Malini Chib's autobiography “One Little Finger” is about the million possibilities that one with cerebral palsy can do
We read books, some for their impressive talking, some others for a gripping storyline, and then some more to keep the light of hope shining on life. Malini Chib's autobiography “One Little Finger” — published in New Delhi by Sage on World Disability Day, is of the third kind, heaving with silent optimism, showing her reader the way to light even when all in front of you may be a long dark alley.
Mumbai-based Malini has been living with cerebral palsy for 44 years. In about 50,000 words spread over 200 pages, she marks this trajectory, with the help of just her little finger (That is why the title of the book). It records life lessons, milestones reached, memories of basking in familial love, looking out for friends and often failing at it, and so also break-and-build of serious relationships, particularly her parents' divorce and their remarriage.
Days of ignorance
In late '60s Calcutta, where she was born, cerebral palsy — like in other parts of India — was nearly an unheard of condition, ‘a disease with no treatment'. Sensing the helplessness of the doctors, Malini's parents Mithu Alur and Ranjit Chib, took their firstborn to England. Recalls Mithu, “She was missing her milestones, was not moving her hands and limbs like other babies, used to get startled easily and cried a lot. On finding out her condition, I had to be counselled, the concept of a handicap was new to me.”
She then adds, “Ranjit was more resolute and hopeful, he quit a good job with the Tatas, it was a big decision for him. And we decided to shift to London and stayed with my sister and brother-in-law there so that Malini would get better treatment. My brother-in-law, being a doctor, understood her condition better.” With parents and grandparents, cousins and her brother providing their much-needed cushion of unconditional love to Malini, and backed by a school and an adopted society that believed that she can, Malini bloomed.
“I never felt lonely while growing up,” says Malini. At the event to launch her book in New Delhi, one traces the fruit of this successful exercise, which goaded her to step out of the limiting role that the society otherwise would have cut out for someone who needs an interpreter to communicate with people and a wheelchair for her mobility. Thanks to her family's decision to stretch the meaning of what is ‘ normal', Malini today stands as a role model for others with cerebral palsy. The family too is an example of how near ones can help a person with disabilities break stereotypes.
Armed with a degree in Women's Studies from London University and Library Sciences and Information Management from the London Metropolitan University, Malini is a senior events manager at Oxford Bookstore, Mumbai. Proud of her job, she says, “When I went to England for three months to finish writing my book, there was a slump in profits, so I guess I was doing a good job.” Her mother adds with a smile, “She earns a princely sum of Rs.20,000 per month.”
Malini is also the founder and co-chairperson of ADAPT (Able Disabled All People Together). ADAPT is a progression from Spastic Society of India, which Mithu found after returning from England. Mithu recalls, “On coming back to Mumbai, I was appalled to see that the condition here has remained the same. There was no school for Malini to attend, the doctors had no clue about cerebral palsy, the nurses were rude. I decided to start a school which understands such children.” One thing led to another and Spastic Society of India began to spread out of Mumbai to other parts of the country. Mithu now says, “There is definitely a change of attitude but a lot has to happen still.”
Malini's book addresses this societal attitude well. It highlights that everyone is actually interdependent. It dawned on her particularly at the University of Berkeley. “The disabled people there argued that nobody is completely independent. For instance, a normal person would need a carpenter, a plumber or an electrician, perhaps. The disabled too, are dependent on getting help to enable independent living so that they can function more efficiently,” she writes in the book.
She also writes about her loneliness at Xavier's College in Mumbai while pursuing her B.A. “I felt lonely. My peers were getting on with their lives, had no time for me, hardly anybody understood me,” says Malini. At this point, Mithu asks her daughter, “Now that you are independent, do you want to stay separately?” Malini replies, “I would be lonely again without family.”
“One Little Finger” is perhaps the first book written in India by a person with cerebral palsy.
If not for technology, Malini might not have been an author today. She could type her book with just one finger.
Malini's editor for the book was Rekha Natarajan from Sage. Malini says, “A lot of credit goes to her for trying to establish a channel of communication with me. We were constantly in touch through e-mail.”