VILLUPURAM: The Silambam stick in seven-year-old Yashika’s hand cut the air like a sword, making a swoosh that bespoke of the strength of her hands. Minutes went by and she stopped for a moment to wipe the sweat off her brows with one of her three fingers.
“In Silambam, fingers play a critical role in wielding weapons. As such, it was a Herculean task for Yashika to practice it with just three fingers on each of her hands. Against all odds, however, she became as adept in wielding sticks as my other students, within just two years. All credit goes to her,” said Silambam master P Sathishkumar.
Speaking to TNIE, her father R Senthil said: “By birth, she has only three fingers on each hand–little, ring, and thumb. On the right hand, the little and ring fingers are almost attached to each other. Operations were performed at a private hospital in Chennai and JIPMER in Puducherry, but these made only small improvements. The doctors eventually told us to exercise the fingers as much as possible to strengthen her hand.”
It was around this time that children from Yashika’s neighbourhood started attending Silambam classes at Markanam. In 2019, Senthil and his wife Gomathy decided to send Yashika to the classes, hoping the training would help her.
“I have a workshop in Markanam and it was difficult for me to take her to training from our village Kurumbur, as I would be stuck with the work. So, we shifted to Markanam to ensure she attended the classes regularly,” said Senthil.
At first, Sathishkumar hesitated to take her in, as the index fingers are important for Silambam training. Also, it was even more difficult for her to wield the stick with her right hand. So, in the first three months, Sathish focused on her left hand before starting training for the right.
“For the next four months, I trained her for her right hand and instructed her to not use her left hand during the practice. It was a huge challenge, but with her courage and confidence, she managed to perform like any other. Now, I train her along with my other students, giving her the same kind of training as they get. This boosted her confidence,” he said.
Gomathy, Yashika’s mother, said the mobility of her daughter’s right hand improved after she attended the Silambam classes. She does not want people to show sympathy towards her daughter, and urges parents of children with special needs to identify their children’s interests and let them to hone those.
“The support of my parents and my master encouraged me to learn Silambam. In future, I want to take part in more Silambam championships,” said Yashika, who already won a gold in a competition under Single Stick Kids category in the International E-Silambam championship in October, 2020. She performed over twenty five styles, and competed with participants from seven countries in the championship.