Published: 21st July 2020
From U-19 cricketer to wheelchair bawse: What's keeping Preethi Srinivasan busy during lockdown?
Winner of multiple awards including the Kalpana Chawla award from the CM of Tamil Nadu, Preethi Srinivasan, via her initiative Soulfree, has impacted 800 people with disabilities till date
Lockdown gave the otherwise very busy Preethi Srinivasan ample time to finally work on her book. We understand why it took so much time though. Distilling a lifetime of experience that involves being captain of the under-19 Tamil Nadu women's cricket team, then a freak accident resulting in paralysis neck-down at the age of 18 and starting her own initiative Soulfree in 2013 to help out the disabled — it's certainly a task to sum all of that up, wouldn't you say? But the book is more personal than that. Because the 40-year-old's life is already well-documented, she wanted to talk tough on some topics that she has ample experience in - body shaming, feeling invisible, identity crisis and so much more.
She sees you right away
"The disabled often treat themselves as Invisibles because that's how everyone else treats them. We stop caring about how we appear," says Preethi who was also a national-level swimmer. So going from practicing 16 hours a day to racking on pounds because of being wheelchair-bound, this lady has seen all extremes. It was in 2016 that she went for ayurvedic treatment to get rid of all the toxins swimming in her system and took a good look at how she is and how she wants to be. "By that time, I was starting to come out, give talks in public. For my own self-esteem, I wanted to feel in charge of how I look," says the seasoned TEDx speaker and adds, "There are multiple problems that people in wheelchairs face like constipation and other digestive worries. Combined with the ayurvedic treatment and the tons of research I put in, I have come up with a way to make things work." So the book which she has written, and is waiting to zero in on a publisher, encompasses all this and so much more.
Preethi Srinivasan | (Pic: Preethi Srinivasan)
But the lockdown has been tough. Though Preethi was able to acquire a special pass for her caregiver so that they could come home and help her out, she realised there are people who weren't able to do that. With a lot of help from K S Kandasamy, Collector and District Magistrate, Tiruvannamalai, and the help of other district collectors as well, she was able to ensure that those who are disabled and are in need of emergency care due to urinary tract infections (UTIs) and so on, government staff themselves visit them and provide medical relief. For the last seven years, she has been giving a monthly stipend of Rs 1,000 to 20 disabled people and under their Quarantine Monthly Stipend Programme, she extended this to 20 other people since April. "As I shared the stage with actor Dhanush during Vikatan Awards this February, our network has only grown," she shares.
More than money
But monetary support is not all that Preethi offers. Counselling sessions are available too. "We advise them on how to become financially independent," says the motivational speaker. They also provide over 520 supply Gift Boxes to make the disabled feel valued and it contains medical essentials, basic products like soap and a lot more. "I am well-equipped to be under lockdown because I have been under lockdown forever. I was not allowed to get admission in schools, colleges and was shunned everywhere. I used to be treated like I am contagious, and if anyone comes close to me, they will get what I have," she shares. It is this battle that she wages for herself and others.
Speaking of battles, the most recent one Preethi was in was while aspiring to pursue a PhD at IIT Madras. It was just last year in December that she was promised a stipend by the institution and then wasn't because she did not clear NET. This after quitting her job as a writer at moviebuff.com, because they said with a full-time job, one can't get a stipend. "Then they said I won't be able to get a stipend because I did not clear NET. For three months, I studied from 10 am to 12 pm every day," says Preethi who was denied permission to pursue her PG via correspondence from the University of Madras. She had to write (with the help of a scribe) the exam in a hot storeroom in the peak of summer with no ventilation. But all's well that ends well, though she has been scarred for life.
But nothing, we repeat, nothing can deter the spirit of Preethi. Her own life is a testament to that fact.
For more on her, check out soulfree.org