Soaring from the Indian Air Force to IIM Indore - Flt Lt. Jitendra Singh Bhadoria’s incredible story
There are some stories that we tell because we think it will benefit another CAT aspirant. People struggling with grades, undue societal expectations, battling the CAT or even switching career paths as a whole.
And then there’s stories like that of Flt Lt. Jitendra Singh Bhadoria.
A retired Indian Airforce Officer, Jitendra shattered every expectation we had of an Unconventional MBA. After 6 years of service in the Indian Air Force, he was injured in the line of duty and consequently paralysed from his neck down. As a result, he spent 4 years in and out of a hospital.
What happens next, is the story of a true fighter.
Team TUM would like to thank Jitendra for sharing his inspirational journey with us. It was an incredibly humbling experience to work with you.
We thank you for your service, sir. Jai Hind!
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In the July of 2008, I completed my M.Tech from IIT(ISM) Dhanbad, and was commissioned in the IAF. Married in 2010, my life had settled and was going smooth. One evening in 2014, while on duty, I met with an accident, succumbing to a spinal cord injury. I broke my neck at the C5-C6 level, leaving my whole body paralysed from below my neck.
When I initially regained consciousness, I was thrilled at the thought that I was alive. But I wasn’t able to move any part of my body. I thought it had to just be the trauma, and that I would be fine as soon as I reached the hospital. I had no clue about the seriousness of the injury.
After investigating, when the doctor told me “you will live your whole life like this”, I thought he was kidding. It took 2 weeks for my mind to digest that the doctor was speaking the truth.
Everything was shattered, completely devastated, darkness all around. Financial and social fears encircled me. Cursing God, why this? Why me? At the same time, I prayed. Prayed that regardless of whatever happened, I prayed for Him to do some miracle bring me out of this. I thought that I might be dreaming in my sleep and suddenly I will wake up, with everything perfectly fine.
I was living my worst nightmare.
For the first time in my life, I was on a hospital bed, with absolutely no control over any organ in my body. With a hard cervical collar on my neck, tubes all over, oxygen and catheters, I could move only eyes to look around. It used to take 6 nursing assistants to pick me up like a plank and turn me sideways, every 2 hours so that my skin wouldn’t develop sores because of the constant pressure. The entire time, I would be looking at the roof, or the walls, or the television, regretting the moment which led to injury. The first time I was out of the room was 3 months after the accident.
After 3 months, the doctors recommended a complex spinal surgery and I happily agreed to it. A week later, I started gaining some movement in my hands which brought me some hope. After 4 months post accident, I was picked up and made to sit in a wheelchair. I started by first sitting on a wheelchair for 15 mins, then slowly increased sitting time and began to move around with assistance. I also started following a disciplined and rigorous physiotherapy schedule.
For 9 months I wasn’t able to feed myself, and my family members used to feed me. It dawned upon me that my life just can’t go like this. That I will have to work harder, smarter and adapt myself to gain some independence for daily activities.
I re-learnt everything - right from holding a spoon, to eating rice. I learnt to hold a mug again, with both hands like a child, because my fingers didn’t have any grip and my body had no balance. I started using a toothbrush and hair combing roller with both hands.
It took me almost 1.5 years to break a piece of chapati with both my hands and eat it. By the end of 2 years, I was using my laptop for reading, watching movies, and connecting with people through social media. I still spent time searching, hopeful for any news on treatment of spinal cord injury - but there was no cure.
Eventually I realised that waiting for a cure is not getting me anywhere. That I will have to embrace my reality, to face the challenges of life by finding new ways to adapt and move ahead. I started with things I liked doing: I learnt to play table tennis by tying the racket to my hand, using a wrapping bandage. I started going to the swimming pool. For the first 2 weeks, I began by using a life jacket, then learnt to swim without it. I practiced pushing a manual wheelchair: first 10 feet, then 10 meters, then 200 metres in 6 months.
In total, I was in the hospital for almost 4 years for rehabilitation. After finally getting the green light, I bought a car, got it modified for hand operations, learnt to drive and got the driving licence. Now with better mobility, I was filled with confidence and the motivation to do much better.
Now the focus shifted to what I could achieve with my physical limitations. I had a pending dream of doing MBA from an IIM from my M.Tech days, which I didn’t opt for due to financial restrictions. Getting a loan was tough back in those days, so I went for GATE instead, as the fee was nominal and MHRD used to give sufficient stipend for that course. Another option I had was to do PHD from an IIT, as I was already from an engineering background. But wheelchair accessibility in class rooms and laboratories were an issue. Since accessibility wasn’t much of an issue at IIM’s, I chose to appear for CAT and converted IIMK & IIMI. Indore being near to my home town and next to a military cantonment was an obvious choice considering all the logistic and physical alternatives.
Yes, I had the admission in hand, yet the biggest challenge awaited me. I was plenty concerned: what would wheelchair accessibility be like, both for the accommodation and other buildings. What would having mess food 3 times a day be like, whether I would be able to reach class in time on my wheelchair, and most importantly, would I be able to cope up with the rigorous academic schedule? There is almost a generation gap between me and my classmates, how will my young classmates perceive me? How will I take notes, write quizzes and exams?
I took a deep breath, and maintained a single thought- “Whatever problem comes, there will definitely be a way to handle it. Just go ahead and do it.”
I won’t lie - sitting from 9 to 5 in classes, then for pre-placement talks after was the toughest. But I never asked for any excuse, I didn’t allow myself to. I threw myself back in, and participated in all the activities because it was my learning phase again. The faculty, my classmates, administration and other staff members of IIM Indore extended their full support, and the wheel started rolling.
I’m only halfway through my journey at IIM Indore, and I can’t wait to see what lies in store.
PGP 2019-2021, IIM Indore
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