I do believe in larger than life characters because of my encounters with such people in real life, and this was the reason why I got impressed by her. It was some 6 years back when I first read an article on her in a renowned auto magazine, and then I saw her in a popular reality television show, and after researching a bit on her, she became a huge source of inspiration for me. Most of us know her as a paraplegic woman, who pushed herself beyond the limits of her wheelchair and came out as a fighter, an inspiration and an achiever for this oldest civilization, which is still in its initial stage when it comes to infrastructure and facilities for differently abled individuals. Yes, I am talking about Arjuna Awardee Deepa Malik, who is struggling each and every day to make India a country, where people like her can live a normal life without depending on others. She always tries to spread awareness among the society and the differently able individuals. She believes that every disable individual can bridge the gap between him and a normal person by his will, and that is exactly what she has been doing for the last 14 years.
Deepa Malik is an active member of various awareness programs including HIV AIDS awareness, female foeticide, safe riding and various others. I am a keen follower of her and follow all her activities as well and when I recently saw a FB post on her wall that she was planning to undertake a PAN-India drive in a Renault Duster and needed someone to document it. This was a unique opportunity that I wasn't going to let go off, therefore after discussing the idea internally at CarDekho, we contacted her for the same. In conversation with her, we later on found and that it isn't only a Pan-India expedition, it is one more effort from her side to spread awareness in the society on two very important issues, first to motivate differently abled people and other was to encourage young minds to come up with some concepts that would help people like her. She told us that she christened this PAN-India drive as WOW-'Will on Wheels’; and the whole project was conceptualized by six young and very talented engineering students of Sathyabama University, Chennai, who were also impressed by Deepa ma'am.
“It all started in the month of March, 2013, when I was awarded as 'Inspiration Icon' by university, where I interacted with the students of automobile and mechanical engineering. I said them that they are the designers of the future of India and would be creators of new designs in future, so to apeal them to keep disables in mind. The students were moved from the speech and decided to design a special car for differently abled individuals and they chose me as its ambassador. On August 15th, the university invited me again for flag hoisting, and they told me that the students have come up with a customized Renault Duster. Then, I decided to spread this message across the nation, so to drive the car from Chennai to Delhi. FMSCI (The Federation of Motor Sport Club of India) agreed that if I would drive the car for that distance they will accept it as a record for Longest Pan India drive by a paraplegic woman.” she explained.
When I was leaving for Chennai to attend this Endeavour, there were mixed feelings as I was to meet a youth idol and drive the car with her for next 8 days. As Renault was a prominent part of this drive and they were supporting the cause, I was given a Duster right at the Airport, which was a companion all the JOURNEY. It was the top of the line RxL 110 PS variant, which was great news for us considering that we had to drive about 3500 kms pan-India, and this variant has that punch to sail on highways. I reached Chennai pretty late and when I called her to inform that I am in the city, she called me to meet, and surprisingly she was in the university campus supervising the last minute preparations. My first question to her was from where do you get this energy and strength and she replied with a smile, “It is my passion for wheels that inspires me to do that extra mile every time."
Team Will on Wheels-
I also met the team for the first time on the same day, 6 enthusiastic young boys, who conceptualized the whole initiative. I am also an engineer and it was pleasure to meet engineering students, who were full of energy, knowledge and fun. This journey would not be completed without these guys, so as my write-up without naming each one of them- Sarabjit Mundae, Bikash Jyoti Biswas, Anchal Kumar Barman, Dinesh Chandar, Atish Ranjan and Pratik Somani. These guys are also a great source of inspiration as they all were doing it for a cause, sacrificing their campus placement, which might secure their careers. The other two senior and prominent members of the team were Prateek Gahalaut and Dilip Sahu. Prateek Gahalaut is a rally nut and an avid traveler, and he is also Deepa Malik’s coach and navigator, he had already navigated her during Leh Ladhakh Limca record drive in 2011 and for Thar and Rann of Kutch expeditions in 2012. Dilip Sahu, Professor, Sathyabama University was also with us for the drive and he supervised whole the project.
The WOW Car- A customized Renault Duster-
Another prominent aspect of this drive was the WOW car, the Renault Duster; the team chose a Dutser RxE 85PS variant. When I asked her the reason for choosing an Renault Duster, she replied, “I was looking for a SUV as the dimensions of these cars are easily accessible a wheel chair too can be transferred easily. And I zeroed down to Renault Duster as it has the dimensions of an SUV but at the same time it is a beautiful urban car, which is easy to maneuver in traffic. I also like the boot space, which allows me to put my wheel chair and my sports equipments in it. Besides this the tag line 'Drive the Change' also attracted me as the motive of this drive was also the same. So, all these things made me go for the Duster.”
