Seventeen-year-old Muskan Devta has become the face of inspiration to many in New Zealand and overseas. Muskan was born prematurely with a condition of Hemiplegia or partial paralysis of the body in Ahmedabad, India. In 2004, her parents moved to New Zealand to give Muskan a better life and started living in Auckland.

Muskan underwent a corrective surgery in 2013 that changed her life. She has since published a book that has become a part of English curriculum of Westlake Girls School in Auckland. At the age of 13, she hosted her own radio show on a popular Hindi radio station in Auckland, delivered motivational speeches on TEDx New Zealand, was recognised with several awards, and has appeared in a number of publications in New Zealand and India. In a conversation with Indian Weekender, Muskan describes the world through her eyes and shares glimpses from her journey so far.

IWK: What are your passions and interests?

Muskan: I am a creative person who loves talking and helping people. I am a book worm, and I like writing short stories and books. Baking and watching Bollywood films, especially Akshay Kumar’s films, are pastime activities for me. I love his 90s classic Main Khiladi Tu Anari and never get bored of watching Here Pheri and Welcome.

IWK: What was the motivation behind writing your autobiography I Dream?

Muskan: I was born with a medical condition called Hemiplegia, and I have lived with that my entire life. In March 2013, I underwent corrective surgery at Starship Hospital. It was a long surgery, and I woke up in the recovery ward sharing it with five more children. I was in a lot of pain, but I noticed that other children in the ward were in a much worse situation than me. I had one leg operated, while others had their arms and legs or both plastered. I realised that people in the world have much worse complications than mine, and it was both touching and heartbreaking. I just randomly started writing my feelings about how I felt being there and what I was going through, and it sort of gave birth to the idea of the autobiography that eventually got published.

The book just says that if you are different, it is cool. It is perfectly fine, and you should be proud of the uniqueness in yourself. You are who you are, never giving up on anything, and just make sure that you have the drive and determination to follow your dreams, no matter how small.

IWK: What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Muskan: Growing up, I struggled with building relationships with people around me and socialising. I wore a brace on my foot, glasses, and looked different than others. I was judged and bullied and that made me crawl into my own shell.

In 2005, my younger brother Aman was born, and my entire focus shifted away from my problem to him. I would come home every day from school, and I would be so excited to play with him, and he became my motivation because he did not judge me. He just smiled at me, and that was indeed so powerful.

IWK: What are your dreams and ambition?

Muskan: Currently, I am studying at the university doing my Bachelors of Arts (Psychology), and I would like to see myself in a clinic practising and to put my psychology education to some use. But otherwise, my dream is to see a world where everybody is treated equally, and nobody doubts themselves just because they are different. My goal is to spread the message to the people that we need to be accepting of one another.

IWK: How has been your journey from writing your first book and now?

Muskan: There have been ups and downs as I wrote the book when I was bed-ridden. I think I have changed a lot as a person since then. After my book was published, I got myself involved with more community work and improved my socialising and speaking skills. I look back and laugh at myself that the shy and reclusive part of me is gone and I am a more confident girl now.

My family’s support throughout this journey has been overwhelming. There hasn’t been a single instance where my parents have doubted me. Their values, teachings, and faith in me have made me who I am today. They kept me grounded and anchored to my roots, and I look up to them. My teachers and pairs at Westlake School have been similar.

IWK: What is your message to people with disabilities?

Muskan: My book tells you it is okay to be different. Never let go of the belief in yourself and have the confidence that you can do it. You will eventually show other people what you are capable of and they will start believing in you, too, but it has to start from you.