Shanthi, a 34-year-old wheelchair user, went from utter shock to emotional tears when she heard her composition played back in her favourite singer’s voice.

A collage of a woman with disability on a wheelchair and noted singer KS Chithra Shanthi (L), KS Chithra (R)
Features Music Wednesday, December 16, 2020 - 12:32

Shanthi sat stunned with confetti on and around her when the video started playing. Her shock quickly turned into overwhelming emotion as she wiped her tears seeing KS Chithra sing. It wasn’t any song that the popular singer was lending notes to – it was a composition by Shanthi, who is also a wheelchair user.

The whole thing was a complete surprise for Shanthi, a 34-year-old who was stricken by polio when she was just two years old. On December 13, she and the rest of the members of Fairland Special Group, which has 30 members with disabilities who use wheelchairs, went for a houseboat ride in Alappuzha. It was arranged by Shyam Kurup, who runs Flood Volunteers Family, a group that came together to help in the Kerala floods of 2018. While the Fairland group members were overjoyed about the boat ride, the surprise that came after left everyone elated and many misty eyed.

"They told me that this was going to be on a houseboat ride, followed by an interview with a local media channel. I had no idea that they were going to surprise me with a video clip of KS Chithra singing my composition. For a minute, I was stunned, shocked. I did not know how to react. The next minute I burst into tears,” Shanthi tells TNM.

Shanthi has written and composed songs earlier too. Sathyan Sadhasivan, the founder and secretary of Fairland Special Group, recalls that back in 2018, there was an event where another one of Shanthi’s compositions was sung by a local singer. “It was there that Shyam came to know Shanthi and asked her who her favourite singer was, and she said, KS Chithra,” Sathyan says.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the lockdown happened, members of the Fairland group found themselves in a fix as the paper bag making and screen-printing unit which they derived some income was shut down. “Many of us have been bedridden too. So, we requested Shyam if a houseboat ride could be arranged for us to boost morale and so we could get out. It was initially cancelled because of the cyclone on December 3, but on December 13 when we were in the houseboat, this surprise was arranged. After the video started playing, there were 15 of us, and we were just in tears… to have Chithra sing a song composed by one of our own, at a time where we have been struggling so much was a big thing,” Sathyan says.

Fairland Group members on the houseboat

Shyam and his team got acquainted with the Fairland group two years ago when the floods washed away the bag making and printing unit. Since the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, Shyam and his team have been providing relief material like food packets to the Fairland group members too. 

When Shyam came to know about Shanthi and her dream to get her latest composition ‘Raakkilithan’ sung and recorded in a studio, he ended up sending a recording of the song sung by Shanthi’s sister Sethulakshmi to some of the music composers he knew from his work as an actor. It was Theevandi music composer Kailas Menon who responded to Shyam last month. Kailas and Shyam know each other from the relief work they did together in the 2018 Kerala floods.

“I personally loved it,” Kailas tells TNM. “It had meaningful lyrics and a mature tune. Shyam mentioned that Shanthi’s ambition was to have the song in a film or album too. I told him I would ask Chithra chechi, whom I was going to meet for the first time, for having her record a song of mine for an upcoming film, to record a few lines of Shanthi’s song in her voice as well.”

Shyam and Kailas Menon with Shanthi

‘Raakkilithan’ is a song about memory, missing and reminiscing. Ask Shanthi, and she says, "The tune came to me first and I liked it. And then the lines started coming one by one. I penned it down and made Sethu sing and record it on our phone.”

“Only she can read what she has written down,” Sethulakshmi says with a laugh. While Shanthi has not had formal education, she learnt the Malayalam alphabet thanks to her next-door neighbour. "She uses what she has learnt to write the songs. Once she notes it down, she composes it, reads it out to us and then we write it down and then sing it," Sethulakshmi adds. 

Recalling the moment he asked KS Chithra after they finished recording the movie song if she would lend her voice to Shanthi’s composition, Kailas says that it was just a matter of asking. “We are so privileged in so many ways, and that’s what pushed me to do my bit to make someone like Shanthi happy. Just some people asking each other has now made so many people happy.”

All of this came together, of course, with Shanthi and her friends from Fairland getting the heartwarming surprise. KS Chithra even had a message to her Shanthi: “Shanthi, this is a very nice song and you sing very well. You have all my blessings.”

Shanthi, meanwhile, is not just a talented lyricist and composer. She paints too, and has had some of her artwork displayed at some exhibitions as well. December 13 will remain close to her heart. “This was the surprise of a lifetime,” she says. 

Watch a video of the surprise and Shanthi's reaction here:

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