Dubai: The Gulf Model School in Muhaisnah witnessed a rare literary function on Friday evening. Hundreds of book lovers gathered for the launch of the first book by a visually challenged author living in Dubai.
‘Vaaksthali: A story of survival’ is a collection of 45 poems and 85 short stories in Malayalam by Indian expat Bindu Santosh, who lost her eyesight 28 years ago.
She was only 19 and pregnant with her first child when a doctor at a private hospital in Agra, India, gave her a wrong injection for typhoid. Consequently, she lost her unborn child and slipped into coma. When she emerged from it, after a hospital stay of almost four months including 28 days in ICU, all she could see was a haze. Her kidneys were damaged and eventually the haze turned into darkness.
Her husband Santhosh, at the time an airman with the Indian Air Force, stood by her like a rock through her journey of despair.
“My husband made sure that I got the best available treatment and supported me all through,” Bindu told Gulf News before the book launch.
But bouncing back to life was a big struggle for a newly married introvert, who was still preparing for her final year exam of Bachelor of Arts in Literature course.
The couple risked having another child soon after as many people suggested that perhaps her second pregnancy may help her restore her vision.
She gave birth to a healthy baby boy, despite suffering from toxoplasmosis [an infection caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii which can be deadly or cause serious birth defects for a foetus if the mother becomes infected] during pregnancy. However, she did not regain her vision.
Bindu has only the haziest memories of having caught glimpses of her son, Rishin — now a 26-year-old student pilot in New Zealand — during bright times of the day. “Those days I could only recognise if it was day or night,” she recalled.
Life changed for the better when she moved to Dubai to join her husband who was working as a cabin engineer with Emirates Airlines in 1996.
Radio programmes in the UAE became her new source of entertainment and knowledge. She started interacting with the RJs of Malayalam radio channels, lending her voice for programmes.
With her deep interest in literature, Bindu wrote some stories but was too shy to share her writings with anyone. But as her radio friends grew in number, she let one of her stories be read out on radio.
“That is when people realised that I can write. So, my friends started to read out books for me. They would call, read out stories and share their life experiences. Observation and experiences are a must for a writer,” she says. “It was through my friends that I learnt to ‘see’ what was happening around me. Their experiences became my source of inspiration.”
One such friend, Malayalam writer and painter Ramesh Perumpilavu, offered to write down her poems and stories. “I used to either record or directly tell him whatever I wanted to write. He would patiently write them down and even send them for award nominations without my knowledge.”
Her horizons expanded after her son gifted a laptop installed with a voice-recognition software in 2006.
She learnt to browse and type in English. In 2012, a blind schoolteacher in Kerala helped her install another software that helped her type in Malayalam.
Bindu has almost a dozen awards to her credit for her writing.
She writes a blog which she began with the help of a friend in Bahrain. Though she has temporarily discontinued blogging due to health reasons, she is active on the WhatsApp groups of her literary friends.
“Thanks to the speech function on iPhone, I can do that,” said Bindu, who once used to teach keyboard and counselled teenaged kids of her friends and motivated them.
She is no longer able to do such activities due to her declining health. As her health deteriorated, friends in the literary group ‘Aksharakkoottam’ got together to have her collection of stories and poems published as a book so it would help her financially as well.
Bindu’s book, published by Papyrus Books, garnered wide media publicity and critical appreciation even before its official launch.
“I am thankful to my husband, friends and readers who have helped to make this dream come true,” said Bindu. “If you stay positive, everything will fall in place even amid a crisis. I am a big example of this axiom.”