Even as she moves on a wheelchair, CH Mariyath stands on her own feet. Painting, writing and working like any other woman, Mariyath does not entertain thoughts that she is physically-challenged. She was in Class II when she suffered from a day’s fever, which developed into polio that paralysed both her legs. “It started with a common fever but it took away my life from me. I was totally down after that. I was paralysed below the waist,” recalls Mariyath, who requires the support of another person in her day-to-day activities.
Mariyath had not received her polio drops at the right time. “We hadn’t taken it seriously back then,” says the girl who belongs to Malappuram district in Kerala, and is the second daughter of Seythali Haji and Sainaba, and has two sisters and a brother.
With treatment and medicines that lasted for almost a decade, Mariyath spent her time mostly in hospitals. While her classmates continued to progress, Mariyath remained indoors. She was left only with the hope of bouncing back to normal life. “As I was out for treatment most of the time, my friends and teachers could not come home to see me or share notes,” she adds.
Her only relief was the lessons she learnt from tuition teachers who came home to teach her and her sisters. “I wanted to study. I decided to finish Class X. I studied from home and passed my exams. I consider that my most valuable achievement,” she says.
Though she passed Class XII with good grades, she could not complete her degree course. “I had not been inside a classroom for eight years. It became difficult for me to cope in Class XI but passed Class XII with the help and support of my classmates,” she says.
She went ahead to pursue her BA in Economics from Mar Thoma College, Tiruvalla, Kerala, but dropped out after the second year. “My younger brother carried me to school and college for almost four years as I couldn’t walk. I did not want to burden him, so I decided to study from home,” she adds. She learnt stitching, painting and dress designing and made her living from home after a series of trials and errors.
It was only when she penned down her memoir Kaalam Maaycha Kaalpaadukal (Footprints Erased by Time) that the outside world came to know of her struggle. “The authorities at the Department of Women’s Studies at Calicut University happened to read the book and called me. They enquired if I would be able to work at the college library,” she says. Mariyath, who now works as a library assistant at the University, was also chosen for the department’s Woman Achiever of the Year award in 2012.
She is known as a social activist in some circles, attending various events and delivering inspirational speeches to the young and old. “Social activism is something big. I am not involved in any such great deeds. For a person who thought life was being tied to the wheelchair, being able to go outside, meet new people and talk to them changes life for the better,” feels Mariyath.
She is also a blogger, often writes short stories and poems and wishes to continue writing. Her book, which was released in 2008 was translated into Kannada in 2012 under the title Kaalavu Alisida Kaala Guruthugalu. It’s her own story that she narrates when she is called to give motivational speeches.
Mariyath feels it is the little lessons that we learn in life that initiate great changes. “Disability is only a matter of perception. It reflects in the eyes of others when they see us as being helpless. We should not let that happen. All of us are dependent on others in some way. That does not make us all disabled,” she says.
Working full-time now, Mariyath wants to spend more time reading, learning and doing her bit for society. She believes in a non-institutionalised form of social service. “One doesn’t have to necessarily build trusts and organisations to help others. You can lend a helping hand anytime, anywhere,” says Mariyath.