Many congratulations on a historic medal at the Paralympics. You became India’s first sportswoman to win a Paralympics medal, you must be thrilled.Deepa Malik: Thank you so much in fact I should be thanking the media for celebrating Paralympics & para-sports. I am both happy and sad that I am the 1st Indian sportswoman to bag a medal at the Paralympics. I am happy that I opened the account for India and hopefully now others will realise that our physically-challenged sportswomen can also win medals at the big stage. I am disappointed because Paralympics are being held since 1968, so why such a long time for our first sportswoman to win a medal at the Games. So I think we will have to ensure that there is not such a long wait again for another medal. For this I urge our athletes and countrymen to come forward and encourage our sportswomen, provide infrastructure and give them an opportunity so that more of them can come forward. (Also read: My handicap is my strength, Paralympic medallist Deepa Malik tells India Today) So you won a historic medal for India, you returned early on Saturday morning, how was your reception at the airport?Deepa: It was so overwhelming, it was heart warming but at the same time it was a pleasant surprise and it was amazing to see how my nation, my countrymen, how my friends, family, bikers, army, Paralympics committee of India, Ministry and my minister from Haryana Anil Vij was also there in person, but the most touching and heart warming part was that my entire village, in fact there were so many of them all the way from Bhainswal Sonipat that they were not even permitted inside, so it was huge (the reception). For your parents to see you achieve and receive this kind of warmth from everyone is great. Everyone wanted to hold that medal and I could clearly see it in their eyes that it was not mine, it was the country’s medal. To tell you the truth I did not feel that I was a Paralympian, I felt like a big actress or a cricketer (laughs). Was it a realistic target for you to win a medal, after all you had been winning consistently at the international stage? advertisementDeepa: Every sportsperson has that big dream of being on the Olympic level podium. Somehow Paralympics, that is what we call our level Olympics, has been slipping away. I was so close going to Beijing and it did not happen, for London 2012 I was sure shot that I was going to go but due to lack of quota allocation for women it slipped away. So I had decided that the third time I will not let it go. (Also read: I want to use this silver to support disabled Indian women: Deepa Malik) Milkha Singh has come out and said that Paralympians should be treated on par with able bodied athletes not just in terms of money but in terms of awards as well. Olympic medallists directly qualify for the Khel Ratna award, what is your view on that?Deepa: I have done my duty by winning a medal and I have brought it to my nation. To my understanding all the policies are at par. We were trained under the Target Olympic Podium scheme exactly the way able-bodied were trained, we were funded, even our outfits and costumes were the same, the venue is the same so I am very sure we will get the same treatment as far as the awards are concerned too. Your father told us an incident when you had told him that your disability is nothing more than his. You told him that he wears spectacles as he has weak eyes and you use a wheelchair as you have weak legs.Deepa: I think it is just the way we take it because most of the time there is so much melodrama and social taboo and stereotypical reactions. When I was paralysed it felt like everybody had to come and give an attendance the way you come either in a wedding or in a funeral and it was definitely not a wedding. But come on, my legs had died not my soul nor my passion or the person I was. I think my life clearly teaches that it is all about mind over body. Once you were paralysed, how did you decide to take up sports after that?Deepa: 1999 was when I was actually relegated to the wheelchair or wheelchair bound, but I call wheelchair liberated. I was not the one to be tied down to any disability as such. My major aim was that I have to let the people know that it is okay to be on a wheelchair and we as a family are pretty okay with it. Then I realised that somehow people were not convinced that we could be happy or that I was not sad at being paralysed specially because the hospital I was admitted in was full of war heroes from the Kargil war and my husband himself was at the war. So there was no way that I was going to complain because there were these bunch of soldiers who were coming helicopter after helicopter injured, with an arm or a limb gone or their eyes blown off or a bullet in their spine. They were not complaining and the reason behind my paralysis was illness so I had no business to complain and I had to explain it to people that I am fine. I decided to take up hydro-therapy and that took me to swimming and then swimming in competitions as I learnt at the age of 36 that there are competitions for us. So I became a swimmer and then learnt after that that I am better at athletics so I shifted gears in 2009. You will be surprised that in 2009, at the age of 39, I first held the javelin and the shot-put in my hand and in 2012 I was picking up the Arjuna Award so it has been a very rewarding journey. (Also read: Exclusive: Deepa Malik elated after winning Silver at Rio Paralympics) So swimming done, driving done (Raid de Himalaya), riding done, you have four World records to your name, so what’s next?advertisementDeepa: I think the major aim is turning this Silver into Gold. Kyonki baby to Gold pasand hai (laughs) How was your experience over there in Rio?Deepa: It was fantastic in fact I was surprised. There are two games which I have attended which had a very negative hype around them but actually when you were there you realise it was such a beautiful experience. The Commonwealth Games in India were infected with every negativity that could be possible, but as far as the competition ground or the village was concerned it was beautiful. Similarly whatever was the confusion around the Rio Olympics or the Paralympics for example the mosquitoes, the Zika virus and the food, and when it came to Paralympics there was huge row over funds and there was a point when it could have gotten cancelled; but no, we did not find any dearth in anything. The food was amazing, the living conditions were great, the accommodation was beautiful, transportation was there, and competition was amazing so I had a fantastic experience. In fact this time I have no complaints from the Ministry or the government who extended all help to us.Any message to your fellow countrymen?advertisementDeepa: Thank you for appreciating and celebrating and a huge appeal to the whole nation that don’t just forget it in a day or two. Paralympics is a movement which is just in its infancy; you are yet to see the medals that we guys can get. So please cheer, encourage and watch and be a part of the Paralympics.