The Duster was to be modified and it was the difficult part as Deepa Malik was about to drive it for 3400 kms, and for this the students came up with a brilliant idea. There are cars with auto clutch concept, which can be operated via hands, but there are some limitations of the auto clutch as it completely works on a microprocessor, gradient and others. But the WOW team designed a manual clutch with the help of a actuator, which can be controlled with the help of an electronic knob. The advantage of this system is that one can push the clutch according to the terrain. If the clutch is needed to be pushed 20 percent, half or full, it can be pushed and release accordingly unlike the auto clutch, therefore it gives you the feel of a mechanical clutch. Another two controls given are a hand stick on the left, one has to push it to halt the vehicle and pull to accelerate. I drove it twice and I found the system amazingly effective, later on the students told me that it is the first of its kind and they are applying to get a patent for it.
Now, it’s time for the highlights of the drive. I am going to describe the drive day by day, to make it easier to understand that how things happened during the drive.
Day-1, Chennai, 22 September 2013-
So, after so much anticipation, excitement and a sleepless night in Chennai, it was finally the day when the drive was about to start. There was a forecast that it would be raining on Sunday, 22nd morning, but indeed it was a bright sunny day. Deepa Malik, a biker at heart chose a Polaris Sportsman 400 to reach the University campus from the hotel, and on the entrance there were some hundred bikers waiting for her, mostly they were from Madras Bulls fondly called 'Mad Bulls'. After addressing the gathering Col. Dr. Jappiaar, the Chancellor, Sathyabama University and C.H Venkatachalam, Secretary, AIBEA (All India Bank Employee Association) flagged off the drive and it started for a 3,400 kms long road journey. Mr. Rajan Sayal, president, FMSCI was also there for the flag off ceremony.
We were heading to Bangalore, the IT capital of the country. And to reach the venue we drove for some 376 Kms and reached to Bangalore only at 10 PM. The drive was wonderful apart from some rough patches on AH 45 Via Vellore, Krishnagiri and Hosur. We took our lunch on a typical South Indian restaurant and evening tea at a beautiful highway restaurant. The hospitality partner of WOW was AIBEA and they made a wonderful arrangement at Hotel Brangalore Gate on MG Road.
Deepa Malik was tired but happy after Day 1's successful drive, “It was a long day and after initial delay in Chennai, we were getting late and late, my body doesn't allow me to take this kind of fatigue. But the enthusiasm of the boys and sportiness of the Duster pushed me to be in the driver's seat. The car is very nimble and refined and it was fun to drive it, now after driving it 375 kms today, I got used to the car and the system designed by the students. Looking forward for a beautiful journey ahead.”
Day-2, Bangalore, 23 September, 2013-
The IT capital of India welcomed us with warmth and it was time to leave the city, the flag off was scheduled at Whitefield Renault and it was a wonderful experience there. At Whitefield Renault, Mr. Kamal Nayan V.S, Branch Head flagged off the drive. Our next pit stop was the Belgaum, a small city on the border of Karnataka and Maharashtra. The road is very scenic and surprisingly we had our lunch at Punjabi dhaba, yes a poor Punjabi dhaba in Karnataka.
The roads were in good condition, which helped us cover 575 kms in just 8 hours. The drive was comfortable, Deepa Malik was pretty happy after we concluded it in Belgaum, “It was a great experience at Whitefield Renault today, I was a little disappointed when the Para athlete community of Bangalore didn’t make it for the flag off but the love I got from Renault made me happy. And, it was a long drive today, but I am glad that we finished it in time, the roads were pretty good and the Duster was almost gliding all the way and it was fun to drive it.”
Day-3, Belgaum, 24 September, 2013-
Showers welcomed us in Belgaum, and the washed city in morning was ready to flag off the drive. Some of Deepa Ma’am swimming team members including Raghavendra Anvekar and Moin Junaid ”The Wonder Boy” were there to greet her. The affection we got there was amazing and when we were heading to Rotary Club, Belgaum, Raghav was escorting us and I got a privilege to sit behind him on his modified bike as I was clicking photographs. It was a good experience at Belgaum and then we headed to our next destination Pune, which was 350 kms away from Belgaum. The roads were fabulous and there were some beautiful tunnels on the way and the rain made the drive even more mesmerizing. We took our lunch at a typical Kolhapuri restaurant and after an 8 hour long drive we finally reached Pune, where Chatarpati Award winner women athletes and AIBEA Maharashtra welcomed us warmly.
It became even special for Deepa Malik as her in laws Major Gen. and Mrs. B.S. Malik joined us in Pune and it was time to get some blessings for them. “It always feels good when I come to Pune as my home is in Ahmednagar and I used come to Pune when I was living there, and it is great that mom and dad are here to bless me. The drive was wonderful and I was enjoying driving throughout and I really looking forward to drive on Mumbai-Pune expressway tomorrow.”
