as she talks to youngsters who are here for a 15 days long Jagriti Yatra, to understand how enterprises – small and big, work.
Meet Chumki Datta, an entrepreneur from Bhubhaneshwar. She lost her legs in an accident but that is not what this story is going to be about. Because that is not what defines Chumki Datta. A brief conversation with her, you immediately realise how she doesn’t entertain pointless sympathy we are naturally conditioned to show to someone with physical disability. And that is what her story is about.
I come from Kolkata. My father was a lawyer and my mother was a home-maker. I was brought up in a very liberal environment, where I began making my own decisions at a very young age.
For Chumki, her father was an inspiration. And the only second person after her dad was her husband, Professor Tathagata.
We were madly in love. I lost him 4 years back. After my accident, I had practically given up but it was him who stood by my side, something very unusual of men. It troubled me thinking how I could never live a normal life anymore, but it was him who actually showed me how everything could just be as it was. And I have to say, he succeeded in doing so.
Before the accident, Chumki was an active sportsperson, an aspiring model and an entrepreneur. She also received offers from a few movies.
After I moved to Bhubhaneshwar after my marriage, I decided to continue with my advertising agency, Mastermind. It was a time when women entrepreneurs were very rare. Our agency has since then ranked as one of the top 10 agencies of Orissa. I was a threat in the male dominated industry of a male dominated state. Interestingly, my biggest support & inspiration was also a male – my husband.
Chumki portrays character that has fire in the belly that most articles on entrepreneurship talk about.
I love gardening! If you came with some spare time, I would have taken you to my house. I live in the middle of the forest on my own.
On your own? I ask, because of my obvious little knowledge about how physically disabled carry out their routine activities. And wait, in the middle of a forest?
It is fairly simple. I have a driver who drives me to Bhubhaneshwar where my office is and a help at home. Gardening is an important part of my daily routine post which I am immersed in my work. I shop, exercise and practically do everything any other working professional would do! And about the forest, I chose to live there because trust me there is nothing better than can contain me in peace!
Chumki also manages a guest house, hosting corporate and individual clients. She is also a Board member for SMRC (Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre) which works on empowering with physical disabilities, women violence and rehabilitation of patients with spine injury.
It is very devastating for someone who’s lived fit and active all their life to suddenly become dependent on someone, especially for a woman. Before I preached others that they can still live a normal life and be successful, I decided to be an example.
Chumki is actively involved with initiatives that are working to make India more inclusive of people with physical disabilities.
I can now understand the problems people face much more clearly when I face them myself. To begin with, Indian government needs to seriously work on creating infrastructure that is disabled-friendly.
Chumki certainly breaks some presumed stereotypes related to disability and a women’s appearance.
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