The strength within us
Reviewed by Jayanti Roy

Gifted: Inspiring Stories of People with Disabilities
by Sudha Menon and VR Ferose.
Random House. Pages 260. Rs 299

Gifted is a compilation of fifteen life stories of people with disabilities, who with their courage, exemplary conviction and an indomitable spirit made their lives worth emulating. While working for the India Inclusion Summit, 2013, one of the authors, VR Ferose came in contact with several such people who had reached the heights of success, despite getting an unfair treatment from life. He observed that each one of them possessed traits he had studied in leaders or pioneers in different domains and wanted to tell the stories of these unsung heroes who are constantly competing and bettering their records on the track of life. These valiant individuals, their struggles, their supportive families, their stories can surely guide us on life, correct our course and give us the right perspective. This is the objective of the book, which it fulfills quite compellingly.

Other objectives of the stories are sensitisation and awareness. There are two extremes when we deal with a specially-abled person, either we fumble for words not knowing what to say, focusing only on the disability, ignoring the identity of the person or we are rude and insensitive, saying cruel things, belittling their potential. It is seldom that we behave with them as with another normal human being. These stories tell us that living with a certain disability can somehow be learnt and adjusted to; however, what pinches the most, even more than the physical pain, is the insensitivity, underestimation and lack of faith by their able-bodied fellowmen.

The book is as much about the tenacity of the family members, often of the mothers or the wife, sister, or father who gave up their personal lives but refused to give up their relentless efforts to make life of their loved one better. In one case, it is a friend, a pillar of strength. The stories are also a narration of how families smilingly supported the person, many a time bearing the brunt of injustice meted out to one. This compassion warms the heart and makes you believe in the goodness of humans.

There is a lot of diversity in the stories found in the book. People from different social strata, rich and poor, urban and rural, male and female, old and young, people who had a congenital disability or whom disability struck later in life, privileged and under privileged have been portrayed sensitively. The vocations that they pursue are mindboggling; we have a journalist, wild life conservationist, musicians, sportspersons, IT professionals, standup comedian, oncologists, and who not. There is not too much harping on the suffering or pain, all this is subtly mentioned. Instead the emphasis is on optimism, beauty, cheerfulness and celebration of the fighting spirit. It is really astonishing that for many of these people, their disability became a window to the pain of others and alleviation of that pain and suffering then became the goal of their lives.

Malathi Holla, on her own, is nurturing 20 kids with disabilities, Javed Abidi is working on inclusion policies, helping draft the disability bill, Mohammad Sharif is teaching music to underprivileged children. For each one of them, being physically disabled means being more empathetic, kind, resource-sharing, helpful, sensitive and this is the common thread that runs through all the stories.

Though, after reading some of the stories, the layout starts appearing familiar and monotonous, having the same trajectory and turn of phases. Style and approach becomes repetitive and there are a few printing errors as well. However, these can be overlooked for the reader-friendly format and simple language that makes the book accessible to all.