Shihab Abubaker was born with a 'friend for life' whom most people would never even come across in life — Tetra-amelia, a syndrome where one is born without any limbs (no hands, no legs). It is a highly rare recessive disorder, in medical parlance.
But Shihab's accomplishments can put people with all limbs to shame. “I am neither crippled nor disabled; life is so full of opportunities. Limbs would have made me restless,” says Shihab from Pookkottoor of Malappuram in north Kerala. He is a motivational speaker who juggles roles as a dancer, stunt performer, violinist and magician.
Fifth among the seven children of Abubaker and Mehjabi, Shihab did not go to school till he was 13. He did a bit of home-schooling and was admitted to class VIII. He scored 90 per cent in class X. He mastered a bit of dance. His skills as a violinist, speaker, and magician came to the fore when he was featured in a reality show called 'Ugram Ujwalam' hosted by Mazhavil Manorama.
The show won Shihab numerous fans across India but one of them rang him up so crazily and consistently that he could not resist tagging her up in life. He married the persistent caller, Shahana, in April 2018. Onmanorama spoke to Shihab and Shahana and here is their life in their own words:
How did you meet and fall in love?
Shihab: I participated in 'Ugram Ujwalam' when I was barely 21. Many people watched my show. It still garners good hits on YouTube. People were surprised to find a limbless man doing stunts which people with both hands and legs fear doing. And that was my comfort zone: I wouldn't break a leg at any cost. Many people texted and rang me up after watching the reality show. One of them was a 16-year-old called Shahana, who kept texting without break. I didn't take her seriously. I hadn't thought about a love-life or a marriage back then. World had just opened before me and I wanted to achieve bigger heights. So, I ignored her messages initially.
Shahana: I became a fan of Shihab after watching 'Ugram Ujwalam.' Though I texted him out of mere fanfare and crush, I continued it without a break. I always wanted to put forth a model with my life. Shihab is a normal person who has coped well with his limitations. Perhaps, he has overcome them with his determination and willpower. When I learnt that he was in Thiruvananthapuram, my hometown, for a magic show, my mother and I went there to meet him and put forth the marriage proposal. I revealed my long-term affection for him which he didn't disapprove of.
What made you choose a life together? What were the challenges you faced in coming together?
Shahana: I am the only daughter of my parents. My father passed away when I was four and my mother did several jobs. She was a tailor, beautician and a designer. I had my grandparents at my house too. The sole aim of all of their lives is to keep me happy. It didn't take them much time to discover my love for Shihab. I nearly ignored the comments and opinions of other relatives and friends. I was persistent.
Shihab: Shahana is a very shy person. The courage she showed to travel all the way and propose to a stranger was great. I wonder how she made it to my life with this sort of timidity. She seemed clear-visioned and determined when she sat in front of me with the proposal. I asked myself, 'whom else am I waiting for, than this adamant young lady with determination in her eyes and clarity in her words?' Despite the disbelief and surprise, I faced no other challenge in uniting with Shahana. My family has always welcomed my decisions.
How do you strike a work-life balance?
Shihab: I was a student of MA English literature at Calicut University when I participated in Ugram Ujwalam. Later, I joined the team of magician Gopinath Muthukad and moved to Thiruvananthapuram where I met Shahana first. Without anyone's compulsion, Shahana took one year's break from her undergraduate course which she had freshly joined. She accompanies me to the venues of all my shows and occupies a seat in the front row. We communicate all through the programme. She understands when things slip out of my hands and when I feel proud of a stunt done well. I want her to return to college by next year. This year is just a honeymoon period for both of us to understand each other and spend some valuable time together.
Shahana: I am just 19 years old. I know I can afford to miss a year at college now, to offer enough mental and physical support to Shihab. I will return to college by next year. I also want him to do a PhD.
As a couple, what's the best thing you have done for society?
Shihab: The best thing is yet to be done. I think I have successfully set forth a model for all those who think lacking a hand or a leg is a 'disability.' I am not a disabled person as far as I am aware of my limitations and dream of the possibilities. I recently completed 700 motivational speeches across India. I want to motivate more people and make them achieve their best. For that, I have to prove myself first and accomplish the tasks in hand. So, achieving my success is also a service that I do for society. Rather, it is my basic responsibility to respond well to the opportunities this society has extended me.
Shahana: Shihab has redefined the word 'accessibility' by keeping emotional accessibility ahead of physical one. 'If you can imagine it, you can definitely achieve it' is his motto. Although I agree that our society has miles to go in making public spaces accessible to people with physical limitations, Shihab proves that one can make the best out of their limitations. Everything he does has a message, an inspirational note to it. When he ties a violin stick onto his short limb and plays soothing music, his achievements ring high.
What's the one thing that appealed to you the most in your partner?
Shihab: Shahana seldom makes me feel that I lack something. She foresees my needs and fulfils them before I try to reach out and fail. She's been my hands and legs ever since we united. I understand the feeling of owning some limbs after starting a life together with Shahana. She lifts the TV remote, a glass of water or my mobile phone the second I look at it. She observes me so keenly that she almost reads my mind. I don't have to ask her for anything these days. I love her caring attitude more than anything. Despite all that, I love it when my adamant young lady gets shy in the public and hides behind her veil (laughs.)
Shahana: He is a nice person, genuine in his interactions and sincere in his expressions. Though I blame his short-tempered nature, I love him the most when he is angry.
What's the larger dream you nurture together?
Shahana: I have a dream. I have nurtured it ever since my childhood though Shihab has added more dimensions to it. I want to be a violinist. As a child, I have literally pleaded with my mother for her permission to join a violin class. Now, when I see Shihab perform at violin concerts, I wish I could also join him on stage. I want to play exactly the same melody played by him. Gradually, I want to lend him my hands and play the violin together. I am already taking good training from my husband. You can soon watch us together on stage.
Shihab: I am speechless. I had never known this beautiful dream of Shahana which I'm delighted to nurture. I have been giving her lessons in violin from the very next week of our marriage. Though she passionately picks up, I used to consider it a usual exercise. Now, I understand the value of our violin sessions.
A word for youngsters
Shihab: Disability is not lacking a limb; it is lacking an ambition even with all the limbs intact. Think of your limitations first and remember them in each step you take. They will slowly transform to your greatest strengths. Inspire and get inspired. Live and enliven. Change yourself and transform the world. There's nothing you can't achieve with a healthy, determined mind. If you don't get miracles, become one.
Shahana: Follow your passions in life. Prioritise, plan and achieve. Love blindly and follow your insights.