Varun Khullar, 26, is India’s first, and world’s second, differently-abled DJ. In a conversation with Guardian 20, this Delhi-based DJ gets candid about his professional journey, the challenges he has faced so far and the lack of accessible spaces in India.

Q. Could you begin by telling us about the unfortunate accident you faced in 2014?

A. June 7, 2014 brought a new beginning in my life and I realise it today that whatever happens, happens for good. I met with a major accident while travelling to Manali and was declared an SCI (Spinal Cord Injury) patient during treatment, which means that I was paralysed below the level of injury. 

However, not even for a second did I have any negative thoughts. And so things started becoming easy for me. But yes, I was confined within the four walls for more than two years. It was depressing at times but I did try to turn the confinement into my strength by following my passion—DJ-ing.

Q. So how did DJ-ing happen? How long have you been in the profession?

A. I always wanted to become a producer and DJ before my injury but was never able to make it a profession because of all sorts of pressures. But I have been passionate about it since a long time. So after my injury I never thought about how I will complete my master’s in journalism but the thought of how I will pursue DJ-ing haunted me. 

I have been learning music production for the past three years and recently completed a DJ course from the ILM academy. But even before joining a professional course I was reading books, watching YouTube. I tried to get hold of whatever source of information I could. And in no time the four walls, my laptop and my headphones became my most trusted friends.

Q. What was the initial set of challenges?

A. The first challenge was to get back to a regular way of living. And I started becoming independent. It was only after I regained my independence that I figured out a way to follow my “dream.”

Q. How supportive were your family members when you first discussed with them your future plans?

A. They were a bit skeptical, because of the conventional mindset. To live in India with a disability is a difficult task. People don’t accept you and it’s not only difficult for the person with the injury but also for the family. But thanks to everyone from my family, despite having a liltle doubt they continued to support me. They always believed in me and in my talent.

Q. Did you have any apprehensions before setting out on a DJ-ing career?

A. Never. I always believed that I can do it and nothing can stop me, not even my injury. And slowly my dream started to shape into reality.  Learning music was the primary reason I never felt that I am paralysed. So I never had a doubt… You have to find good in any kind of a situation and everything starts falling into place.

Q. You are India’s first differently-abled DJ, how does that feel?

A. I feel good. I want to say out to everyone who is special that you can find hundred reasons to not do something, but find one reason to do it and you will definitely find a way.

Q. What keeps you motivated?

A. You can always make your idols a source of inspiration, which in my case is Sir Paul Johnson. He always made me believe that if he can do it then even I can. He is world’s first DJ on a wheelchair. But at the end of the day you have to find motivation within yourself. So make every single day an inspiring one.  

Q. How is it like to be differently-abled person in a country like India?

A. It’s very difficult because of a lack of accessible spaces. In a city like Delhi, even some of the high-end properties are not disability-friendly. But on the brighter side there are properties by some groups that are accessible and welcoming. Another big issue is that of transportation. It is almost impossible for a special person to use public transport.

Through this medium, I just want to put out a message for everyone and the authorities that people like us should be given equal rights like everyone. We deserve to have inclusive spaces.

Q. Have you sensed any biases or prejudices from people when you go out to seek work? 

A. I proudly say that I did the same hard work like anyone and even faced a lot of awkward situations including some failures. Worse happens when people start sympathising with you. Society is not welcoming for disabled people. Uncomfortable gazes and rude comments are my everyday reality too.

Q. Where have you performed till now?

A. I have as of yet got an opportunity to perform at Kitty Su, Greeshm Utsav and Social Spaces. And I am sure many more gigs are on my way.  

Q. Would you like to give out a message to differently-abled people?

A. I would like to say something that I personally believe in. We are no different and if you are good at something never give up on that. Society is not accepting us because we are not accepting ourselves.

Accept yourself and your condition and life is going to be way easier.

Q. Finally, could you talk about your future aspirations and goals?

A. As far as my professional goals are concerned I really want to be a part of festivals like Magnetic Fields, Tomorrow Land, UMF and Supersonic among others.

I am also working on my productions and will start releasing my music soon. And please evaluate me on my work not on my disability so that I can attain my goals.