Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Saying ‘Yes’ to life

Struck by a crippling physical disorder at 25, Peter Joseph recovered and went on to become a successful businessman, a CEO of Shalom TV and a popular lyricist

By Shevlin Sebastian

Peter K. Joseph was working for the Danish multinational, DISA, in Bangalore. One day in December, 1984, while he was doing Christmas shopping with his wife, Beena, he was assailed by a severe pain. Following the advice of his regular physician, he underwent a checkup at St. Martha’s Hospital. After the tests were analysed, the orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Surendra, said, “You are showing the first signs of a disorder called Ankylosing Spondylitis. This disease will attack your spine and the major joints like the hips, shoulders and the neck. You will be bedridden within a few years.”

A distraught Peter went to the nearby Cubbon Park and sat in silence for a few hours. Then he resolved that he would not tell anybody, including his wife, Beena, about the disease. It was barely six months since he had married her. They had met in Newman College in Thodupuzha, his home town, fell in love, and got married. “I wanted to live happily with Beena for those few years,” he says.

So, he continued working. He managed for four years but then his health declined alarmingly and he had no option but to resign. By now, he could hardly walk. He suffered regularly from chest infections and breathlessness. He was in and out of the ICU every two months. Eventually, he went back to Thodupuzha, and, as predicted, he became bedridden.

“My body became very thin,” he says. “I was finding it difficult to digest food.” The lungs began to get affected and breathing became a problem. “When the hips and the spine are under attack, you experience a severe pain,” he says. “I have spent sleepless nights for months, despite being given the maximum sedation.”

One year passed, and during the second year, Peter began to lose hope and strength. “It was at this time, a friend, Dr George Panthackal, told me, ‘You will come out of this.’ He was the first to tell me that there was a slight chance of the disease being arrested. This gave me enormous hope.”

And indeed, in 1991, the miracle occurred: the disease was arrested, but it was a gradual process. Then, Peter embarked on the long and painful road to recovery. “The greatest achievement in my life was when, step by step, I walked 25 metres around my house,” says Peter. “After that, I was bed-ridden for four days, because my cartilages became swollen.” When Peter recovered, he went for another round. Again, he had to rest for a few days. “This went on for months,” he says. “Finally, there came a time when I was able to do three rounds.”

To strengthen his limbs, he began swimming at a pool that belonged to a local ayurvedic hospital. He continued this for five years. At the same time, to earn a living, he began repairing satellite TV receivers. This led to a move into cable television. In 1992, he moved into the dish antenna business and the brand, Sharcstar, which he promoted, became the largest-selling product in Kerala. “With a driver, I traveled all over the state in my Maruti car meeting dealers,” he says. In 1998, he took over the sole distribution of STAR TV for Kerala and in 2006, the Kochi-based businessman won the ‘STAR Regional Champion – South’ award for best performance.

When Shalom wanted to launch its television channel in 2005, Peter, who was, by then, well known in the broadcasting industry, was appointed as the CEO and MD. It was only in January this year that he relinquished the position and is now one of the directors. He is also, unbelievably, a lyricist of Christian devotional songs.

“When I was bedridden, I started writing lyrics,” he says. “When I recovered, I wanted to bring out a cassette of my songs.” He approached music director Peter Cheranalloor, and they brought out an album, ‘Edanthottam’, which did very well in the market. To date, he has written the lyrics for 30 songs, and most of them have been hits. Says Cheranalloor: “Peter’s lyrics spring from his life experiences and have a depth of feeling.”

So how has Peter, 47, achieved all this? “To know the full extent of your abilities, you have to suffer from a disability,” he says. “Every human being has enormous untapped potential. Usually, a person feels he has fulfilled his potential, but that is untrue. They only use 20 per cent of their abilities. People say I am disabled, but I feel ordinary people are disabled.”

A positive mental attitude is very important, he says. “Most of us have a negative attitude. When I fell sick, people showed a lot of care, they absorbed my sadness as a part of theirs, but nobody showed any fighting spirit. There was a passive acceptance of fate.”

Peter, however, has carved out a new fate. Says acquaintance Binoy Job, the Delhi-based Head of Special Programmes, NDTV: “Despite severe physical disabilities, Peter has achieved more than what able people would have done.” Incidentally, on his company website, www.phoenixworld.in, Peter has the following phrase running at the bottom of every page: ‘The sky is not the limit’.

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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