Akhil Raj is an immensely talented and inspiring young poet from Vadakara, Kozhikode. His love for reading and his curiosity to try his hand at poetry was explicit right from when he was 16 years old. The young boy, who is currently an undergraduate, enjoys exploring the themes of Nature and Humanity through his poems. The poet engages mostly with the evolution and changes of the human race. In fact, his very first poem, ‘Manushyante Valarcha’ draws inspiration from the Theory of Evolution.
Akhil elaborates to us, his colourless childhood, made turbulent by the shackles imposed by Cerebral Palsy. Loneliness and discrimination followed him like a shadow throughout his early years. The young poet looks back at those days with longing and sorrow as he tells us how badly he wanted to feel included and to play alongside his peers without any inhibitions. However, sadly those dreams were left unfulfilled. Let alone playing, Akhil was not even able to attain proper schooling or excel in academics due to a dearth in support. The only pillar of support in his life during that time was his mother. He credits his mother for all the success he has achieved and thanks her for reading stories and books to him as a child. Akhil gets emotional as he tells us how his mother never gave up on him, even in the face of his disability.
Like many other artists with disabilities, Akhil too expresses his discontent with the approach of society towards them. He labels the society “judgmental” and laments that even in the 21st Century people like him have to fight endlessly for their basic right of Inclusion. “Most people are not ready to accept the talents of people with disabilities. They only like to view our achievements considering our physical or mental impairments”, says Akhil, echoing many of the artists with disabilities whom we have interviewed earlier. The poet shares a traumatizing experience in which he was denied credit for his first poem. He had to face claims that the poem was not his original creation and that he had sought external help in writing it. However, Akhil refused to succumb to such mean reviews; quite on the contrary, he started to draw inspiration from it. The young man began to view this negativity as a challenge that he was more than willing to undertake. He fought hard until he won for himself, the acceptance that he, like all other persons with disabilities, had been dreaming for.
Akhil finds himself drawn towards the writings of Sugathakumari and T Pathmanabhan, two renowned Malayalam poems. What attracted him in Sugathakumari’s works was her affinity towards Nature, while it was T Pathmanabhan’s depictions of childhood that struck a chord with him. Akhil laments that Malayalam literature has lost all its previous glory and charm now. He makes a bold statement as he expresses his dissatisfaction with modern writers who shy away from focusing on the exact topic. The beauty of language has not been kept up by the poets of today, he exclaims.
Akhil tells us how books can open windows through which we can explore and understand the real world. His passion towards reading developed after discovering this magical potential of words. The poet elaborates on how writers, including him, get delusional about the quality of their work at times. He shares the experience of trying to get his first book published. When he got rejected by the publisher, Akhil blamed the mishap on his disability and assumed that the publisher was prejudiced against him because he was a person with disability. However, the truth was that his work had to undergo some improvement. Akhil then devoted more care to the bettering of the work and it eventually did get published. From this incident, he learnt that one should not assume that their work is perfect and should be open to changes and should practice more.
Akhil also appreciates the positive feedback and constructive criticism he received from his readers which set him sailing in the right direction. He remains thankful to the Malayalam teachers who showered him with support throughout the journey. He tells us about how his family, which had completely ostracized him in the initial days, has now come back after his talents received recognition. He now feels accepted and included by his family.
Akhil’s works have received wide critical acclaim and he has been presented with various awards. His list of accolades consists of Literature State award for Persons with Disabilities (2015), JCI Award (2009), Pinturas award (2017) and the Best Script Writer Camper award for FEFKA.
“Poems have always helped me to discover and communicate with the world. For this very reason, I want to create more poems and through them I want to break the barriers and shackles of disability. I need to escape the cage and fly free”, concludes Akhil