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Journey of an ordinary girl

Young author from city tells the story of a disabled girl in her debut book 'A Tiara of Love'

Oxford Dictionary defines disability as a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movement, senses or activities. But in the dictionary of Ibandalin Kharbuli, ‘disability’ is just another challenge in life and it does not limit life in any way.
Kharbuli was born premature 33 years ago and developed a motor disability. ‘But how is it relevant?’ The young author from Mawlai Mawdatbaki prefers talking about her debut book, “a dream come true”, to complaining about the life-long “challenge”.
Her book, A Tiara of Love, is an extension of a long-form fiction story that she submitted for the Tata Steel Foundation’s 2020 Sabal Awards for the Spirit of Expression. The story, submitted under the category Sabal-Dignity Through Ability, was a reflection of Kharbuli’s extraordinarily ordinary life.
Born in a middle-class family, Kharbuli was blessed with compassionate parents who were practical about the challenges of life, and hence, decided not to be biased while bringing up their five children.
“I am the eldest. I was born with a disability but never did my parents make me feel weak. They wanted me to be on a playing filed with other children of my age as well as my siblings. I thank God for having such dedicated parents and I also thank God for giving me strength to overcome the challenge,” said Kharbuli.
The homey living room filled up with laughter. Kharbuli was not in the mood to let the meeting turn sombre. In fact, she walked to the decided rendezvous to welcome the reporters from Sunday Monitor.
“Sorry for making you walk so far,” was the reporters’ apology.
“My pleasure,” was Kharbuli’s reply as she rested on her sister’s shoulder. Later, she told Sunday Monitor that she avoids travelling long distances, especially during the pandemic.
Kharbuli works with the Khasi Disability Association, an NGO working with the disabled in the state with a focus on rural areas, since its inception in 2011. Before that, she was a teacher. “But I discontinued teaching owing to circumstances,” she skirted the topic with grace.
During the initial phases of the pandemic in 2020, Kharbuli got a message from a friend that informed about the writing competition. She was told that a fiction would also be considered, provided it reflected the life and rights of a disabled. It took the young author not more than two weeks to pen her story, partly real, that grew out of her experiences and opinions.
“In January last year, the awards ere announced online. It was streamed live on YouTube and I was stuck to my phone screen for two hours to know the results (Kharbuli was among the top five competitors in the long-form essay category). After the announcement of the first runner-up, I was exasperated, and then, I heard my name, though mispronounced. And I thought, ‘Okay, is it me or someone with a similar name?’ Then I saw my photograph on the screen,” she narrated her experience.
Till then, Kharbuli’s family did not know about the competition, lest about the award. When she broke the news after the online announcement, her mother, Monshisha Kharbuli, was surprised. “‘When did this happen?’ she asked,” Kharbuli laughed.
After this, Kharbuli got a request to complete the story of Isabella to be published as a book. “Writing the second part was more difficult,” she said, adding that it took her about three months to complete the “ordinary girl’s story”.
As a child, Kharbuli would scribble in Hindi to the surprise of her siblings. Her mind, “swimming with weird thoughts”, was always inclined towards fiction writing and sought an opportunity to add colours to the blank canvas. “Colours were there, all through my growing up days. Dark maybe, but I could make them brighter over the years thanks to the support that my family extended,” she said.
The book was released nationally last November and in the state on December 23. It is available online.
Is A Tiara of Love the beginning of a new journey? Kharbuli smiled and shrugged. ‘Only time will say,’ was what she meant to say. She relaxed on the sofa. The fingers of her left hand, which rested on the side rest, held the book loosely. “I am not someone who gives up. I am not among those who shut themselves up in a room and cry over life’s vagaries. I was taught to fight back and I will as long as I can,” she said.
By now, she was sitting straight, ready to gift a signed copy of the book, her first and the most coveted.

~ Team Sunday Monitor


Photos by MM

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