The Star, Nation
Thursday, August, 14, 1997

Disabled Swarm Singh an Inspiration to Others

Ipoh: Former Chauffeur Swarm Singh's world fell apart 15 years ago when his premature-born baby girl died five months after he was left a paraplegic as a result of a spinal injury.

Today, he leads a meaningful life as he has come to grips with the harsh reality of his disability and is now an inspiration to other disabled people.

Swarm Singh, 38, is among 14 disabled whose success stories will be featured in a book which the Ipoh-based Sultan Idris Shah Foundation is preparing for publication next year.

He has been the president of the foundations' Spinal Wheelers Club for the past six years and has taken part in local and international disabled athletic meets.

Besides cooking and doing chores while his wife Lookumani Retnam, 39, works in a plywood factory, he gives tuition to primary pupils in his house in Kampar, 40km from here.

He also help the foundation by counselling disabled people and inspiring them with his story of despair and perseverance.

Life could not have been better for Swarm Singh in 1982 when he first became a chauffeur for a tin miner while Lookumani was six months pregnant.

While climbing a rambutan tree to pluck some fruits, Swarm Singh fell and injured his spine, which would confine him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

His baby girl, who was born prematurely, died five months later.

"I thought nothing of the death of our child. All I could think was myself.

"I wished I had died when I fell. I was in a suicidal mood. I would not exercise.

"I would want to my wife to feed, bathe and dress me although I could use my own hands.

"I yelled and scolded Lookumani for no reason at all.

For five years, I did nothing except eat and sleep. I did not even want to look at the wheelchair," Swarm Singh said in an interview.

Then, a concerned relative referred Swarm Singh to the foundation.

For three years, its community rehabilitation workers came weekly to his house in Kampar to coax him to take part in their programmes.

Their persistence paid off when he eventually agreed to attend a meeting of the spinal wheelers' club.

"The meeting was an eye-opener for me as there were others whose condition was worse than mine. They were smartly dressed, talking and laughing.

"The best thing that happened was that I came out of my house. I had wasted so many years of my life. Now, I tell others to get out. We can lead a meaningful life," he said.

Swarm Singh said he occasionally still wished that he could walk, especially when he had to ask for help from strangers at public laces such as the post office or bank.

Foundation Chairman Tan Sri V. Jeyaratnam said Swarm Singh's story summed up the need for people to be aware of the plight of the disabled and the opportunities needed to improve their quality of life. He said the book was targeted at the disabled and their families, the public and the corporate bodies.

"The book attempts to capture the journey of despair and reconciliation of some of the disabled who have found life meaningful and we hope the public will change their attitude and perception towards them," he said.

Jeyaratnam said that between 70 and 80 per cent of the disabled community had not received treatment and rehabilitation.