Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Smiling Through Life

It is a blessing to be born without any deformities, with all organs intact. Not all who are born in the world are endowed with the same faculties - some are born differently abled. There are people who moan and grumble about it, cursing their fate and leading a life of abject misery; there are others who accept their condition, challenge their fate and take it head on, smiling their way through, and leading a near-normal life. Lekshmi G, Senior Translator in Hindi Section, VSSC, is one person who emphatically belongs to the second group. Born with a condition known as Cerebral Palsy (CP), she has been struggling throughout her life; nevertheless, she remains amazingly positive and is always pleasant. Team Voyage caught up with her for a chat on a scorching afternoon in Trivandrum. Her enthusiasm and determination shone through the entire conversation. Excerpts for the readers…
About your parents and childhood……
A native of Changanacherry, I was a premature baby born through a normal delivery. When I was born, I didn’t cry like all babies do. Probably, this damaged my brain cells, leading to my condition. As months passed by, my parents noticed that, though I talked a lot, I showed no inclination to move about like babies of my age. Although I attended a nursery school and a ‘nilathezhuthukalari’ to learn the alphabet, my parents were initially hesitant to enroll me in first standard, worried that I may not be able to adjust to school life and also expecting that my condition will improve with time. Around this time, my father who worked as a college teacher, got a transfer to Trivandrum, and we moved here. My mother is a home maker. By the time I turned 8, I observed and realised that other kids my age were attending regular school. Thus began the battle to join school and study. Finally, my parents accepted my decision and I was admitted in 4th standard in Holy Cross School at Muttada. That was the first turning point in my life..
The complete lack of a formal education till then posed several difficulties when I commenced my school life. I persevered with determination, and by the end of the school year, was on par with my classmates. I joined the St.Mary’s school at Pattom in my 5th standard and my academic life improved; the teachers, staff and students there were extremely receptive and sensitive to my needs. In between, we moved to Vazhoor in Kottayam, but the undulating terrain and absence of any facility for the physically handicapped made it impossible for me to adapt to the surroundings. So, we moved back first to Changanacherry and then to the capital city, and I continued my education at the same school. I completed my SSLC with flying colours, securing 508 marks out of 600. I did my pre-degree from M.G College in Humanities, achieving first class - an honour achieved in Third group by the college in 15 years. My graduation and post-graduation in Hindi were also from the same college. Thereafter, I undertook a diploma course in translation under the tutelage of Parameshwaran sir in Puthen Street. Throughout my school and college life, my teachers and friends were extremely supportive. Often, they understood my needs and offered assistance without my asking for it.
Getting into VSSC, work, colleagues……
At around the same time that I wound up my formal education, there appeared this employment notification for physically handicapped candidates for the post of Hindi translators in VSSC. I attended the interview on Dec 5, 2000, along with 8 others. My hopes dimmed when I perceived that all the others appeared physically better than me. However, I performed well in the test and interview, and a few days later, got a note through an acquaintance that I had been recruited. There was a minor confusion at that time as the authorities couldn’t mail me the offer letter due to an ongoing postal strike (she smiles at the reminiscence), but it was soon resolved and finally, I joined VSSC on April 26, 2001. During the early days, commuting to the campus and walking to my office from the gate was an arduous task; I would be exhausted and breathless by the time I reached my seat. To overcome this, my father, then in his late 50s, learned to drive a car. We bought a second hand one and procured permission to take it inside VSSC.
Our work primarily involves the translation of office orders, circulars, name plates, seals, tenders, advertisements etc. from English to Hindi and vice versa. Though I have no formal training, my typing is swift, and I have an excellent grasp of letters, pronunciation and the language, besides a good memory. Most of my colleagues are ladies and are very supportive. Actually we support each other. They help me in moving around when needed and carry my heavy bag when I climb the stairs; in turn, I always try to be a good friend to them in every manner. Now, I have countless friends in office. Getting this job was the second milestone in my life..
Difficulties encountered at various stages in life due to your condition and how you have surmounted them……
People with CP struggle with some things that others take for granted – for instance, it is very difficult for me to draw anything or put a thread through a needle, ascend stairs or adjust quickly to a new room/ terrain. But it is also possible to improve/master many of these with physiotherapy and regular practice. Thus, I learned to board an Innova car with continued practice. When I joined VSSC, there was no European toilet in our building, and I was terrified to use the Indian toilet due to my lack of proper balance. I spent a month without visiting the toilet in office. Later, I overcame my fear and started using it. After a year, when I returned from a surgery for my legs, my then Head took the initiative to construct a European toilet, and he got it done quickly, thus doing me a great favour.
There have been instances at different phases in my life when people have mocked me or passed comments behind my back – every time, I have been bold and given them a strong retort. Once, while writing a Maths exam in 4th standard, I was doing my sums and rough work all over my answer sheet, reflecting my lack of formal studies. A boy sitting behind me noticed this, and began making fun of me. I gathered up courage and told him, ”What or how I write in my answer paper is no concern of yours. I am not writing in your answer sheet.” That silenced him (she chuckles). That courage has only kept on growing and my ability to speak up when required has stood me in good stead.
About your family……
The acquaintance with my husband, Shri.Sheeju Chandran, was established through my present Head, Shri.Somji. Through our conversations, we discovered that we shared similar interests and ideas. Our wedding in 2006 was the third highlight in my life. The happiest moment in my life was when my daughter, Rajasri was born in 2007. My family has been a wonderful source of support and encouragement. It was my daughter who trained me to climb down stairs with repeated trials and unlimited patience. The snide comments from some people during my marriage and child birth caused me more pain than the excruciating physical pain that I endured during the plastering and wedging after a surgery to my leg.  But I am incredibly fortunate. My daughter, despite comprehending that her mother is a little different from other mothers, has never had any problems or resentment about it. She takes care of me lovingly when we go out shopping or travelling.
Your hobbies/ interests and travels……..
I enjoy reading hugely, especially Malayalam literature. I used to actively write poems during my school and college days. In fact, I often get technical and non-technical material for translation to Malayalam in office. I also listen to music, watch movies and spend time in whatsapp. Inspired by my daughter, I had the opportunity to meet and talk to my favourite singer, Shri.P.Jayachandran, when he was in Chandrasekharan Nair Stadium for a programme. I have participated and won prizes in elocution, poetry writing and quiz competitions while in school and college.
In the last few years, I have been on some tours too with my family. I visited the Guruvayoor temple for the first time in 2012; it was a long-cherished desire of mine. We have also travelled to Kanyakumari, Hyderabad and recently, to Singapore.

As we prepare to wrap up, Smt.Lekshmi continues her bubbly chatter, enquiring about my colleague whom she was meeting for the first time. This iron lady, who is an epitome of fortitude and optimism, has never let her disability hinder her from pursuing her goals or following her heart. She took the initiative for publicising and selling the umbrellas made by a paralysed lady,  helped by ARPAN, a group of ISRO employees engaged in philanthropic activities, in our office. Her friendly demeanour, willingness to help, self-confidence and positive attitude in life endear her to all those who meet her, expanding the circle of her friends and admirers. Team Voyage salutes this heroine, a glowing light in our midst.

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