Fighting polio with pen: A young Kashmiri girl’s ode to life

Irtiqa is fighting her disability with her creative genius. [FPK Photo/Umer Ahmad.]

Amid the ongoing campaign against polio, a young Kashmiri girl affected by the disease is fighting her physical disability with her creative pursuit.

The life outside her window bears no resemblance with her four-walled routine. Unlike free-movement and a supposed sense of normalcy outside, the inner reality remains crippled and chaotic. But her creative response to the crisis makes the contrast quite captivating. 

At 16, Irtiqa Mehraj of Khrew Pulwama is a wonder wordsmith. She’s unlike the teen writers of Kashmir fuelling the literary enterprise of the valley with their budding curiosity. Behind her creative pursuit is an expression sparked by her sense of special-ability. 

“Some expressions come straight from your soul,” Irtiqa says with a grave stare. “You don’t need to come of age for that. It just happens to you.”

Irtiqa’s creative journey began within four-walls. [FPK Photo/Umer Ahmad.]

Inside a blue-shaded room of her family’s two-storey home, the adolescent author turns thoughtful every now and then. Her amber-eyes remain cast on the opposite wall as she struggles with her words and woes. But beyond this crippled condition, she has found her creative channel.

“When I started developing signs of polio,” the teenager says with a pensive look, “I got mostly confined to my room. The routine took a toll on my mental health. I was scared of these walls and would ask my family not to leave me alone.” 

It took Irtiqa some time to get used to this reality. Out of her dark moments, she realized that the disability isn’t end of her life. “I realized that I can also achieve my dreams and live life the way I want,” she says with a faint smile. “It took me some time to understand that my life too is filled with colours and happiness.”

Her book captures hardships of her life. [FPK Photo/Umer Ahmad.]

Losing her walking ability to polio at an age of 8, Irtiqa finally found solitude and solace in writing. She penned down her struggles in a book titled “A Star Shines in Dark”. The teenager’s treatise is a detailed account of her life and her creative resilience. 

“I’ve seen many people leaving their dreams because of their crippled nature and hardships,” Irtiqa says. “But I decided to write about my experiences to inspire people to achieve their dreams, rather than getting disheartened.”

The young writer’s creative pursuit has become the talk ot the town. [FPK Photo/Umer Ahmad.]

The creative journey began when Irtiqa was grappling with grief inside her room one day. Nothing was making sense to her and the pain in her heart was leaving her numb. The thought of being different was amplifying her agony. And the fact she can’t run or play like the girls of her age would make her curse her fate.

“Amid these thoughts, I decided to write about my life and hardships created by my crippled condition and family poverty,” the young writer says. “It took me two months to complete this book.” Among other things, she has noted her unsaid feelings, her lonely moments and the challenges she faces, in her book. 

In the company of her pen, Irtiqa no longer feels lonely within walls now. [FPK Photo/Umer Ahmad.]

Standing and walking with clippers now, Irtiqa is full of gratitude for her ability to write. 

“Not many could channelize their pain with pen,” she says. “The crippled state leaves you soul-scarred. My brother and father are also suffering with the disease. But unlike me, they can’t give words to their woes.”

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