This is a story of Ajit Kunte, a cerebral palsy patient. He was quite fun and cheerful to talk to. I met him at the Ninth Pulotsav Tarunai festival.
His unaffected manners and cheerful demeanour succeed in taking attention away from his fists that are curled around crutches, which help him get up and walk a little unsteadily towards a chair — from where he reads out a story from Pu La Deshpande’s Maza Shatrupaksha. The occasion was the ninth ‘Pulotsav Tarunai’ held in memory of noted Marathi humourist, Pu La Deshpande, popularly known as Pu La.
Twentyfive-year-old Ajit Kunte, who was struck by cerebral palsy at birth, has overcome his disability to memorise and speak clearly. After a series of operations, Ajit regained control over his limbs and vision.
His love for the written word stems from when his parents used to read out books to him as a child. They would also play recordings of stories by Marathi writers like Pu La, V P Kale and D M Mirasdar, which further triggered his interest in reading.
Ask Ajit what his favourite story is and pat comes the reply, “Antu Barva by Pu La.” It’s only recently that Ajit has started participating in Katha-Kathan (story-telling) programmes.
“My first Katha-Kathan programme was at Va Pu Kale Smriti Pratishthan in 2007, where I won the jury’s award. The next year, I bagged the third prize in the same competition, and in 2010, I won the first prize,” beams Ajit.
His mother, Madhavi, who had approached the organisers with a request to allow Ajit to participate in the competition, says, “I don’t expect Ajit to win. I just want him to gain exposure and mingle among people.”
Therefore, Ajit participates in several competitions that encourage reading and retelling of stories. The youngster who was diagnosed as mentally retarded at birth, has a keen ear for music besides reading. He can spend hours listening to songs and poring over books. Of course, he requires more time to finish reading books, but that doesn’t deter him from picking up big tomes. At present, he is fascinated by Balasaheb Purandare’s works on Shivaji.
Ajit’s parents, who are visibly proud of him, fuss over him without being overprotective. In fact, it’s very important for them that Ajit leads an independent life. They are helping him prepare for the SSC examination through the National Institute of Open Schooling. He has studied till standard VI in a special school.
Ajit travels alone to and fro in an autorickshaw to the plastic moulding workshop in Shivajinagar where he works. He has also learnt how to use the computer and cellphone. Moreover, he puts those around him completely at ease with his relaxed and positive attitude towards life.