Cradling a cup of hot coffee, I walk towards the window of my apartment in the Bandra suburb. I do not even acknowledge my awkward gait. I have had this peculiar walk as long as I can remember, much before I began to figure out the causes and the effects of any disease. Mom told me that I was born a perfect child, fairest of five sisters, envy of the neighborhood. The medical facilities were very primitive in those days and a mid-wife would suffice for a normal childbirth. Enjoying the attention and endearments doted on a beautiful child like me for full six months; polio attacked me and crippled all my four limbs, and then began the long and endless journey to the doctor’s clinic and hospitals. With my family’s support and care, I did recover, but not completely. A slight limp and a curved backbone stayed on and have been my visible defect since then. Maybe if there were awareness (as much as it is now) about the polio drops in those days, my parents and my family would have taken the necessary precautions! And, I too would have enjoyed the joys of living a normal life (that is, if normal life is all about getting married and rising new generation). However, I have lived an almost normal life and sometimes I have used it to my advantage too. But then I have learnt to look to the positive perspective at every angle. And, to pretend that the unpleasant things don’t exist at all.
I stand drinking coffee at the window, looking out onto a playground I have been looking at for past thirty years and thinking about how it looked to me when I first moved in, and how it looks to me now. This year, I am one year older, and have reached the age when the society decides you're ready to be put to pasture. For me, the years have been one of reckoning: an assessment of the past undertaken for the sake of getting on with the future. Behind such an act always lies the unspoken question: Who am I, and how did I get here?
I take another sip of the cooling coffee, stare at the playground, and inevitably, begin to brood on what now looks to me like a lifelong struggles to become a human being: an independent human being. Looking back on this struggle, I see that this question of "becoming" is a preoccupation of mine that has found its way repeatedly into my work. Much of what I have done over the past years; is riddled through with it. And at every junction of my life, I have stopped, focused and presented the proof of my ability, at times, I have even pleaded to everyone, who cared to listen, to see my ability and not my disability!
I remember long ago, after graduating with first class honors in Bachelor’s Degree, I had applied for an admission to teachers’ college to pursue my career as a qualified teacher (the dream that I had natured since childhood) but, in spite of having all the qualifications of a perfect teacher, I was refused admission for ‘the post-graduation’ in the teachers college. The principal had shamelessly admitted that she suspected my inability to disciple a class room of rowdy kids and therefore could not be qualified as an efficient teacher. The pain of rejection was very intense. I believed I was a loser! I cursed God that day! However, stubbornly, I went on for training in special education teachers’ college instead, and I proved her wrong! I started my career as the head teacher of the special school and set a fine example to my peers.
I taught in the special school for six years and then moved on to teach in main stream school for another two years. A job that was done with so much perfection, that it brought great progress even to a lazy student. During my course of teaching, I noticed that students hardly ever noticed my limp. At the first meeting, they would curiously ask me as to why I walked so, some even would try to train me to walk straight, some of them going to the extend of walking in front of me and telling me to notice and ape their walk and learn the correct way of walking but when I spoke to them in an animated and confident expressions, my handicap was soon forgotten and they became more interested in learning. Many of my students have won national prizes in the inter-school competitions during my teaching career.
Life moved on, I migrated to Surinam and later to Canary Islands to help my brother in retailing business, but kept abreast with my teaching skills, teaching (informally) every child that I could touch. During my stay in Surinam for three years, the kids of Suriname developed a strange bond with me. I was invited to every child’s party. I would organize Diwali parties and other Indian festival programs for kids where in I would train the children in drama and dance. The parents would take interest in their children and lend me their support. They were very happy that they could find another Indian in a foreign land who loved their children. I soon became popular with my event management activities and the Indian Embassy of Surinam enrolled me in their committee of cultural events. Over the years, I developed interest in reading and writing and honed my talent on writing skills too.
Now, back in India, I can boast of two published books on ‘computer for kids’ and a set of 24 modules in Mathematics for young kids called “Learning Mathematics with Pushi didi’. This set of 24 mathematics books has got good response and the parents have confirmed that it is helping to develop the strong mathematical foundation in their children. In addition, I have a set of five modules on ‘English Grammar’ (for young kids), awaiting a publisher, while my book on Sindhi ‘Cooking’ is on back burner. Presently, I am also NGO of a ‘Swami Brahmanand Prathisthan, centre for mentally challenged’, where I help in management and fund raising activities and a freelance translator for a Spanish company in India. Besides this, I also paint and make Indian dolls and I have sold many of my art works in local exhibitions at huge profit!
Relishing the coffee taste, I wonder how able-body people live life differently. They have the same dreams, and same opportunities (sometimes better) as everybody else. Now, in my middle age, I get a glimpse of the reality that my dreams are no different, nor my goals, whatever they may be. I too have muddled through my life, day by day, going along without direction. Wondering what would happen next. Wondering now how I find myself stuck again, and how I got here, and how to get out. Not entirely miserable, but not feeling like I fit in. Not feeling like this is where I belong. But how many mistakes will I make, how many changes, how many moves, before I find that place? Before I know I belong? I know where I think I want to be, but there is no clear path, it’s the same path that we all take and the same frustrations that we must experience. Over the years, I have realized that it is not the innocent children who notice the imperfections in adults, but it is the mature, educated adults, who are embarrassed to be in company of not so perfect people, and these are the same people who fail to recognize their own hidden shortcomings!
Finally at this point of my life, I and my life have finally come face to face, and I can have a heart-to-heart talk with myself. I can almost touch the person I am, and I have learnt to depend and have faith on myself and not to be influenced or disillusioned by the attitudes of the world. It's a beautiful experience. It feels so good, freeing, as if a rebirth. I am at this point, or so it sounds to me. I didn't find it easy to begin my creation process (it wasn't a re-creation because I had no idea what the "me" was before) but I have found it exciting, enervating -- more than worth all that I had been through to get to this point.
As I wash the coffee stains off my used cup, I promise myself that at no point in my life, will I allow myself to be singled out!