Book Review: Inspiring all the way

All good books elevate our spirits. Some more than others. A Bumblebee’s Balcony — the story of Sundari, born with cerebral palsy, in her own words — can breathe courage into the weakest of us, and persuade us to celebrate every moment of life, shrugging off all negativities.

Cerebral palsy is a neuro-skeletal and muscular condition that limits most physical activities and entails serious problems with vision, hearing, balancing, coordination, muscle power, and motor skills. Sundari’s narration of her own life bespeaks one powerful truth — a human can find joy in every situation however bleak. It’s a choice we have to make.

It’s a choice, Sundari (now in her mid-40s) made, as she grew to adulthood and increasing physical limitations. At 23, she finally yielded to the wheelchair wholly, a chair she had been using since the age of 11, off and on, even as her legs kept getting weaker. And while she had hated wheelchairs initially, she came to look at her first motorised wheelchair as a liberator.

“For the first time in life, I moved around on my own! Without anybody’s help, without the mind-numbing exhaustion, without painful falls and sprains. For the first time, I could experience the romance of liberation.” Similarly with hearing aids which she was forced to wear while still in college.

It took her six years to get completely comfortable with her hearing aids. She acknowledges gratefully, “Technology has indeed made me find peace with my body and with the world…It has equipped and empowered me to live life fully and march forward, — in ways I had not imagined.”

It’s this ability to appreciate the sunny side of every dark reality that raises Sundari in stature and that has helped her to realise her seemingly impossible dreams — schooling, going to college, acquiring a Masters in Communication, working for the New Indian Express as a sub-editor and writing articles on different subjects; and finally joining a top-notch company (HCL) for which she continues to work as a communication specialist, to date.

Of course, as she acknowledges in the book, none of her dreams would have been fulfilled had it not been for the staunch and unflagging support of her immediate family — her parents and brother and the larger extended family of aunt-uncles and cousins, and society at large.

At nine, her parents moved house from the small town of Srivaikuntam where Sundari was born to Chennai, in the hope of getting better medical treatment for her. And while she missed her hometown’s natural beauty, Sundari admits Chennai helped to expand her life greatly.

The book makes for a great read with its vivid and sharp delineation of life in both a small town and in the capital of Tamil Nadu; its sparks of humour and lack of wallowing in self-pity; commentaries on needs of people with different abilities (like more wheelchair-friendly public facilities — one of Sundari’s biggest anxieties has been finding a toilet she can wheel into, wherever she goes); and above all Sundari’s deep observations on the common business of living, like: “When we constantly replace negative emotions with strong, positive emotions, there is an ocean of difference in the way we live our lives.”

This is one book I shall keep at hand always, to dig into, when life scowls at me. For this one is a sure spirit uplifter.