Published: 24th February 2021
How Niveditha went from being a dyslexic student with red-marked report cards to being an award-winning PhD scholar
Niveditha B Warrier is a second-year PhD scholar at Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady. She is researching dyslexic narratives in English
As a child, Niveditha B Warrier despised her school report cards. They always had the same pattern, one that was littered with a number of red lines, making her feel inferior. Little did she know the reason behind it. She remembers studying long hours every day, but she somehow saw the letters of the alphabet differently. Numbers, she says, were mostly invisible. It was only in 2009 that she was diagnosed with dyslexia. Niveditha was a ninth-grader at the time, in a school in Thrissur, Kerala. "My social science teacher was the one who thought that I might be dyslexic. Her son was dyslexic too," she says, relieved that she was diagnosed at an early age. Today, Niveditha is a second-year PhD scholar in the English department of the Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady. Unsurprisingly, she is researching 'dyslexic narratives'.
When we spoke to Niveditha, she had just heard the news that she is one of the 100 recipients of the International Inspirational Woman Award 2021, awarded by the GISR Foundation in Noida, for her work and research. Niveditha could not have imagined this honour a decade ago. She recalls how she dreamt of being a dancer during her school days. "Dance was the only thing that I was good at," she says. However, little Niveditha was often hurt when she was sidelined in almost all dance events. "My school coordinators and teachers believed that only students good at studies have the right to take part in dance events. These biases were quite normalised back then," she says.
That wasn't all of it. She remembers a time in her life when her only friend in school stopped talking to her. "It was quite sudden. One fine day, she started avoiding me. I wondered why and sought the reason. Apparently, her parents had asked her to stop talking to me because I wasn't a 'good' student. They worried that she would turn out to be someone like me," she says. Communicating thoughts and ideas was something that she struggled with back then. That could be why, she feels, that she never shared any of her woes with her parents. But the year 2009 was a gamechanger. Upon diagnosing her to be dyslexic, Niveditha's social science teacher started coaching her separately every day after school. "She used to attend a lot of sessions on dealing with dyslexic children, for her son," she says.
Those sessions got her to train herself in mind mapping. The next year, she graduated class X with 78 per cent. "That was a relief. After that, I opted for the Humanities group in class XI. I got to drop Mathematics and study painting instead," she says. In 2012, she graduated from school with 69 per cent. That was probably the beginning of good times in her life. "Back in school, I'd spend all my time studying. However, I somehow failed. But that got me to train myself well. After college, I began attempting a lot of competitive examinations. I failed in almost all of them but I kept trying. It didn't hurt me anymore," she says. And then in 2018, she cleared the UGC NET in her third attempt. "In 2019, while pursuing my MPhil, I got a JRF position too," says this 26-year-old.
Niveditha's personas when she was in school and college were quite contrasting. While she was introverted and shy in school, during her undergraduate days, she was the college union chairperson. "That was when I started getting involved in social work. I work for the disabled and for transgender people," she says. Before beginning her stint as a researcher, Niveditha was an English lecturer in SD College, Alappuzha. In most of the classrooms where she taught, she says that she saw a lot of faces of people who weren't quite different from her. "A lot of them were dyslexic but weren't diagnosed. In fact, there were autistic students too. None of them were able to grasp what was being taught in class. No one cared about them either. It is our faulty education system that lets them pass their exams, without solving their actual problems," she says.
That was when not-so-old history repeated itself. Niveditha donned a role similar to that of the teacher who diagnosed her. "I knew that I had a responsibility here. So I started talking to dyslexic students and their parents. I'd also coach them after college and help them with the tips and tricks that helped me," she says. She would also introduce them to mobile applications designed to make life easier for dyslexic people. "Early diagnosis is what saved my life. It taught me ways to manage and handle things. Today, I am quite independent," she says. She then asked us, "Did you know that Times New Roman, one of the most commonly used fonts, is not easily readable for dyslexic people?" The information left us stunned. "We prefer fonts like Arial and Verdana. There were times when I had typed assignments in Arial and then converted them to Times New Roman," she says. This is one of the reasons why she wants to get into writing books and creating awareness about dyslexia.
We were quite convinced that she was a woman of many talents. That was when she told us about 'Nivi's Vlogs', a project of hers that is still in the pipeline. "Through a series of YouTube videos, I want to tell the stories of people who are like me. They have a lot of positivity in them. The world must hear these tales," she says.