How a disabled man became a reality show favourite, and found love along with fame

Although Shihaab didn’t win the reality show he participated – he won the attention of Shahaana Fathima, a young woman from Kottayam.
How a disabled man became a reality show favourite, and found love along with fame
How a disabled man became a reality show favourite, and found love along with fame
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Shahaana is the one who proposed to Shihaab. Despite being just 20 years old, she insisted that she would marry him – no matter what objections he brought up, no matter what the society would say. But when asked about her love story, Shahaana is reserved, and barely speaks a word or two.

“She’s just shy,” Shihaab says, picking up on her discomfort with the media attention. The 25-year-old from Kerala is well-known for his motivational talks – and also as a participant in the popular dance reality show, Ugram Ujjwalam, on Mazhavil Manorama channel.

And while the show brought him fame and goodwill from the people of the state – it also brought him something invaluable: Shahaana.

Shihaab’s struggles

Shihaabudeen was born with the Tetra-Amelia syndrome, a rare disorder due to which children are born without arms and legs.

“I was born with this condition. There were days when I used to sit at home and not do anything. There were days when I wished someone would take me out for a football match,” Shihaab tells TNM. “Uppa (father) used to take me around on his Luna on a seat designed specially for me.”

Born into a family of six siblings, Shihaab did not attend school until Class 8, and was taught informally at home by his siblings.  

“When I started school, I could sense a mutual helplessness. People were apprehensive about my condition and I was a loner,” Shihaab shares.

But all that changed when he was finishing Class 10 – when his teachers motivated him to go up on stage and give a speech during his farewell.

“My teachers pushed me on to the stage to share a few anecdotes. Surprisingly, words flowed, and by the end of the speech, I saw my classmates were moved to tears,” Shihaab recalls.

And since then, Shihaab has used his magical words to motivate students across Kerala, and even other parts of the country and abroad.

Using his experiences, narrating his struggles, Shihaab tells his young audience why it’s important to remain positive, and seize opportunities when they present themselves.

“I used to feel quite sad seeing all my siblings leading a normal life unlike me. One day I asked my mother, "When will I be able to walk like them?” To which my mother replied, “I am happy when I see my other children go to school and mingle with regular people. But I would be the happiest when I would see you, despite all odds, conquer the world.” That’s the day I decided to fight the world,” Shihaab says in one of his motivational videos addressing students.

Completing nearly 700 shows across India and abroad now, Shihaab is also a passionate violinist and painter. Recently, Shihaab had his fanboy moment after he presented Mammootty with the actor’s portrait at an award function. “It was a dream-come true moment,” says Shihaab, an ardent Mammootty fan.

From being a motivational speaker to a painter, dancer and violinist, Shihaab's accomplishments know no bounds.

Ugram Ujjwalam

But it was the dance reality show that made him a known face in every household in the state. Shihaab was a crowd favourite and went on to participate till the semi-finals of the show in 2015.

And although he didn’t win the contest – he won the attention of Shahaana Fathima, a young woman from Kottayam. Spellbound by his performance, Shahaana dropped him a congratulatory note on Facebook, Shihaab says. And a few months down the line, the two of them exchanged their phone numbers.

Cupid struck, and the couple first met at Thiruvananthapuram, where Shihaab was doing a show with magician Gopinath Muthukaad. And three years later, Shahaana insisted that they get married.

“Shahaana does not have siblings. Her parents, like anybody’s, had grand plans for their daughter’s future. But an adamant Shahaana would not flinch. Nothing would dissuade her. I had made clear my limitations and how unusual a couple we would be,” Shihaab says.

But Shahaana was determined and had no doubt in her mind that Shihaab was the person she wanted to marry.

Once they made up their minds, the couple decided to tie the knot quickly, without waiting for ‘the right moment’. Shihaab calls it the best decision he ever made. “I was disillusioned. But only after marriage did I realise how much Shahaana’s presence could boost my morale. She is now a constant companion at all my programs,” Shihaab says.

“If I had waited for the right moment to find a companion, I may have never found Shahaana,” he says.

While Shahaana plans to continue with her degree course, Shihaab, who completed his post-graduation from the Calicut university, aspires to pursue a PhD in literature. A plan earlier dropped, Shihaab is now more determined than ever with Shahaana on his side.

“People call me a champion-motivator. But if only they knew who the real champion is!” Shihaab says, even as Shahaana shies away.

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