Kashmiri Pandit Girl: Varuna Raina
SalamatRaho presents to you the impactful story of a young Kashmiri Pandit Girl – who went from near fatal head injury to becoming a Doctor, Mountaineer, Athlete, Yoga teacher, Writer and a Mindfulness practitioner – Varuna Raina. An Inspiration.
‘What is happiness’ ?, I asked Varuna, and she replied through a quote by Paulo Coehlo-
“Happiness is just another of the tricks that our genetic system plays on us to carry out its only role, which is the survival of the species.”
Yes..survival is the only choice left.
Now someone who thinks like this after all that she has gone through, is one motivational hero.
Yes, Varuna is a survivor. And surviving all storms has been her forte.
Why? Because by birth, she is a Kashmiri pandit, born in Srinagar, in Habbakadal district.
Grew up in a lovely joint family three storey house. Had a happy family, father was a LLB and an IAS officer who worked both in Jammu and Kashmir, mother being teacher and a younger sister.
He was a passionate mountaineer and would often take Varuna with him, to fall in love with the peaks, just like he was. At the young age of 5, Varuna went for the Amarnath Yatra at approximately 13000 feet with her father and mother on foot from Pahalgam pre exodus and in those days, it was a tough journey, but the seeds of fighting against all odds, were sown at an early age. Her father gave her an ice axe for her safety during the climb, which remained with her in spirit till date.
A normal family, leading a normal life was overnight pushed into darkness.
1989-90, the year when rest of the world slept in peace, but there was a section of society in Kashmir which went through a holocaust. There were just people with guns everywhere, loud chants and Varuna and her family hid inside, lucky to be saved. The axe remained as her saving grace, always in her hand.
They escaped somehow and reached Jammu. Her father being a govt employee, was lucky to get a small flat and the whole joint family managed to survive for months. Times were hard and supplies were very limited with unforgiving heat in the summer months.
They had left all their belongings in Srinagar. Their ancestral home was torn down. When they were forced to leave overnight, they took nothing with them.
It was a harrowing experience, something one wouldn’t wish even for an enemy.
After a while, the other families living with them moved out and life got back to the new unasked-for routine. There was no semblance of normalcy in her childhood and the only way she could move ahead was to do well in Studies. Her father was diabetic and went into hypoglycemic coma and she, her mother and sister took him to hospital in auto and doctors said that it is impossible he would bounce back. Her father bounced back and taught her to put an intravenous line when she was in her seventh class so that in future his hypoglycemic episodes did not go that dangerous and in her destiny seeds of being a doctor were sown.
The absence of normalcy of childhood and deep wounds of exodus left a deep mark on her and she became socially distant and aloof.
In class 12th on a foggy day, Varuna was hit by a truck on the road when she was going to Bhagwan Gopinath (revered saint of Kashmir) ashram. She was lying in a pool of blood, fainted, till a good Samaritan took her to the hospital. She had sustained serious head injuries with fracture of temporal and parietal bone, Otorrhea rhinorrhea, Injured abducens nerve, trigeminal and auditory nerve and facial paralysis. She went into Coma.
Her parents tried their best to give her the best of the treatment in spite of knowing there was no surety of her recovery. She was taken to Delhi for advanced treatment. Her parents also went to all the possible temples and their Guruji’s ashram.
Guruji gave her a new name ‘Aradhana’-
Varuna was a real fighter and she saw to it that she came back alive. It was a real miracle.
That was when she decided to take medicine as her future career. She had lost 90 Percent hearing in her right ear and had double vision due to her accident, but that, all the more, challenged Varuna to clear her MBBS entrance exam on merit. She worked hard to get where she did and without any recommendations. A huge feat!. She went to SKIMS Medical College (Srinagar) to pursue her MBBS and it gave her a chance to connect with her roots.
She made some amazing friends and great teachers who guided her through her degree. She also traveled all over Kashmir with her father. It wasn’t easy being the only Kashmiri Pandit girl in her college but she didn’t lose her nerve and didn’t shy away from her true self. Her upbringing always encouraged her to connect with people from all religions without biases.
She wanted to study further and go to the US. She cleared her entrance exams but unfortunately, her father’s ill health did not permit her to leave. She always felt that her parents had sacrificed everything they had to make her stay alive, and they were her role model. Family was always a priority.
