When Varun Khullar came round after a near fatal car crash to be told he would never walk again, he decided to fight back and found a new lease of life through music. Yasa Iqbal has more
Laying down the grooves at New Delhi nightspot Kitty Su is DJ Aamish, who relays his passion for music to the crowds thronging the dance floor.
For the club-goers throwing shapes, it’s the tunes that really matter.
But if they take a closer look into the DJ booth at the Delhi club, they are frequently rather surprised – the man spinning the tunes is sitting in a wheelchair.
He is 26-year-old Varun Khullar, India’s first differently-abled DJ, and only the second such person in the world, following US-based house producer and presenter Paul Johnson.
‘I can’t dance but I make the world dance by spinning the turntable wheels,’ said Khullar.
Never walk again
‘In June 2014, I became paralysed from the waist down after a car accident. I was on a road trip with my friends, when my car suddenly went off a hill, and was crushed from one side. My friends suffered various injuries, I barely escaped death.’
Unconscious for three days, he woke to the news that he would never walk again.
He said: ‘I was declared an SCI [spinal cord injury] patient. I was in denial, but then my mother started crying and I couldn’t see her shattered like that.
‘In that moment, I suddenly felt this wave of determination in my body, and I told my mother, “Everything is fine. I am fine”. The memory is still fresh in my mind, like a wound that’ll never heal.’
For two years Khullar’s horizons were limited to the walls of his home with the monotony only broken by trips to physiotherapy sessions.
But it was then that music became his only release – and also gave him an idea of what the future might look like.
From college to post graduation days Khullar had spun records for friends at parties, and he had always wanted to take his hobby to a higher level.
He said: ‘While doing my masters in mass communication, I decided to take up DJing. I joined a DJ school in south Delhi, called Sounds of Soul,’
And, after the accident, while stuck at home, Khullar held on to his dream.
‘I used to spend my time reading and researching how to be a DJ,’ he explained.
‘With time, as I got better, I slowly started to socialise. I was looking for institutes to join, to resume my DJ training. In the beginning, some of them rejected me because of my condition, while some institute buildings were not accessible to people in wheelchairs. After a while, I finally got accepted in ILM Academy, Gurgaon, and went there for three months.’
Now resident DJ at Kitty Su, which is part of The Lalit Hotel in Connaught Place, New Delhi, Khullar said: ‘I didn’t want to be hired because I am in a wheelchair. I wanted to be hired because I was talented enough. These are the best nights of my life.
‘I am appreciated not because I am on a wheelchair, but because I play the best music. This is just the beginning. I want to play it for even larger crowds. People should recognise me for my music and nothing else.’
Keshav Suri, executive director at Lalit added: ‘I believe in equal opportunities for all. I want to change the perception of people towards [how people with a disability are treated in] India. Varun is talented, passionate and hardworking and I am glad he is a part of the Kitty Su team.’
Khullar is set to open Time Out 72 music festival in Goa – a multi-genre music festival from December 27th to 29th that will have International artists such as Wiz Khalifa and Martin Garrix.