Deepika Kant, who has cerebral palsy, has had to fight society all her life, supported by her family at every step. But she believes in dreaming big.
When Champa Kant dropped her five-year-old off to school for the first time, she wasn’t sure if her daughter would ever learn to speak English. It didn’t take her long to realise that nothing, not even cerebral palsy, was going to deter Deepika from achieving what she wanted.
Still, she has a hard time convincing other people, and had to deal with insensitive comments like, ‘Such a pity to have three daughters, and one of them is disabled too!’
“There have been days when I regretted that I gave birth to a disabled child,” says Champa, her voice quivering and eyes brimming with tears. Today, looking at her confident 25-year-old daughter, she’s embarrassed to even admit that she had such thoughts.
The story so far...
It was 1989. Champa Kant was a happy homemaker, her husband was in the Air Force in Pune. Her pregnancy led to a breech birth – the baby appeared bottom first. But when Deepika was born, she didn’t cry.
The parents doubted if Deepika would make it. But survive she did. She appeared healthy and at first it seemed that she might have emerged unscathed.
However, when she was close to turning one, they noticed how Deepika couldn’t roll her body over like their neighbour’s baby could. “We thought she was a slow developer,” says APS Kant, Deepika’s father.
But when Deepika couldn’t sit on her own without falling, or when her neck always needed support, her parents realised something was wrong.
A visit to a specialist and further tests revealed that Deepika had cerebral palsy. “We couldn’t understand how a one-year-old healthy-looking child could have any problems,” says her father.
The doctor explained that during the delivery, lack of oxygen had affected all of Deepika’s four limbs. She might have difficulty walking, among other health complications.
But the doctors’ assurances that her brain had not been affected, and that she was sound mentally, gave them hope.
“The Almighty will show us through,” they believed. “We didn’t want to limit her, she could choose her destiny,” So after being home-schooled in the initial years, Deepika moved to a mainstream school where she was immediately looked upon as an ‘alien’.
“My classmates would stare at me. Teachers were doubtful about me. If my family made me feel normal, the world around me made me aware of my disability, over and over again,” she remembers.
But she sailed through the choppy waters as her family adjusted the sails. “My family’s life revolved around me. Daddy would drop me to school. Mummy would stay for the rest of the day, to help me switch rooms, or if I needed something. My two elder sisters would help me with studies and take me for walks. My brothers-in-law made up for the brother I never had. What more could I have asked for?” she laughs.
Over the years, Deepika moved around the country (from Pune to Chennai to Siliguri) because of the nature of her father’s job.
After she finished schooling from Siliguri, she announced that she wanted to pursue a BSc in Life Sciences from Delhi and Champa admits that even her iron will faltered just a bit.
“I thought that my child has come so far. But settling in a big city like Delhi and studying a subject that requires long hours in the lab…Will she be able to do it?”
But Champa’s doubts proved to be unfounded. Because she realised that an uneven gait wasn’t going to stop Deepika from realising her dream of earning a doctorate.
And so Deepika applied to colleges in Delhi University and was eventually offered a place at Sri Venkateswara College.
Not only did she graduate in Life Sciences, she went on to receive a Masters in the subject from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Innumerable trips to hospitals made her interested in knowing more about her disease and the workings of the human body. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Neuroscience from JNU.
The big dreamer
The first thing that strikes you about Deepika is her large brown, droopy eyes. Then, her beautiful smile. She is pleasant and warm, with a streak of independence.
Through regular exercise and physiotherapy, her condition has improved and she is able to manage on her own. “But I want to be completely independent. How long will my parents take care of me?”
And so, Deepika recently bought an automatic car. She has also appointed a personal assistant to help her in college. “I am a day-dreamer!” she confesses. “And I believe in dreaming big.”
Her indefatigable spirit is contagious. “I have developed a thick skin to people’s unsolicited comments. And there are people in worse conditions than mine. I have been rather lucky.”
In her entire life, she swears she has never availed the offer of extra time to finish her examinations. “Why should I? When I can write perfectly well!”
After enduring a childhood in calipers, she now uses elbow crutches to support her through the day. She knows she is not 100 per cent fit and normal, “but then everyone is born with flaws. This is mine, and I accept it.”
From not being able to sit on her own to driving her own (automatic) car, it’s been a long journey. And not an easy one. But Deepika believes in miracles. She has seen them happen.
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From HT Brunch, February 22
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