Day-4, Pune, 25 September, 2013-
The city of auto enthusiasts, Pune gave us a wonderful welcome and now it was time for the flag off. And for that we got a company of some enthusiastic bikers from various clubs. We took a morning drive to the Mariplex Complex in Kalyani Nagar, where the flag-off was done by Dr. Parag Sancheti, a renowned Orthopedic surgeon. The flag-off ceremony was arranged and coordinated by the EKansh Trust with which Deepa Malik’s bond dates back to the year 2008, when she had worked with them for a seminar. The Trust is known to do welfare programmes for disabled people and had roped in Deepa Malik as a speaker for them. Speaking on behalf of Dr. Parag, Founder EKansh Trust said, “Parag Sancheti has always been supportive of such endeavors. He has been associated with us before and he volunteered himself to be a part of this flag-off.”
After the flag off, bikers along with Col. Sohan Roy, an avid and respected rider escorted us towards the Mumbai-Pune expressway, and as you all know it is always fun to drive on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Though it was raining and a bit foggy near Lonawala, nevertheless it added that extra bit of excitement to this drive. We completed the drive in just two and half hours. When we reached Vashi, Navi Mumbai, AIBEA Mumbai welcomed us warmly and then we moved to Navi Mumbai Sports Association, where we were received by Mr. Jasbir Singh Mundae of Rhine Industries, Mumbai. We later on attended a dinner with Mundae family on a beautiful evening. In Mumbai, we got some time, so we send our cars for servicing and other minor fine tuning at Next Gen Renault.
“It is a great feeling that I am staying at Navi Mumbai Sports Association. Mumbai gave us a warm welcome after a wonderful drive on Mumbai-Pune expressway. And I also loved the company of Sarabjit’s family,” Deepa Malik shared her experience on the drive.
Day-5, Mumbai, 26 September, 2013-
In the night we got to know that there were heavy rains in Gujarat and the region of Ankleshwar and Surat got flooded and there were long jams all the way. So, we had to change our route at the last moment. We chose Indore as our next pit stop and asked AIBEA, hospitality partner for the drive to arrange accommodation and it was commendable that they arranged the same on a very short notice. The distance from Mumbai to Indore was around 600 kms and it was going to be exhausting for sure. We picked up lots of Mumbaiyya fast food including Vada Pao, Dhaboli and Poori Bhaji for our long drive for the day, it was a different experience eating these while driving.
We rushed to Next Gen Renault in Vashi for the flag off, where Akib Gundal, Area Sales Manager, West, Renault India flagged off the drive to Indore. Ms. Tanya Chaitanya, Editor, Femina India was also there for the flag off.
And soon we were appreciating the last minute change because the Ghats of Nashik are fabulous, the most scenic roads of the whole drive.
We also met Deepa Mam’s husband retired Col. Bikram Singh in Dhule as he is posted there now-a-days, and it was a great experience to see this wonder couple together. Mr. Malik has always been a great support for her and he also helped her in previous adventures including Raid de Himalaya 2009 and Desert Strom 2010. After meeting him, we headed to Indore, but the mix of good and bad roads took 11 hours for the 600kms drive and we made it to Indore only by Midnight.
We were exhausted, but there we found that a beautiful girl of 7th standard, Avani was waiting for us at outskirts of Indore, and her pretty smile and enthusiasm made our day.
Deepa Malik was looking a bit tired, but she was ready for another 5-6 hours drive at the same time, sharing the reason, she said “It was a exhausting day but first Nashik’s scenic beauty and then the girl made me refreshed. Heading to bed right now but please click a photo of this lobby it is very beautiful.” (I am attaching the image to show her will after an 11 hour drive.)
Day-6, Indore, 27 September, 2013-
Though Indore was a last minute decision but we got best accommodation in Indore, kudos to AIBEA that they arranged even an impressive flag off at Vaishnav Vidhyalay, where Dr. Asha Mathur, I.G, Indore City, flagged off us from Indore towards our next pit stop Udaipur.
After eating the special Poha and Heeng kachori of Indore, we started our drive for the day, but due to some construction work on the state highway around Dhar, we had to choose an alternate route to reach Udaipur and the roads were pretty bad. The 427 kms drive took 12 hours and our bodies were aching like anything. “The roads were pretty bad today and it was an extreme test for the Duster, but this car impressed me a lot with its high ground clearance and suspension. The suspension helped the car drive well without much efforts from my side,” she quoted after a long and difficult drive.
