Editor’s Note: Criplentine’s Day is a project by Revival Disability Magazine rooted in the belief that all kinds of love should be celebrated because love is a revolution. An accessible Valentine’s Day should be one that not only includes an able-bodied kind of love between two heteronormative lovers. As a part of the project, Revival Disability Magazine collaborates with Feminism In India to publish a series of articles on the theme. It will include a fairytale love story between a girl and her mobility aid, two queer, disabled lovers eating rainbow-coloured ice-cream and kissing each other with rainbow-coloured mouths, the love between two best friends who’ve created their own queer, disabled utopia by finding solace and belonging in each other in a new city, and more.
Posted by Kavya Mukhija
I have fond memories of me pedalling down the corridors of my 3 BHK House on my red tricycle. At 5, my tricycle was my feet; I used it to move around. No matter what time of the day it was, one could always see me gleefully rolling around on my little vehicle.
I remember delivering chapattis to my grandfather on my tricycle as he sat to eat dinner. My grandmother and mother would stack the piping hot loaves of bread on a plate and I would take them to the dining table. As a reward, I’d get a pat of blessing on my head. I had done something nice, it made me feel.
Fast forward to a couple of years, though I had grown up, my tricycle was still my best friend. One day as I was taking a round of my grandmother’s room, my father came up to me and said, “I have got something for you.” All sorts of fantasies started circling my head in loops that were visible only to the eyes of my mind.
Before I could weigh the possibilities of getting a new t-shirt over a bar of chocolate, Dad sat down on his knees and slid a pair of AFOs on my feet. My tinier-than-average feet that were only used to the coldness of the pedals now had a new home.
Though the pair of casts made walking a hundred times easier for me, I was reluctant to actually wear them, more so, to go out with them on. So I told him that it was uncomfortable to wear and wanted to take them off.
“I can’t even ride my cycle wearing these!” I cribbed. But there was no way out.
Given the kind of man my Dad is, he said, “You have only worn it for a few minutes. Your feet will adjust with time,” and walked out of the room.
More than feeling uncomfortable, I was scared to “look more disabled”. My shoes, up till then, were not something that attracted unusual attention. But now I was sure that I would stand out from the crowd.
As I began wearing AFOs to school, I felt confident about having their back while walking. However, at the same time, it made me feel different for the universe of questions that found their way to me, waiting to be answered.
“What is it that you are wearing on your legs?”
“Is it a plaster?”
“Are your feet made of plastic?”
“Does it pain wearing them?”
“Why are you wearing these special shoes?”
For a six-year-old, questions like these send us further away from accepting our disabled bodies. Though I knew the ‘what(s)’ and ‘why(s)’ of my AFOs, I didn’t know what to answer—I was not different in my eyes because it is the way I have always been. So I took the easier route and smiled.
At nine, I was diagnosed with scoliosis—another blow to my already fragile sense of self. My spine was curving and as a result, my posture was tilting. Just when I wanted to fit in, the world was conspiring to make me stand out. I didn’t like the way my body was moulding which is why I refused to look at myself in the mirror. It made me feel ugly. My appearance did not fit in the conventional standards of ‘beauty’.
Growing up I was a super enthusiastic girl. It was as if instead of blood, enthusiasm ran in my veins. I loved hobbies and petted many of them. Drawing, painting, singing, you name it and I was enrolled in a hobby class.
In grade 7, my mother enrolled me in Shiamak Davar’s winter funk. I was about to learn dancing! Every evening, she would ready me with my favourite red and white striped headband and we’d take off for the adventure that awaited!
Also read: ‘My Schooling System Failed Me’—A Disabled Person’s Angry Vent
Once while we were leaving home, my grandfather, who did not know I was learning dancing, asked where we were heading to. Mom told him that every evening I went to dance classes. Perplexed and caught up in a web of his own stringent conditioning, he chuckled and asked, “Ye kaise dance karti hogi?” (How would she dance?) “Yeh wheelchair pe baith ke dance karti hai,” replied my mother. (She dances sitting on her wheelchair). My mother had clearly found a way to answer such questions, I was still learning.
My grandfather went on to suggest how it was useless for me to learn dance and that I should instead do something “worthwhile”.
Nevertheless, I went on to complete the winter funk and gave a breathtaking stage performance on the final day! Interestingly, my co-dancers and instructor were way more sensitive and made sure that I was “included” in the performance and not merely reduced to a disabled dancer garnering a hearty share of sympathetic praises. They even adapted the dance steps so that I could do them comfortably!
An experience which began with me questioning if dancing was something I should have gone forth with, ended with a stronger than ever self-belief that what I want to do is completely up to me. The society is programmed to find glitches in everything so why not get mocked while doing what I love? More importantly, learning dance unravelled another hobby I could hone.
Early into college, while I was in the library searching for a book with a friend, a fellow student whom I had never met before, came up to me and asked, “Aapko bahut problem hoti hogi na?” (You must face a lot of problems, right?) Their words dripped with sympathy and echoed the assumption that disability is problematic.
Growing up in an able-bodied world that had set roles, expectations, and notions of an individual, I found it hard to find a home in my body; to come back to my body at the end of the day and give a tight hug for everything that it had endured. To embrace my introversion and not feel unlike me in something that actually made me ‘me’!
Also read: Taking Up Space: As A Disabled Woman In Academia
Today, I am in love with my skin; with my disability without judgements, terms and conditions; with my curving, dancing spine; with my squishy fingers (that I have come to realise look beautiful when they’re painted!), and especially with my wheelchair that is this queen’s 24×7 throne!
True to her name, Kavya is poetry in making. She is a writer who braids her disability into poetry and short stories. Passionate about disability rights, Kavya finds humour to be a useful tool in imparting awareness about disability. Kavya also loves to travel, taste new cuisines, and make calligraphy artworks. She is currently pursuing her masters in Applied Psychology from the University of Delhi. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook.
Featured Image Source: Alia Sinha