In India, the differently-abled population constitutes 2.21% of the total population. That's approximately, 2.68 Crore people, as per the Disabled Persons In India Statistical Profile, 2016.

I'm one of them.

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For those of you who've never seen, or met me, I've a condition called microtia-anotia. It's a congenital deformity where the ear is completely underdeveloped. Due to this, I have a slight hearing loss. While growing up, I went to enough hospitals to know what the insides of x-ray machines look like, what plastic paste on skin feels like, and what braces taste like.

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Choosing to get surgery isn't wrong. Choosing surgery as a means to validate the way you look & feel is wrong. This is what I want to tell every surgeon who reached out to me post the Humans of Bombay story. And this is what I want to tell every person with facial disability, whomsoever you may be. Before you choose to enhance your outward appeal, ensure that you already love yourself enough to know that it doesn't add or take away from who you are as a person. Your self worth should be attached to your heart, mind and soul, not a mindset or surgery. Once you're sorted with this, you can do whatever you want. True love stems from within you before it stems from anyone or anywhere else. #notetoself #helloworld #word #lifelesson #truestory #thankyouforcomingtomytedtalk #youarebeautiful #truelove #selfworth #soulwisdom #wordsofwisdom #qotd #fyi #soulwork #personalgrowth #awakening #youdoyou

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I was built up to the idea of getting a 'new ear' that would look just like skin; but feel alien on my body. And somehow, that was supposed to make me 'whole' again. During an appointment with the surgeon I was told getting an operation would be a good idea because why would I want to live like this, when I can choose not to, right?

'Don't you want to look just like every other girl?' asked another doctor some years ago.

An aunt once sat me down and tried to explain to me what having 'two whole ears' would be like. I obviously had no idea.

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Making new friends meant they already had two great conversation starters:

1. What does your name mean?

2. So, what happened to your ear?

The responses to both are now mechanical.

For toddlers to understand that they can not pull my right ear is a thing of intrigue, even today. Babies' curiosities are innocent though. Not so much when it comes to grown aunties suggesting you try matrimonial sites for the handicapped. It's funnier than it sounds, I assure you.

But, over time, I turned a 'deaf ear' to what people said or thought; including those who were supposed to be my own. You see, I've developed a sense of humour about having just 'one' ear to lend to people. Geddit?

I've never lived my life like I was 'disabled'. I've always associated the word 'disabled' or 'deformed' with a server, or a piece of furniture. As humans, we're flawed, yes. Still beautiful though, every single one of us.

Obviously, growing up, I was never the most beautiful girl by societal standards. I did get stared at. I did have random kids make fun, or whisper like it were a taboo. I'd get all the awkward questions that later the parents would be embarrassed about. As for me, I never was. For this, I have my mother to thank, who raised me exactly the way every girl should be raised - with love and pride.

Our society is obsessed with a kind of beauty standard because of which anyone - especially girls, however young or old they may be - who doesn't fit the bill gets outcast, outvoted and ostracised.

All because we confuse being 'pretty' with being 'beautiful'. When, in truth, the two are very different.

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That's one of the lessons I learned while growing up. That I would not be 'liked' by many who didn't think I was 'pretty' enough. But, that I would be loved by the few who would know that beauty has nothing to do with what we wear, how we look and how we try to keep up appearances.

I learned that much of the hate will also come from the people who are your own; who are supposed to love you. And that's how I learned that sometimes, the strongest bonds you build will have nothing to do with blood, or family, or looking 'pretty'.

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There were times when every tiny criticism that came my way made me doubt whether it was the way I looked that actually bothered someone - personally, professionally, romantically. Till one day, I stared into a mirror and smiled back at myself because I realised that I was beautiful no matter what anyone said or felt. And even if took just a handful of people to know that, I would be happy for the rest of my life.

It's just like the great Stephen Hawking said:

"If you are disabled, it is probably not your fault, but it is no good blaming the world or expecting it to take pity on you. One has to have a positive attitude and must make the best of the situation that one finds oneself in; if one is physically disabled, one cannot afford to be psychologically disabled as well."

That's the lesson my being differently-abled taught me. That I may be 'disabled' in some physical aspect. But, not in spirit. Never in spirit.

I wish that the society we live in learned and understood this, too.