Saturday, January 31, 2009

Life does not suck for Her !

A very close friend of mine works with a school for special children. I have great respect for her.

Like any other expectant mother she too had great expectations from her second issue, because it was conceived after some planning and speculation than her first-born . She did everything for the expedient of the little one. Be it doing light yoga or be it reading scriptures; be it drinking warm milk with a dash of saffron (to enhance the child's skin tone, as per her mother-in-law's advice ) or be it talking and singing to her unborn child. So infectious was her exuberance and enthusiasm that from time to time I could not but call on her, to discuss about the foetal development .

"Today it kicked me for the umpteenth time. This little brat is obviously in great hurry to see the light of the world. Or is it mistaking my poor womb to be a soccer stadium?" She would joke.

That was six years back.

Today she is the mother of an autistic child.

She realised her baby was autistic when even at the tenth month the infant did not respond to the love and affection showered on her .She would simply look at them blankly and blink. First they consulted an expert ophthalmologist to verify if it was an eye disorder. Nothing was erroneous. The child would simpy NOT react to either the mother or the father's touch. This was a heart-rending and a nerve wrecking phase. But in due course of time, my friend realised that it was nothing compared to what was ahead of them in future.

She would ask me, "Why me? Did I do something very terrible to deserve this?"

I would console her, "God chose you above us because He knew that , you and only you have the patience, resilience and courage to fulfil this daunting task of nurturing your sweet little one . We lack all that it needs to upbring a special child. We are perhaps worthless in His eyes, because if we can proudly call ourselves mothers , tackling our pretty little darlings ( and feeling what great jobs we were doing , when actually, all we do is Much Ado About Nothing ! ), I have no problem in calling you a supermother."

And indeed she is one. Besides looking after her two daughters and family, she has got into a school for autistic children.In this way she perceives and understands her child better . Here, she handles fifty more such children, fathoming to know more about this brain development disorder. Nowadays she even handles ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder ) cases with a few children who study at her daughter's school.

Today she is able to tell me that autism has :
*no cure
*no clear unifying mechanism
*no study focussing on midlife
*no chance of independent living
Autism is a communication disorder characterised by a child's inability to relate to the outside world. Such children are hypersensitive to external environmental stimuli. They love to remain withdrawn in their own world which is accessible only to them.
She now knows how to tackle her. She does it by :
*being consistent in discipline
*making frequent and mandatory eye-contacts
*doing her work in a routine or fixed schedule
*touching her frequently(earlier she was aversive to touch)
*calling out her name everytime she talks to her
*tries not to react to her tantrums irritably
Despite such bleak prospects she has indulged in the studies of this dysfunction which begins during the embryonic stages of development.

" Most children are undisciplined, rude ,erratic and very unpredictable.Acquiring language before age six and having an I.Q. above 50, plus having a marketable skill - all predict better outcomes ...." She tells me.

Her daughter fortunately falls in this category, to her and my great relief !

When I asked her one day what gives her so much enthusiasm even in the face of such adversity to slog on, she replied to me with a laid-back yet serene tone - "I have simply learned what I can do, and what I cannot do. With my elder daughter I can share a joke or share an emotion. And with my younger one I cannot share a joke or an emotion. With my elder daughter I can be angry, with my younger one I can't" .

Her words reminded me of Jack Canfield when he quoted Roger Crawford - who is a certified tennis player and professor of the United States Professional Tennis Association having everything except two hands and a leg ! - in his article, ' Everybody can do something ' :
" The only difference between you and me is that you can see my handicap, but I can't see yours. We all have them...I've learned that I can't play the piano or eat with chopsticks like you. But what I can do is play with my heart and soul."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Flipping through the pages of an old family album, my son stopped at a picture . It was the photo of my mother-in-law when she was young and quite pretty. She sat petitely before the Taj Mahal with a soulful look in her eyes.

"Who's this, ma?" he asked.

"It's your dida". ( In hindi 'dida' becomes ' dadi' ). I replied as casually as he had asked me.

"You sure are kidding, mom. This cannot be dida. She looks so pretty here."

He sure was correct. For , my mother-in-law indeed looked beautiful in those honeymooning days. Far from her betel- chewn-red-stained remnants of three pairs of teeth, her smile was nothing short of the Colgate girl ,with a flashy smile.

"And see, she's carrying a vanity-bag too !" he exclaimed with plenty of skepticism in his big-lashed-questioning eyes.

He simply wouldn't take the once-a-pretty-woman-now-a- grandmother- theory , hands down.

