If your life were a movie, what would the title be? For Rajeev “Raj” Nirmalakhandan, the answer is simple: I’m Screwed.
Now, Raj’s answer is clearly tongue-in-cheek. In the little time he’s spent on Earth, he has managed to accomplish more than most could dream of. However, getting to where he is today was anything but easy.
Raj’s Childhood and the “Head-Scratchers”
Born in Sri Lanka—an island country located off the coast of India—Raj’s childhood was not what you’d call idyllic. Growing up, he had a multitude of “head-scratchers,” aka health issues that no doctor could quite get to the bottom of. Additionally, growing political tension in his native country forced his family to move to America in search of sanctuary. His life was an uphill battle from the beginning.
In the US, he was eventually diagnosed with a condition known as Syringomyelia. This is a rare disorder in which fluid-filled cysts form within your spinal cord. Over time, these cysts compress and damage parts of the spine. Its symptoms are chronic pain, stiffness, and weakness in the back, shoulders, arms, and legs.
Raj Shows Resilience
By the time he was in his late teens, Raj had experienced more hurdles than most will in a lifetime. However, these events were only the start of his journey. He soon had his first spinal surgery, which left him in excruciating amounts of pain. Around the same time, he was graduating from high school and applying to his dream college, UCLA.
He tells us that when writing his application letter, he would have to write for five minutes at a time because, after his first surgery, the pain from sitting was so excruciating that he had to lie down for relief. Despite the agonizing writing process, his application was completed. He was accepted into UCLA.
Raj Becomes a Filmmaker
From an early age, Raj was passionate about creating art. So when he began his college education, his natural inclination for creativity led him to UCLA’s world-renowned fine-arts program, studying filmmaking specifically. While in school (and after graduation), Raj continued to undergo painful surgeries that led to him having to re-learn how to walk.
Clearly, Raj has not let his pain get in the way of his accomplishing his goals, as he is now a renowned filmmaker. His resume includes directing The Odd Way Home, a feature film that scored an Audience Choice Award at the Albuquerque Film Festival. He also has a dozen other credits for various short films and documentaries. On top of all this, he is a husband and father.
Raj on Heroism
Considering all that Raj has been through, he no doubt has a few things to say on the meaning of heroism. So we asked him the simple question, “What does it mean to be a hero?”
“I think that even the smallest positive impact that we can have on other people’s lives can make us heroes,” he tells us. “Because they may be very small for us, but that small thing could be huge for the person you do it for. It could be even just listening to someone. It could be a kind word or kind gesture that to that person can mean so much more.”
We agree with Raj’s point-of-view. Heroes act in the best interest of others, not just themselves. While our culture propagates the notion that heroes must perform extraordinary actions, this is not always the case. Heroic actions can be as simple as making others feel better about themselves.