Everyone dreams. I did too. The significance of what I have achieved on Science Express could never have been understood if a series of experiences had not happened since 2015 when I entered the second semester of MSc Physics programme in Pondicherry. The year 2015 – when nothing could have gone wrong! Life was smooth, perfect… almost too good to be true. I had ambitions; academically I was on the right track, scored well in the first semester; socially, I was surrounded by friends and energy level – where do I begin; I was always running around, full of enthusiasm. I would take a sprint where I could walk; I was a regular at the gym, cycling, playing cricket, trekking and enjoying my favourite sport, sailing and yachting!
But what is life without a little struggle and fate knows that all too well. As fate would have it, on 28th January 2015, I hit the turning point. I accompanied my friend to the hospital for stomach pain in the middle of the night. I slept on a chair waiting for her, until 5.30 AM and with my lower back paining, we finally went hostel in the afternoon. I thought my pain was simply stiffness from the chair and probably I had been lazy for the past two days, missing gym, reading in the library instead. Tablets kept me afloat until the morning of 7th February 2017 when I experienced excruciating back pain, so much so I could not move a muscle and I couldn’t even summon enough strength to call someone for help. Finally a worried friend came to check on me and between her panicked, hurried movements and my tears; she took me to the hospital.
Ever since then, I have lived with lower back pain that suddenly shows up and there have been times when it has stayed with me for months. I have tried to ignore it, changed various doctors, have taken treatment from JIPMER hospital, PIMS, SCB Medical hospital in Cuttack, Konark Nursing Home and more. I took advice from exercise, physiotherapy to bed rest and went through X-rays, MRI, countless pills that eventually led to a positive thyroid test; gynaecological problems and severe migraines and I didn’t realize when a slow defeat started seeping inside me… Initially I didn’t tell my family; my mother doesn’t keep well and I couldn’t bear to be a burden on them. But they soon found out, grew concerned and called me home. I missed classes and when I came back my friends celebrated. That didn’t last long though for my condition worsened and I was bedridden. My friends tried to support me; they would bring me food, notes, stories from class and took care of me. I couldn’t believe what was happening; I had never felt so helpless before, I couldn’t go out of that tiny room and it was eating me up from inside, even stories from class made me feel left out. The college authorities told me I would not be able to give exams due to low attendance in 2nd semester. As a result I lost my INSPIRE fellowship from the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Govt. of India.
I would go home after every semester, coming back to Pondicherry with the hope to catch up. I would attend classes for few days until my health worsened and I would be confined to my room again. My friends gang had all moved on to new classes and I felt out of place, cut-off and incomplete. I was slipping in to depression, not telling my friends or family much about what I was going through, the feelings of self-doubt surfaced and I felt as if someone had dunked me into a different world that wasn’t mine.
Finally after 4th semester on 4th May 2016, I went home, completely crushed, emotionally and physically. My parents were in for a shock that I never revealed to them about not being able to give exams for all these semesters. Now they also lost all hope and faith in me. A few days passed and then they again spoke encouraging words to me. I would listen to motivational speaker, Les Brown to feel better. I and my family members decided that I would go to Hyderabad with my sister; that a change of scene would help. In Hyderabad I started going for slow walks, practised yoga and meditation. I didn’t stress myself out with activities instead I focused on self-study to give exams again and started reading Osho for inspiration and a deeper understanding of my life.
Two months passed, I knew it was time I snapped back to reality; accept my reality. I began, by calling a friend from college, Shambhu from Odisha and little by little I told him my story. He thought I had completed my MSc and went through the same surprise as everyone else, scolding me for not telling him before and then like a good friend, being supportive. He told me all about an exhibition train he was on and how it changed his life; he went on excitedly as if he was discovering India in another light. In October 2016, he suggested I should fill the application form for the next phase of the exhibition train which was none other than Science Express Climate Action Special, Phase IX (SECAS).
In January 2017 I got an interview call from SECAS team and even though I acknowledged my condition was weak, hope swelled within me. My parents strictly denied me to go if I get selected, but somewhere inside I knew that life was going to come back on track. I got selected and there was no looking back. Even though insecurities still played upon my mind – my Hindi was not so great; my English had an accent, what if people laugh, what was held in store for me… Curiosity got the better of me and I left for training at Ahmebdad.
Soon enough, a new adventure took me in its arms. I met new people, different people, ones who didn’t judge me and ones with whom I could laugh – Communicators, my new friends. After training period, we spent the first 40 hours in the train from Gandhinagar to Delhi and our brand new blue uniforms and ID cards transformed us into a team. My worries of language soon vanished as I decided to go with the flow and I knew, somewhere in my imperfection, I would be perfect. Travelling isn’t good for you, the doctors had said but travel, I did. I would keep myself busy in daily activities and keep negative thoughts at bay. A thought gave me strength: unbearable and unstoppable back pain was better than the pain of feeling a constant defeat, pain of lack of support, the pain of feeling like nothing; and with this thought I trudge on. If I give in to physical pain, it will take me in another direction and slowly break me as a person.
Every person I met aboard Science Express has given me hope, boosting my confidence. They inspire me to keep moving ahead. Sometimes I catch these bright eyes, ones that smile at you, whether kids in the kids zone or adolescent girls and boys in Joy of Science lab, or a kind visitor; these eyes tell me that it doesn’t matter what situation you are in, what matters is what you make of it. Especially kids, they give me a chance to become a child and they make me feel like really I am someone. My pain has not disappeared and maybe I have a long struggle to take on, but Science Express is helping me come back to the world I know; my world. When I joined the train, I felt like I had nothing but now I have so much more to give back. My journey towards the extraordinary life has begun once again. Yes, I dream. You should too.
– Sunita Tarei as shared in immense trust and emotion with the SECAS blog team: Reema Jaiswal, Nitin Tiwane and Guest member, Jigu : )
(A power-packed girl, solving coloured cubes of all sizes and shapes, Sunita has completed her BSc in Physics. Friends call her ‘kochi kochi koo’, she is great with kids and probably why she deserves duty in Kids Zone more than anyone else. She is the yoga master for communicators and even if some may say she is childish, only few know the depth of her persona and stories. Always going out of her way to help everyone and bringing them food, this crazy girl keeps busy in her own world. Innocent, sweet, curious like a kitty, she stocks her things so precariously that if you ever hear someone yell “Sunita” in the staff coach, you will soon hear her replying “Ab maine kya kiya?”)