When photographer Vicky Roy was at the NGO Shishu Sarothi in Guwahati to take photographs of Silsila Das (37), he couldn’t get a chance to click her alone. Because she wouldn’t spend a moment apart from her dear friends Simi Kalita (34) and Runu Medhi (35).
Silsila, the Coordinator of the Bijoyini Network for Women with Disability, contracted polio when she was two-and-a-half. When she joined a regular school at age nine, parents discouraged their children from befriending her because they thought their kids would catch polio from her! Despite societal ignorance and discrimination, Silsila gained the confidence to move forward thanks to her father, who was a tea-seller. He died 10 years ago. Silsila fondly remembers his encouraging words: “Let us look at how we can build your future.” Now that she earns and supports her family, she feels she has met his expectations for her.
Runu, who is Assistant Coordinator of the Bijoyini Network, was a premature baby whose twin died at birth. Cerebral Palsy (CP) impaired her mobility and speech. Her father, a government employee, used all his means to support her and organise physiotherapy sessions at home. Simi, who is Runu’s cousin, also has CP. They befriended Silsila in 2016 when she started her journey with Shisho Sarothi which works for the education, rehabilitation and rights of persons with disabilities.
When we asked Silsila to describe their friendship she immediately burst into song: “Yeh dosti hum nahi todenge”, the evergreen hit from Sholay. Her favourite singers are Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and Sunidhi Chauhan. The three women love to chat, sing, and watch movies in theatres.
They also love to travel together. All three are artistically inclined and they’ve gone to Kolkata, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur for various competitions — Runu won a prize for painting and Simi, for ikebana. Silsila and Runu have travelled to Shillong, Tezpur and Baksa on work, and Simi and Runu to Darjeeling to attend winter camps. Runu’s most cherished and first international trip was to Colombo in February 2020 when she spoke on a platform representing eight countries.
Silsila aims to enter politics so she can be the voice of the disabled community and bring about systemic change. And so the three friends carry on, with laughter on their lips and dreams in their eyes.