Day-7, Udaipur, 28 September, 2013-
After an exhausting drive, we were in the city of lakes - Udaipur and it was raining there, which further made the natural surroundings more enjoyable. The flag off was scheduled at the City Palace, Udaipur and it was officiated by Arvind Singh Mewar himself, a renowned social worker and head of royal family Udaipur. After the flag off, our convoy moved to Jaipur, hometown of Deepa Malik . The highway from Udaipur to Jaipur is simply superb, and last 125 kms from Kishngarg to Jaipur were just awesome due to its vast openness and road surface quality of NH8. Jaipur was the only destination, where we reached before scheduled time and a full sized banner of Deepa Malik and WOW welcomed us on the entrance of the city itself.
Deepa Malik’s parents live in Jaipur and as we were before time we also got time to visit Deepa mam’s parental home, where we met Col. and Mrs. B.K Nagpal. After that we headed to our hotel with the convoy of AIBEA guys. When I asked Deepa Malik about the experience of the day, she replied with a big smile, “I am on the seventh sky today, first the flag off by Shirji Arvind Singh Mewar, then I met my parents and the banners are just amazing. Jaipur has always been close to my heart, and it is great to have Jaipur on my drive. The drive was also superb today as the highway was mesmerizing, and my car has completed the break-in period now, so I pushed it as well.”
Day-8, Jaipur, 29 September, 2013-
Jaipur, the Pink city welcomed us with all her beauty and rains cherished us in the morning. Jyoti Khandelwal, Mayor, Jaipur along with AIBEA officials greeted Deepa Ma’am at hotel, and then we moved to South Jaipur Renault for the flag off ceremony, where Amit Jain, founder, CarDekho.com presented a token of appreciation to Deepa Malik and gave the go ahead for our last destination.
Like other cities bikers were there in Jaipur as well, members of Convoy Control Club, a renowned club of vintage and classic bikes were there to cheer the WOW team. Birju Singh Sahab, one of the oldest bikers in India at an age of 77 also joined us for flag off on his World War II 1942 BSA 550 bike with a side car. The bikers escorted us towards the Jaipur-Delhi highway.
Amber, a world renowned heritage town nearby was on the way, and we visited it as well and the beauty of the palace forced us to say WOW. But after experiencing the beauty on the way, it was time to face some troubles on the highway, NH8 is in a pretty bad shape now-a-days because of the ongoing construction work on the highway, which is causing jams and the rain further worsed our experience. The 250 Kms drive to Gurgaon took us 8 hours, but when we reached Gurgaon we got a grand reception at Oriental Bank of Commerce head quarters, and all the AIBEA guys were so enthusiastic about our arrival in Delhi. C.H Venkatachalam, Secretary, AIBEA was already there to congratulate Deepa Malik on the completion on her epic drive.
“The day is a big one for me as I made it possible without any hustle and I want to thank C.H Venkatachalam sir and AIBEA for this grand welcome, they were like our backbone throughout the drive. Looking forward for tommorrow’s event where I will be handing the log book to Mr. Tutu Dhawan, FMSCI for claiming the record,” Deepa Malik shared her experience after completing the drive.
Day-9, Delhi, 30th September, 2013-
It was Deepa Ji’s birthday and formal announcement of the completion of the WOW drive, so it was double dhamaal for the team WOW. The press conference was held at Hotel Lemon Tree Premier, Gurgaon and some prominent guests were attending it including Tutu Dhawan from FMSCI, Pankaj Dubey, Head Polaris India, Lata Dubey from 'I am For India', NGO and Ms. Aarthi from Limca Records. We also got to know that LIMCA book of records is also certifying the drive as the "Longest PAN-India Drive by a Paraplegic Woman".
After the ceremony I was talking to Deepa Malik on her experience, she told me, “First of all I want to thank every individual associated with this drive, directly or indirectly. The drive has been successful and most importantly it helped reach out to the masses, if the person on Toll plaza and fuel stations know about this initiative, then it means that the message is spreading on a vast scale. I want to thank AIBEA, our hospitality partner, Lemon Tree Hotels, Jindal Steel and Power, CarDekho.com, and most importantly Sathyabama University and Renault as they were the biggest support. I would also like to thank the students and Dilip Sahu for being a great backup team and my coach Prateek for being a great support. The drive was wonderful, the schedule was so tight, so we couldn’t explore the cities, but the diversity of India was evident on the highways as well and more importantly we have been successful in the task for which we conceptualized this whole drive and the records are just add on.”
So, that was a expedition of different kind as a motoring journalist, I have undertaken many travelogues but WOW experience was totally different. We were doing it for a cause and still it was related to our work that was the best part about this drive for us. This drive experience write-up cannot be without thanking Deepa Malik, who is a powerhouse of inspiration. Time and again, She has proven her determination and willingness to do something for the betterment of the society. This expedition is one more to her never-ending list of endeavors and accolades.
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