How A College Trip Turned Into A Nightmare – Story Of Preethi Srinivasan (Part 1)
16 May 2017
Being born on 5 September 1979, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Preethi is the founder of a public charitable trust called ‘Soulfree‘ that aims to help people with severe disabilities, especially women to lead a life of dignity and purpose. Preethi calls herself a student of life and a servant of the Divine.
Just before she began her second year of the consolidated five-year MBA course that she joined, her college had decided to take all the students on an excursion to Pondicherry. It was July 11, 1998, when she met with an accident which changed her life. They were having a wonderful day playing games and spending a leisure time.
A little after lunch, on the way back to Chennai, they stopped to play behind a row of beach houses one of which was owned by a classmate’s father. It was a pristine looking stretch of private beach, and they played a bit of tennis ball cricket and had good fun. A little later, the boys began getting into the water and some of them were quite deep inside, swimming and playing. Preethi was with the girls, just jumping with the waves in about 2 feet of water (thigh deep).
A receding wave churned up the sand from under her feet, tripping her up, and causing her to stumble. She stumbled a bit and dove face forward into the water. Having been a swimmer since the age of three, she had an instinctive knowledge about how to fall into the water. However, as fate would have it, the moment her face went underwater she felt a shock like sensation travel through her body. That’s it – no impact (She did not hit any rock or the ocean floor, or anything hard at all), not a drop of blood, just a split-second of misfortune.
She didn’t feel pain or lose consciousness, and there was absolutely nothing dramatic. As soon as she felt the shock travel through her body, she couldn’t move. She tried to get back out of the water, and nothing happened, so she held her breath until her friends pulled her out.
In less than a minute, life as she knew it was over. The teachers ran helter-skelter because they were afraid. She was the one who organised her own first aid. She asked for a doctor immediately, but only an ambulance could be arranged on short notice. She had a few of her friends lift her carefully and carry her across the sand onto the road where the ambulance waited.
About halfway through, everything started to go dark and she felt faint, so she asked them to put her back on the ground slowly. After a few deep breaths, everything normalised again, and her friends carried her into the ambulance.
She was taken to JIPMER hospital in Pondicherry, but they just put a spondylitis collar around her neck and told them to take her to Chennai as it was an “accident” case. Therefore, she was robbed of immediate medical care for nearly 4 hours after the accident. Preethi still feels that such actions are unethical and unacceptable.
After the accident, it took her almost 2 years to get out of shock. Since then, it took almost a decade to totally come to terms with the condition, and accept reality completely as it is, here and now. However, even today, whenever it strikes her that she have spent nearly half her life in a wheelchair, it hits her hard. She doesn’t know that anybody can absolutely digest such a reality.
There was a time in her life when she was totally shattered by the accident. At 18, she suddenly lost her identity because, she believes her external appearance, her achievements, and her social status defined her. Then, in a split second, everything she thought was her identity was lost forever. Suddenly, she didn’t know who she was. She felt invisible. She refused to leave the house. For more than two years, she would get panic attacks. She felt as if she was being punished and did not know why. Then, it was the following events that changed her perspective and give her a reason for being.
Her father kept encouraging her to go beyond the body and seek something that can’t be taken away by external circumstance. “Everything keeps changing and the body’s deterioration is inevitable. Look within and try to find that within you that is eternal, constant, unchanging,” he advised.
Preethi felt that it is the unconditional love that her parents gave her and is one of the primary reasons that she was able to heal and come out of her loss.
She has had 2 near death experiences, one in 2001 and another in 2008. These experiences helped her in overcoming all fear and cease all personal ambition/desire. She began to surrender to the cosmic flow and accept life as an instrument of the divine, serving a purpose that is larger than her own personal story. Where there is no investment, no identification with actions or their consequence, there is peace, contentment and joy.
When her father was just 57, he passed away suddenly, due to a silent heart attack. He was Preethi’s connection with the outside world, and without him, she and her mother had no idea how they would survive. However, his death forced her to become the decision maker of the house, the breadwinner for her family and gave her the opportunity to grow and expand her horizons. (Part 1 of 2)
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