Published author. Poet. Dancer. Motivational speaker. Born with Cerebral Palsy, where the body refuses to obey the brain, young Vinayana has proved that disability is not her identity.
Her literary works, including her book, titled ‘Vinayana’s World: A Story Untold…’, makes one look at life through her eyes, the eyes of a disabled woman. Unable to write through a pen, she uses a phone or a laptop to pursue her passion for writing. A writer without a pen, indeed.
She has been speaking and writing on various platforms regarding the issues of disability, accessibility and inclusiveness. Not stopping here, she has also raised her voice about the right of disabled to desire love.
“Lack of oxygen at birth resulted in a permanent movement disorder for me, scientifically known as Cerebral Palsy. It limits me, but cannot stop me,” she asserts.
Hailing from Delhi, 25-year-old Vinayana Khurana did not let disability hold her back from anything she aspired. She has a master’s degree in English Literature from Delhi University and recently, she cleared her National Eligibility Test (NET).
She describes her condition in layman’s terms, “When I was growing up, it was not uncommon for me to not be able to move some of my body parts. My brain, which controls senses and muscle reflexes, does not function properly. My movements are shaky and body posture irregular. My speech is distorted and writing seems difficult. I can fall anytime while walking.”
How did your family react to the news of their newborn child being diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy?
At first, obviously, my family was shocked. I was the first child of my parents. It was really hard for them to come to terms with the fact that they have a child with a disability. They wanted to try any possible cure and treatment for me. With time, they have accepted that it is my body that is disabled, not my mind.
“Till date, my mother assists me in my chores. I can manage only some of my activities. My mother says she wants me to focus on improving my skills, and leave these little things to her,” a grateful daughter mentions.
How was it to be a student, in School and College, with a disability?
After undergoing physiotherapy and speech therapy in the early years of my life, I was ready to join a school. I am fortunate enough to have studied in an inclusive school, St Mary’s, which helped me to acquire a strong personality. My teachers, my friends never made me feel left out. We laughed, cried and walked together, hand in hand. For my further studies, I went to Vivekanand College, Delhi University. Without denying that there were people who discriminated against me, my school and college life was the best time of my life.
There are moments when people keep you under some sort of surveillance, show sympathy – real or fake, and you feel a mix of anger, embarrassment and defiance.
When you are on a wheelchair, you are bound to get stares, comments, and a lot of free advices and sympathies. Take her there, in so and so place, and to so and so person. If you take all of it into head, it will surely drive you mad and belittle the belief you have in yourself. I do feel angry sometimes, when people throw their sympathetic look on me and my parents. My parents look them in the eye, and make it known that they are proud of me.
Is there any event that has made a mark in your life? Please share it with us.
Yes sure. I think depression and my journey to overcome it, is one life-changing event in my story.
Cerebral Palsy was not affecting my health in any way, until I lost my grandfather in 2008. I was in Class 8th then. I loved him very much and I couldn’t believe that he’s gone!
This incident had shaken me to the core. My health kept degrading day by day, so much so that, I was not even able to walk to the bathroom myself. My legs were in pain. At that time, I needed greater physical support from my mother for my daily activities. We visited a number of doctors, but none of them could find out why this pain persisted.
This chirpy little girl was now bound to a wheelchair and her home. I could hardly meet and interact with people, especially my friends. Oftentimes, I used to wait for angels to take me to the heavenly abode. It was a year of upheaval in my life.
The problem was more psychological than physical. I was drowning into depression. Depression is now a normally used word for sadness, undermining its devilish powers. It has the potential to suck you deeper into its claws.
Resultantly, my studies started to suffer. My school approved of me taking exams from home. I used to mail my answers to teachers.
This was the time when I started writing poems, which turned out to be a healer. It gave me the strength to fight against my illness from a whole new perspective. My initial poetry is about pain and suffering that I was going through. Poetry gave me a new passion for my life.
Today, people look at me and say that have always seen me smiling. “You must have never felt sadness,” they say. I just smile at them.
Vinayana as a dancer – Please tell us about this side of your life.
Dance is happiness to me. When I dance, it feels as if I am not physically challenged anymore. I have attempted many dance forms and types, from Indian classical to western. The contemporary style of dancing suits me the best. It has some power to bring happiness in my life.
It was at Action for Ability Development and Inclusion (AADI) that I got the first opportunity to showcase my dancing talent. My mother and an aunt had come to watch me perform for the first time on a stage. I still remember how the crowd cheered my name when I danced on the song ‘Radha kaise na jale’. I had practised hard for it. I felt elated to see everyone clap for me, praise me.
I would enjoy my dance classes at school too. I used to stand against a wall for support, and learn Kathak and Kuchipudi, where facial expressions are the main focus.
It goes back to 2008, when doctors asked me to stop dancing. I couldn’t walk a few steps, let alone dancing. I wanted to throw away the music system my father had bought. It was now useless for me.
Also, I became shy to throw my hands here and there. I began to believe that my talent is disappearing. Luckily, I got it back when I and my cousins danced at one of my aunt’s wedding. Later, I went on to win the first prize at an inter-college talent hunt competition for special students, hosted by my college. The song was ‘Abhi mujhme kahin’.
Calling oneself, a Proud Disabled, is a novel trend that has started. How did you become a Proud Disabled?
During the early years of childhood, I used to believe that when I get older, I will get rid of my physical disability. Gradually, I began to realize that I am spoiling my today’s life for so-called ‘normal’ tomorrow. Why waste a single moment of my life? Pillars of my life– my parents were always by my side. They apprised and educated my younger brother about my disability. They made me feel confident about myself. This is how my family accepted me the way I am, and I accepted myself.
Now, I share my story with people to sensitize them regarding disability and to make them feel empowered. My latest poem, ‘A proud dis-abled’ ends with the words – “I’m a proud Dis-abled, because I don’t Dis- my Abilities”.
Being a disabled woman is like fighting a battle on many fronts. What is your take on this?
Yes, it is not easy to be a disabled woman. Right from difficulties in dealing with unavoidable menstruation, to seek inclusive spaces, fighting stereotypes, and to finding a guy, the battle is petrifying.
How do you see India faring in accessibility facilities and inclusiveness? What suggestions do you have to better the situation?
Ignorance and lack of accessible infrastructure increase the daily travails of people with disabilities, while also obstructing their overall inclusion in India. However, India is considerably improving. The accessibility facilities and inclusiveness have to go to the roots. People must become sensitive enough to our needs. Is it too much to ask?
Signing off with beautiful verses from her poem ‘I change perspective’
But it has to change now,
People have to change now,
I have to change that now,
I’m a dependent body,
With an independent soul,
I’ll go wherever I wish to go,
My body cannot restrict me,
I will go as far as my verses can take me…..