A Near-Fatal Accident Broke Her Body – But Ignited Her Spirit

By Rabia Sooch Khandelwal

One sultry day in June 2015, while returning to Kolkata from a weekend getaway in Puducherry, Anuradha ‘Anu’ Jhunjhunwala and her friends stopped their car on the way to the airport to have a coffee break. Anu, who had been sitting at the rear left window, exchanged seats with her best buddy, and as the journey recommenced, both dozed off. Moments later, the car crashed into the rear of the truck ahead of them.

Two days later, when Anu woke up in a local government hospital, she guessed that something had gone wrong but her immediate concern was the flight they were going to miss. It was one of her friends’ parents who told her what had happened. The girl in the front passenger seat died in the accident. Anu’s best friend – whom she had exchanged seats with – had slipped into a coma. Two others, besides Anu herself, had extensive injuries.

What makes a woman a superwoman? Her ‘never say die’ spirit. Even in the face of insurmountable odds, she never gives up and instead challenges the universe. Unknowing of what lay ahead, the young Kolkata girl turned superwoman almost overnight.

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L-R: Before the accident; with her buddies who were in the car with her (one is still in coma)

Anuradha was moved to a private hospital in Bengaluru. All the while, she was sure that she would soon be patched up, and all the nonsense that doctors were telling her about not moving and using a bed pan was hype. Stubbornly, she tried to get up to go to the washroom – it was when she failed repeatedly that the extent of her injuries truly sunk in.

She had a dislocated hip, fractured spine in the neck, a broken nose and lots of wounds and bruises. Whether she would walk again was a big question mark. And yet, she did not for even a moment doubt her ability to recover 100 percent. Against medical advice, she flew back to Kolkata in two weeks. From there on, she fought every prognosis the doctors gave.

It was a lifelong habit for Anu. Born 20 years after her parents’ wedding, she had had to face all kinds of challenges right from childhood with health being the greatest. Diagnosed with bone tuberculosis at two, childhood thyroid disorder at five, and PCOD at puberty, life could not have been easy for a young girl, but Anu learned to live with pain and discomfort as companions.

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L-R: Anuradha and her brother with their father; she was on bed rest for 10 months after her accident

Despite her parents being a generation older than the parents of her peers, she grew up in a liberal and modern environment to be an ever optimistic and confident girl. Always amongst the toppers, she passed out of La Martiniere Girls, Kolkata, graduated from Delhi’s Shri Ram College of Commerce, cleared her chartered accountancy exams and has been working in top advisories in the country for the past decade. Her work has taken her around the world and also brought along with it challenges of constantly maintaining her health.

When Anu was 28, her father passed away. She was heartbroken for she was Daddy’s little girl. “I remember my dad’s face after he passed away. He still had a smile on his face, like he did all his life. He always said, live life like it’s your last day and I make sure I make the most of every moment,” she says.

The loss set her back in her career path and thwarted her plans to launch her own startup. And then, just when she was getting back on track in her career, the car accident derailed her once again.

“Every doctor strongly recommended getting a hip replacement so that I could walk with a limp, if at all. But I knew, once I went under the knife, I was done for,” she narrates. One doctor was willing to give her body a fair chance to heal on its own provided she did not move even an inch for six months. “I agreed, but I had one condition: I wanted bathroom privileges. The bed pan was not for me,” says Anu with a brave smile.

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Anuradha with her mother Sushila, whom she considers her greatest source of inspiration and support

And so, allowed to go to the bathroom twice a day, Anuradha lay absolutely still in braces for the next three months. As her body healed, she was allowed to go to the hospital in a wheelchair in the car once a month. “I always planned some short outing with friends after these visits. We’d go to a pub or restaurant. I needed to feel alive again. That one day of the month kept me going,” she recalls.

Ten months later, Anu was able to walk again. But the long convalescence took a toll on her fitness. “Nothing lasts forever. Good times or bad, they all come and go. And you only get better at life with each phase,” she philosophises. Through her tough times, she was supported wholeheartedly by her mother – who had fought adversities all her life and, at the age of 68, had started her own business. “My mother inspires me every day with her fighting spirit,” says Anu.

Today, at 33, Anuradha actively works out and is back to her fitness levels before the accident. She has moved to Delhi for a high-profile job with an MNC. She misses her best friend who till date is in coma and prays for his suffering to end.

There are activities she will never be able to do again, but that does not stop her from exploring life further. She is ever optimistic: “No one is going to come and fix your life. It is up to you to be happy, so keep your spirits up.”

First published in the June issue of eShe magazine