Her father’s health kept deteriorating and losing him to the clutches of time was not easy for Varuna (as his attending doctor). She went deeper into her depression. She took therapy and medication but nothing seemed to help. Soon she realized that mountains were her only doorway toward healing and connecting with her father.
Even when nights were deep, she always found solace in her father’s words that echoed throughout. “One fall doesn’t make one a fiasco”.
This became her anthem and ushered in a new will to fight. This is when she took up mountain climbing professionally- in memory of her father. Every time she climbed, she felt him with her. Her father always wished for her to do her mountaineering courses so completed her mountaineering course from HMI and advanced mountaineering course from NIM to honour his memory.
She then completed her Yoga teacher training course and kept the fire of learning burning in her heart.
She started climbing one mountain after another. Each expedition came with its own adventures and added to her pain too at times. But she never gave up. Her father always advised, ‘what a mountain can teach, no book ever will”.
September 2020 she went to Kolahoi peak expedition in Kashmir as it was her father’s dream. A huge rock hit her knee while descending the rocky face and she had a grade 2 tear of medial collateral ligament of left knee and was bed ridden and on a wheelchair. She went to rehab for months. With physiotherapy, laser and other modalities, was able to walk soon and ran her marathon of 21 kms just 6 months after injury. Her knee was not strong and she taped it with kinesio tape, wore a kneecap and completed the course.
Just six months into the knee injury, she did the unthinkable and went against the advice of her Physio. She did her intermediate skiing course and most importantly her advance mountaineering course at Nim with a heavily bandaged knee but a soul that was bruised no more.
To add to her feats, she reached Everest base camp and three passes without guide or porter.
As William Shakespeare said -“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
Varuna was determined to make her own destiny and never gave up.
AMC tested her in every way and walking in snow boots was hard on her knees. Yet she sumitted. What an achiever.
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” Says her inspirational guru Gautama Buddha. And this is what she follows.
Now isn’t that a true fighter on display.
Varuna says,” There are days when I feel absolutely gloomy and clueless and then I look back on my life and the infinite struggles I overcame! I often did ask God why me?
I am still searching for an answer but over the years I have just accepted the way life is!”
There are times when she breaks down, wants to give up everything, she struggles with her inner turbulence, her memories of the lost childhood and the exodus from Kashmir, but she looks back and reminds herself of her father’s inspirational words and starts the fight again.
The universe is not so cruel at times. She met her present husband by chance and she found in him the support she was always searching for. He is her moral and emotional support and someone she finds solace in. Sometimes the dreams that come true are the dreams you never even knew you had.
Adversity and Varuna go hand in hand but that is the challenge she loves to face. Recently in January she was in the ICU. Had severe dengue with leptospirosis, Hematuria, fluid in lungs, low platelet, raised liver function tests and she recovered though not fully and went ice climbing in Ladakh in Feb! what a woman !!.
She says –“ I wasn’t my fittest best but trudged along.
Every time something happens I have to re-start from zero
Whether physically mentally or emotionally.”
Today she is a qualified Doctor with speciality in Anaesthesia and Critical Care, along with a qualified mountaineer.
There are a number of treks and climbs she has done taking all her mental, emotional and physical challenges.
Post her Amc, she climbed Kang Yatse 2, her first 6000m peak.
She has completed 50+ high altitude treks and has been part of expeditions as the team doctor. She has done four out of five Kailash yatras including Shrikhand Kailash, Kinner Kailash, Mani Mahesh and the Holy Kailash Mansarovar yatra in Tibet, a journey of 250 km on foot.
Ama Dablam- a peak tougher than Climbing Mt Everest some say. Now this is Varuna’s next dream.
She has been training hard day and night. Has started yoga and sudarshan kriyas etc to keep her focus centred. And recently won the World Explorers Grant to climb the 6800 m Ama Dablam. Her aim is to create awareness about diabetes and mental health. She is looking for sponsorships to complete this task and hopefully, some corporate or government support should come through.
Varuna is just like the girl next door, loves to dance, sing, live like a free bird, yet…deep down, she has the power of steel which gives her the strength and will power which is rare to find. Her story is a real motivation for the youth of today.
She lives with a heart set on a journey to heal, a head injury survivor, 90 percent hearing loss in her right ear, broken knee but resolute will and resilience. She has more lows than ups but she has learned to accept life with its hues and not be bogged down by insurmountable challenges.
When asked what pushes her, never to give up, she says
“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”
― William Jennings Bryan
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