“Nilavu Pole chirikkunna Penkutti”
- Athul Mohan T M,
Fathima Asla, the author of “Nilavu pole chirikkunna Penkutti” (The girl who smiles like the Moon), is best described by the title of her own book. We found in her an energetic, beaming and optimistic artist who likes to be identified as an ‘author’ and not as a ‘disabled author’. Fathima, hailing from Thamarassery in Kozhikode is much more than a writer- She is a fighter and a winner. This young girl is a house surgeon at Kottayam Homeo Medical College, an avid reader of literature and also a motivational speaker, all while tackling the challenges posed by Osteogenesis Imperfecta or brittle bone disease!
Fathima was introduced to the mesmerizing world of reading right from a very young age. Her disability proved to be a blessing in disguise as she was presented with more time to invest in reading, which soon became her passion. Her childhood activities were often limited to the four walls of her home and consequently, books became her constant and unwavering support system. This fascination towards reading later developed into a curiosity to try her hand at writing. From being the young girl who limited her imagination to tiny bits of paper that she discarded privately, to being the author of two editions of her Autobiographical accounts, Fathima has indeed journeyed a long way. When she began expressing herself on social media through poems and stories, she was encouraged by her followers to publish an anthology of her writings as a book- Thus materialized the birth of ‘Nilavu Pole Chirikkunna Penkutti’. However, Fathima confirms that she still writes for her own satisfaction and not to please or seek sympathy from her audience. She makes it clear that none of her creations were products of pressure or even popularity craving. Not even a minuscule fraction of her writing is aimed at pleasing the reader and at no point has she felt pressurised into writing for money or fame.
Fathima believes that the relationship between a Person with disability and Art is one of the most divine connections. People belonging to the fringes of civilization, like her, encounter the need to look within themselves to find solace and reassurance. Oftentimes, art acts as a vehicle for the fulfillment of this emotional requirement. Most people with disabilities are artists, according to her. However, societal prejudices and persecution of the marginalized have posed major hindrances to the recognition of these artists. Fathima laments that many such disabled artists are not as privileged as her and that they often fail to find a platform for themselves.
When asked about the body-centric attitudes of the society, Fathima expresses her dissatisfaction in her audience. “Some people try to view my works merely through the dimension of my physical disability.
I have felt like some of the praises I receive have been based on sympathy rather than on the artistic quality of my work”, she opines. However she does appreciate another section of society that sees her as she is and values whatever she attempts to express through her art. Fathima then goes on to further elaborate on a third, and more toxic set of readers who try to impose limitations on her art on the basis of her physical impairment. From shaming her for being feminist and imposing riders on what she can and cannot write, these kinds of people have always tried to pull her down. However the young girl proved herself a true warrior by braving all such negative criticism and establishing herself a writer and not merely as a ‘writer with disability’.
Fathima echoes Roland Barthes as she says that the author’s personal life and biography should hold no weight in determining the quality of their work. She says that it is in fact disheartening that a piece of art should be approached or studied in the light of the author’s disability. She urges her readers to recognize her work independent of her bodily impairment. “When someone creates a beautiful and breath-taking painting, Why is it labelled as a painting made by a ‘disabled artist’? Why not just say ‘artist’? Artists need not be classified as disabled and abled, only their talent should be appreciated”. One need not to add any element of sympathy into it, argues the young doctor. She goes on to elaborate that her stories are open to criticism, and interpretations. She is not particular that the readers understand her works exactly the way she intended. As she is someone who writes primarily for her own emotional gratification, Fathima Asla refuses to bother about or be carried away by the impressions her works create on the readers. That being said, she invests much care into making sure her works are politically correct and are empathetic towards marginalized persons and communities. For instance she expresses through her facebook posts, her serious criticism of comic and degrading portrayals of persons with disabilities in comedy reality shows. She strongly rejects the toxic and normalized aspect of disability being a subject of ridicule and humor in malayalam popular culture. She also condemns labels like "colony ". She also aspires to better communicate the miseries of the oppressed through her Art.
As is the case with all other artist, individual with disabilities too should try to step out of their comfort zones while creating art, Fathima observes. She herself has “broken her shell” and stepped out into the real world in the process of writing. Her disability was never a shackle for experimenting new genres. She voices that most artists with disabilities are denied adequate appreciation and even payment at times. In some cases, publishers assume that getting a disabled writer’s book published for free is in fact a favour they do.
Fathima demonstrates through her life and writings that disability is never an impediment to bigger dreams. Physical impairment should not be an excuse to allow encroachment of basic human rights and artists should be vocal about the atrocities they face. Art for her is a weapon- the most powerful and efficient weapon for protest.