This started me thinking. We find it difficult to accept certain things about our grandmas and grandpas.
Like, they ever had black hair or uncreased or unfurrowed skin .
They were born wise. They can never be wrong. This compliment perhaps makes it so much the easier for those septuagenarians and octogenarians who might have failed in school !
They never enjoyed full 16 pairs of dental arrangement.
Grandparents never knew about sex and cheap things like that !
We look at our elderly generation with a certain veneration, which is absolutely fine.

But have we ever thought that in doing so we also bind them in a holy halo which at some times may be actually throttling to them. By granting them a saintly stature, are we not denying them some of their needs?
It's true that after a certain period they may naturally lose the zeal of certain things but what if they don't ? What if they actually enjoy an adult romantic thriller as much as we do but are too embarrassed to acknowledge it?
In fact , whenever I watch a movie with my grandparents and an unwarranted scene comes up , I am so much flustered by discomfiture that I either start talking too much (about different incoherent things like the weather !) or try to divert their attention : much to their chagrin ! So it is I NOT THEY who am truly embarrassed !
Coming back to where I started, My son had almost finished and had reached the end of the album.

Now his fingers rested on the photograph of his infant father who was a toddler, being given a bath by his mother !

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Wow, What a journey !

What a spectacular J O U R N E Y ! The rise of Jamal Malik from the scuzzy and slimy scum of human excreta , in the filthy slums of Mumbai , to win the two- million rupees from the reality show 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' , is a journey that not many will opt for . It is incredible but true. This is GOOD.

Jamal is an orphan. He is a slum-dweller. He and his elder brother Salim , along with many other boys share the same poignant destiny. Each hour is a struggle for these indigents, these innocent flowers , doomed to dwindle in destitution. Each day they struggle to fend for food. When our gluttonous children are guzzling over burger and pizza, these impoverished children are hanging from the train upside down to steal a 'chapatti ' only to be thrown off the train . This is their life. This is BAD.

But, Jamal khan is a survivor . He has survived . In the daily struggle in the wild world, he survived - sometimes due to his sheer dumb luck, sometimes due to his presence of mind. He survived when the police 'lathicharged' innocent people. He survived the terrible riots , having witnessed some graphically barbaric molestations and subsequent deaths. He survived the devil's touch when the devil was turning sweet, innocent slumkids into beggars.And Jamal survived the police torture when he was wrongly arrested , at the pretext that he had fraudulently qualified for the contest and answered the questions correctly by cheating. For indeed how can a slumboy know so much?

But Jamal Malik knew. He knew all the answers by dint of his first-hand experience. This was BAD then. This is GOOD now.

Jamal Malik's elder brother, Salim Malik did'nt survive. He had seen too much muck in his life to accept his sordid fate and relinquish in penury. He , the elder brother, the saviour of his younger brother - later got astrayed, for he chose to give his destiny a run for money. So , in his short span of adulthood he bartered his poverty for money at the cost of his morality. The protector , becomes his tormentor. This is BAD.

Jamal's childhood friend Latika, who too has grown in the slums , is separated from him , when they run away from the devils .They cannot rescue her. Yet Jamal pines for her. She is sold to a brothel at a very tender age. But LOVE triumphs in the end after many pitfalls. This is GOOD.

I don't know much about Danny Boyle except that he has directed in theatres, television, and now directs movies , some of his 'must -watch' movies being 'A LIFE LESS ORDINARY' , 'SUNSHINE' , '28 DAYS LATER' AND 'SHALLOW GRAVE'. His next assignment is 'PONTE TOWER' about a girl who falls prey to drug-peddlers in the Apartheid-ending era of Africa. He indeed is an artist beyond demographical boundaries.

But I realised that he was an extremely sensitive man to portray this saga of LIFE in it's sheer starkness. At the same time it is ironical that it needed an Englishman to bring out the bitter truth of Mumbai's underbelly in so breathtaking a manner ! I also do not know why the hue and cry about the movie . Why do we fail to acknowledge the truth? For the truth is, Mumbai's 15 - 30 percent of GDP does come from beggary ! This is BAD, very BAD.

Unless the truth is accepted, falsity will reign. Unless reality is grasped, change is impossible. IT's about time we accept that we need to eschew our moral-depravity.

It's time we wake up to awareness ! It's time we educate our poor. So that twenty years from now when English -men make movies of our land, on our land, we do not feel vilified or cringe due to embarrassment.

When I left the theatre I had to exclaim," Wow, what a movie !".