Kavithai Satya, a young woman with cerebral palsy whose book of poems Nimirnthu Kondal was recently launched, explains how she finds solace in poetry

“She is my friend,” says Mala, with a close cut bob in a frayed frock, putting her hand proudly around an older girl in an oversized T-shirt and faded skirt, seated on the floor. In the enthusiasm to hear why she was summoned by Stephen anna, Satya has left behind her wheelchair and inched across the floor. “They want to interview you,” he tells her.

Hesitating for a minute, she agrees and tries to close the gap between the floor and the couch. Not an easy task for the young woman with cerebral palsy, for her stiff arms are only of a little more use than her legs that have lost all mobility. Stephen, the director of Baby Sarah home, which Satya now calls home, is on standby, ready to catch her if she should fall, but allows the girl to prop herself up, which she does till the last second, when she falters.

Poetry collection launched

For 22 years, Satya has led a wheelchair-bound existence. “All my life, I have had to depend on someone,” she says matter-of-factly, as she has to be wheeled around all the time. Unable to use her right hand, her left hand as been her salvation for, if there is one thing she has trained it to do, it is to write, and write well. Known as Kavithai Satya, her first collection of 125 poems, Nimirnthu Kondal, was released this week.

Explaining her choice of title, she simply says, “Kuninthu kondirunthavalai nimira vaithar,” roughly translating to “They made the hunched/ deformed woman stand tall.” Satya’s knowhow and philosophy are gleaned from the library of books donated to the home, for she dropped out of the Kathirkamam Government Higher Secondary School after Class VIII. Was it penury? “I lost my parents at a young age. All I had was my grandmother. Everyday, she would carry me to school and back,” Satya speaks slowly, her voice throbbing with emotion at the memory of her dead grandmother Adilakshmi. “But she was ageing and she could not do it any longer. So I stayed at home and tended to a petty shop.”

Even as a little girl, she remembers writing verses. “But I didn’t know it was poetry then,” she says, suddenly breaking into a smile. “I loved reading haikus in Tamil newspapers.” But it was only after moving to Baby Sarah Home following her grandmother’s demise that Satya’s desire to compose poems, grew stronger. “I found a new family with a mother, brother and sisters. The joy of these new-found relationships is also part of her poems.

Reading her poem En Kanneer, (My Tears), gives a glimpse of her struggle — of being scorned by kith and kin, living in poverty and having her dreams knocked down, just because she was not like everyone else. At the time of doubt and despair, her biggest inspiration arrived by way of a book gifted by Karthik, an erstwhile inmate — Oru Viralil Ulagai Jeyithavar by activist Malini Chib, a woman with cerebral palsy who beat the odds. “Reading it, I felt the protagonist’s struggles mirrored by own. Despite her disability, she made the world look at her,” Satya says resolutely, silently echoing a similar dream.

Writing builds confidence

“I write whenever I like, whenever I can, particularly whenever I’m down,” says Satya. “By writing, I feed myself the self-confidence and reassurance I need to go on.” It was a leadership programme by Trust for Youth and Child leadership (TYCL), a Puducherry-based organisation that inspired Satya to find a creative vent for her pent-up feelings and untold fears. Incidentally, it was TYCL that took the initiative to edit, raise funds and publish the book. But her poems are not all about pain and anguish, Satya reminds me. “Every word of encouragement I have received from the people I have met has culminated in a poem. It is a testimony to the difference that individuals and society can make by treating a differently-abled person with dignity.”

Satya, currently in charge of Sarah’s Arts and Crafts Centre that sells handmade paper stationery and cloth mats by special children, dreams of becoming a professional singer. Meanwhile, she would continue to write. “I actually trouble people to read my poems and tell me what I can do to better them. All I hope is that people like me will get the same reassurance I did, by reading these verses.”