She nearly burnt to death on Diwali. 4 months later, she created her dream job — and life — in the Maldives
“People grow wings in adverse circumstances, I grew gills”
Science and pop culture teach us the same thing: the trajectory of people’s lives changes drastically after they’ve had a near-death experience. “They see a purpose in life they didn’t see before. I don’t know of anything else that powerful,” says psychiatrist Bruce Greyson, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. Nishi Srivastava would concur. ( Along with these celebrities we know).
After suffering second-degree burns to her back, thighs and legs, Srivastava’s near-death experience spurred in her a new motivation to do things that seemed impossible before. After her close shave with death, she took control of her life, and is now living her dream.
How a near-death experience changed the course of this woman’s life
When I was child, my dream was to see a whale shark’s eye. I remember watching a Discovery programme about how their eyeballs had tiny teeth and that mesmerised me. But with adulthood came adult dreams — and responsibilities — and soon any mention of whale sharks or their eyes were long forgotten. I was like any other 20-something running in the race of life, with not even an inkling of what I was running towards.
Whenever you hear of bad things happening in the world, you never think they could also happen to you. I was no different, until Diwali 2020. I was lighting diyas around the house with my family when suddenly, my dupatta caught fire, and I was engulfed in flames in the blink of an eye. My back, thighs, legs… even the ends of my hair were burning. It took mere seconds, but I felt like I was outside my body watching it all happen in slow motion.
They rushed me to the hospital where the doctor told me I should be grateful to be alive. I hadn’t even processed what happened, but I was being told 25% of my body had been burnt, and I would have to be bedridden for my skin to heal. Within 10 seconds, my life had gone up in flames.
Looking back now, I’m almost grateful to God because that was the jolt my life needed. The accident and being immobilised afterwards hit pause on my life when I hadn’t even let lockdown and COVID do that. I couldn’t move for a month because if I did, my skin would break and the process would begin all over again. So for an entire month or so, I was left alone with my thoughts.
The pain used to be unbearable in the beginning, so much so it felt like I couldn’t breathe at times. So to escape the pain, I would spend my days reading up on psychological hacks. That was when humongous water bodies started appearing to me in my dreams, and I would be floating. It was strange because I had only seen the ocean once before in my life, but oddly, imagining myself close to water made me feel calm.
There’s a quote in the movie Frozen that says water has memory. That’s how my relationship with water and the ocean is. Whenever I would close my eyes, I felt like the ocean was calling to me. I didn’t talk about it with anyone, I only knew that there was a pull beyond my control. You may call it a sixth sense, intuition, or even divine intervention, but I felt like I had heard my true inner voice for the first time in my life. It was pushing me to the ocean. After a month when I had somewhat recovered, I booked a trip to the Maldives without second thought.
I’m of the firm belief that God gives us situations to heal the psychological flaws in our consciousness, and water was mine. But it didn’t come so naturally at first. When I first found myself staring at the ocean in Maldives, I was beyond petrified. I had planned to go snorkelling but my feet were trying to grow roots into the ground I stood on.
As I was frantically begging the instructors not to let go of me in the water, one of them chose tough love. That was exactly what I needed. The truth is, we are much more than what we think we are. I had survived a quarter of my body being burnt. This was like putting jam on bread in comparison.
Right at that moment, I decided I would come back. And that’s how my travel company began. I had found my purpose, and I wanted to help others find theirs too.
A couple of months after my first visit, I went to Maldives with 14 women who had booked a trip with me. The tour guides who took us snorkelling and scuba diving would go into the water without any equipment and it fascinated me. I, too, made plans to learn free diving, where you dive into the ocean without an oxygen tank. Once I started diving, I realised something amazing would happen every time I held my breath and went down. I would stop thinking. When you stop breathing, you are only in the present. These were the few minutes, or seconds sometimes, that I was not in my past nor thinking about the future — just focused on the present and my next breath. It was life-altering.
I used to have a school teacher who would say that under adverse circumstances, some people buy crutches while some grow wings. But I think I found a third option, and grew gills and fins instead.
This year, I finally fulfilled my childhood dream of seeing a whale shark’s eye. Although some people don’t have dreams like that, chances are they’re just not letting themselves see the dreams they do have. The ocean gave me the stillness I had first felt when I was bedridden.
It’s a very short life. Shorter than we think it is and we are not here permanently. So why do we take ourselves so seriously? We never let ourselves do the things we want to do. Like I hadn’t allowed myself to see my inner calling — my connection with the ocean because I was too busy running all the time.
It took a near-death experience for me to open this box that had grown mould from being locked away in the farthest corners of my mind. That is what I want to do for people. Give them a moment’s pause to just be.