Kabir's flower garlands are helping to create a brighter, richer & inclusive world
Weaving torans or garlands of flowers requires nimble fingers and keen concentration powers. Qualities in Kabir that Parul Kumtha discovered when he was in his pre-teens, when mother and son would sit together during festive occasions weaving torans to decorate their home.
A skill that Parul remembered years later when she needed to find an activity to keep him occupied before his routine for the day kicked in at The Anchorage at Mahalakshmi. This is a sheltered workshop in Mumbai for people with intellectual disabilities where Kabir has been working for eight years.
Kumtha started accompanying him last October as there was a need felt to set up a schedule of independence for him.
"Kabir likes to start working as soon as possible," says Parul, with a laugh. "At the workshop it takes a little time for the day's rhythm to kick in and for work to start. So, I would take some peas for him to shell as he waited."
With the winter season ending and price of peas shooting up, she started looking for alternatives. His skills with flowers came to mind and they started taking flowers, so he could make torans to decorate a religious corner at the workshop.
It got the attention of Aban Mirza, sister of Kabir's co-worker.
"He would make them with such grace and poise and I realized how much he loved making them," recalls Mirza. Her father's second year death anniversary was coming up and she decided to ask Kabir to make garlands for the occasion. "My dad had a soft corner for people with disabilities and I knew he would love it. Especially because it was a simple toran and that is exactly what my dad stood for, simplicity."
This soon became a regular pattern, with Mirza asking Kabir to make garlands for special occasions. She was firm about paying Kabir, which Kumtha agreed to after some initial reluctance.
I was a bit hesitant, but she insisted as she said it was for the time and work, he was putting in. Kabir would love going to her place with the torans as he got to spend time with his colleague. - Parul Kumtha, Kabir's mom
This was just the start. Kabir received more orders and encouraged by friends, Parul posted a WhatsApp flier with pictures of Kabir's garlands. Within days he started getting orders and was booked right through to Diwali. That led to the start of Kabir's Kreations.
Kabir, who prefers to work with marigolds weaves the torans in the afternoon after he is back from the workshop. He also delivers them up to a radius of 5-km via public transport.
Be it occasions like Gandhi Jayanthi or decorations for meditation sessions, the orders are varied, with each delivery exposing him to a different set of people and experiences.
Among his admirers is academic Smeeta Bhatkal. "The enthusiasm with which he makes the torans and delivers them is something quite wonderful," says Bhatkal. "And that absolute look of joy when we put it up, it's simply wonderful. I wish him all the best.'
For Asha Matale, a parent who belongs to Forum for Autism, a network of which Kumtha is co-founder and president, his story is an example of the infinite potential that people with disabilities have.
"I got to know about Kabir's Kreations from Facebook and I liked the garlands and the idea and placed an order for Ganesh Chaturthi," says Matale . "He gets so much joy out of delivering the garlands and is so keen to know whether they have met expectations. I feel there is a larger message in what he does for everyone, people with and without disabilities. That whatever curves life throws at you, you can fight back."
The act of going out, meeting new people and engaging with a larger world, Kumtha believes, is helping to make both Kabir and the world a richer place. And it shows how given the opportunity, every person with an intellectual disability can be a contributing member of society.
"If you see the larger mindset that looks upon people with disabilities as inauspicious or a sign of bad luck, this gesture of asking him to make flowers for special occasions like Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali is in itself a sign of overcoming that hurdle," says Kumtha .
The best part of it all is the growing number of people Kabir is inspiring through his initiative. From vocational centres to schools in different parts of India, everyone has been motivated to try their hands at toran-making.
This young man has truly triggered a revolution of change.