Getting engulfed in the ocean’s turbulence felt like homecoming to Girish Gogia. “It was almost like tradition to go cliff-diving in Goa whenever I travelled there. The turquoise of the ocean called out to me, I’d never be able to hold myself from doing it. The year of 1999 as well we went to our usual spot to prepare for the dive. I did my routine, and jumped in head first,” Girish recalls.
It was but one slight miscalculation of the depth of the ocean that time around. “I hit my head on the sea bed. While my head miraculously survived this, my body’s weight completely fell on my neck, and hence, a paralysis swept over my body. I couldn’t move my limbs, and in the flashes of consciousness that I was gaining, I could see myself drifting further and further away from the shore,” Girish explains.
You know how they say that when one has a near death experience, their life thereafter feels like a rebirth, like they are starting afresh? Girish wanted none of that. Life-altering as it was, he didn’t want this incident to be the start of his story, when people talk about his valour. He refused to wipe off his glorious yesteryears, and wanted nothing more than to get back to being the spirited, adventurous man he was. Images of a life that was so passionately crafted and led flashing in front of his eyes.
Girish remembered how his life has always been full of plunges and leaps of faith – he remembered how he had left the confines of the city he grew up into study Civil Engineering in Belgaum. He remembers the turning point in his life, when his burning passion for architecture and design scared him, as he would have to start over.
“I was always fond of colour combinations and fascinated by structures. I had the fortune of visiting all of Europe as a child, and I have been smitten by Roman architecture ever since. Shifting fields after putting in four years of my life building a completely different skill set was frightening. But I was confident,” he recalls.
Girish named his company Ambience Interiors, and remembered how doors kept opening, and success kept knocking, just because of how fervently he sculpted his fortune.
He remembered feeling proud and content, when several corporate offices, and projects in the ivory coast of Nigeria, getting featured by top home and decor magazines were all a direct indication of how well he was doing. He remembered the ecstasy of travelling all over the world for his work, and spending5 years in West Africa for his timber business. He remembered the thrill of being thronged by the rainforests of the Amazon on all sides. He remembered how his wife was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, with paralysis progressing inch by inch every year, but how their marital flame only burnt stronger.
Even still, the memories of a life this golden and resilient aren’t easy to erase. Not even by the chilling irony that a meticulously planned night that he wished to spend surrounded by the people he loved and floating on the ocean staring at the moon was being spent instead surrounded by doctors, lying almost corpse-like on a hospital bed, staring into that blinding halogen of the OT.
He knew that this incident wasn’t going to be the start of his life’s story, when people hear his tales. And there was no way he’d let it be the end. All it was, is another leap of faith into another challenge.
The leap of faith for life
“The doctors gave it to me straight. ‘Your condition is devastating. There is no cure. You will be a vegetable, essentially. Paralysed from the neck down.’ In fact, it seems they had even told my parents that I will not be able to survive the five bed sores I had developed,”Girish remembers.
Of course, to say he was immediately hopeful would be an exaggeration. “I was sucked into an abyss, into darkness. It took me a full 24 hours to even accept my new reality. Even upon accepting it, I was negative, bitter, and on the verge of giving up.”
“Most human beings only utilize 4 percent of their potential. Medical sciences only understood this much of our brain. If 96 percent of the brain and its prowess is still unknown, how could medical experts speak with so much authority? I decided not to accept the verdict they had slapped on me, and find a way out. I learnt an amazing thing about the human body then. Healing comes from within. If I send positive impulses and affirmations to my wounds, they will heal. The best pharmacy company is within you.”
“I changed my diet – ate 90 percent of raw foods, and only 10 percent cooked food. Everyone laughed at me for trying to save a lost cause- saying, if doctors have given up, why was I still trying? But I summoned the infinite power of the human will, and survived this hurdle.”
It took him seven to eight months, a lot of self-talking, deep-thinking and pursuit of perspective to bounce back.
The biggest loss of my life, became my biggest milestone.
By late 2001, Girish was back at work. Between then and 2011, he finished 15 major projects, including the facelift of Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai’s most iconic image, in 2006. He did high-profile residences, Dubai hotels, and a whole range of projects.
“My fingers were not functioning, but by brain still was. So what if I couldn’t draft? I could still think. My ideas weren’t paralysed. I hired a drafter and I was good to go.”
Girish was a perfectionist before, and continued to be one after. “I never compromised on quality and delivery – I still travelled to all my sites personally and overlooked my projects as avidly as I could.”
The pursuit of happiness for others
But, at the end of 11 years, an emptiness crept in again. But this time, it was different. “I slept unsatisfied. I realised that maybe there was a larger, more divine plan, a prophecy I was to fulfil. That inner voice kept growing bigger and bigger until it became clear – I must share my journey to let people know that the human spirit is stronger than everything that happens to it.”
Somewhere in the end of 2011, Girish decide to shut down his thriving business and the world got its first tetraplegic motivational speaker.
“I saw so much misery and half-heartedness. People give up too easy, and then run to temples for answers. The solution, I believe, is inside of you. All that lies ahead of you and behind you is of little significance, compared to what lies inside of you. I am a firm believer in the saying, ‘if you really truly want something, the whole universe conspires to bring it to you.’ I decided to spread the word,” he recalls, as the reason behind his decision.
Girish met theatre personality Dolly Thakore at an event, who insisted that he deliver a speech at the Taj in front of 200.
Since then, there has been no looking back. NGOs took notice, and the corporates followed. Girish delivered seminars at companies like Cap Gemini, Syntel, and also at various college forums.
“I point to myself, and then my wife – who is such a star, and even with 90 percent of her speech gone, and 70 percent of her body paralysed still joins me everywhere I go, and smiles most of the time,” Girish says.
Mission Positive Earth
Girish is now on a global mission, ‘Mission Positive Earth.’“People think my mission is crazy, far-fetched and impossible. But I want to touch each and every soul on the planet.” Three students who were inspired by his speech now volunteer to help him get closer to his mission. They set up three websites and are leveraging social media to get Girish’s message out.
He believes the greatest school is the school of struggle, and the greatest degree, which gets printed on your DNA, is from the University of Life.