“The mentality of people is the same everywhere. I studied in a local school only because other schools turned away a girl in a wheelchair,” says Chandni Nair who had been diagnosed with Myopathy at age one. Though she had faced apathy since her school days, this 23-year-old still had hopes that college would be different.
But, she was to face more disappointment. Despite scoring 90 per cent in class twelve, she failed to get admission in undergraduate colleges too.
“With time, I expected people’s mentality to change, but I was wrong. Here I was again facing the same rejections. Seeing my condition, the college authorities would tell me to study less difficult courses,” she tells The Better India (TBI).
But, this gutsy girl who dreams of becoming a doctor, shrugged off these age-old prejudices against people with disabilities and concentrated on living life her way.
Not only is she currently pursuing a degree in Pharmacy, but she is also an internet star!
Chandni and Tik Tok
Chandni’s love for singing goes back to her childhood days. As a kid, she would mute the television and sing songs. Her parents identified her talent and signed her up for classical singing.
Though she did not perform on stage, she shot to fame overnight a couple of years ago when Dubsmash became a popular app.
“I was so fascinated by the app that I became more active on social media. I would make 30-second videos and upload them. I even shared a video with ‘Variety Media’, a group on Facebook and that was the turning point in my life. In just four days, I managed to get four million views. People appreciated my talent, and that was very encouraging,” she says. Her followers learnt of her disability only when she was invited to a local television show.
“I was making videos where only my face was in the frame. The episode went viral as here was a girl who was not compromising on her passion and academic goals. People stared at me, except that this time it was with respect.”
In early 2019, Chandni became active on Tik Tok and the number of organisations and television shows inviting her to tell her story also increased. She currently has 7.7k followers, and the number keeps rising.
Encouragement and Indifference
Chandni was born in Kerala but has spent most of her life in Tamil Nadu. She was barely a year old when the doctors told her parents that she had Myopathy.
It is a condition of the muscle in which the muscle fibres do not function properly, resulting in muscular weakness. The prognosis of Myopathy varies. Where some people may have little or no disability, in others, the disorder becomes worse with age. And like every differently-abled person, Chandni too has had her share of troubles.
Strangers looked on with either sympathy or disgust. The lack of disable-friendly infrastructure in public areas and the school made life harder for Chandni. But what hurt the most was the indifference of the relatives. They questioned her family’s decision of spending so much time, money and energy on her.
“I was treated like every other child, and my parents never shied away from taking me outside. Of course, there were certain limitations due to health reasons, but I was given enough freedom to make my own decisions,” she shares.
In 2012, when Chandni was in class 10, she had to undergo an eight-hour operation for scoliosis — a condition which causes the spine to curve to one side.
“While the operation was successful, the doctors ordered for 6-month bed rest. But it was a painful recuperation as sitting still, let alone holding a book even for 10 minutes was a huge struggle,” she recalls. Though people told her to skip her board exams, she was adamant to take them.
Her parents helped by taking out the pages of her books, so she did not have to carry them. Picking up papers and learning from them was easier. Along with her preparation, Chandni also focussed on exercises that would help her sit for long stretches. Three months later, Chandni successfully managed to give exams and scored 88 per cent in her 10th boards!
Once she had passed her class 12, she expressed an interest in entering the medical field. And her parents gave all the encouragement she deserved. Chandni got admission in The Oxford College of Pharmacy, Bengaluru. The college has made provisions like disabled-friendly toilet and routes available for her.
Belief in Self
Chandni has been cautious about not letting fame and praises from her fans get to her head. She aspires to become a doctor and also keep her passion to be an entertainer alive.
“It is very overwhelming when people recognise you and take photos. I urge everyone to not think of yourself anything less than you are, love yourself unconditionally. Life will teach and mould you as an individual. Be grateful, and the universe will pave the way for you,” she signs off.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)