Some pages of my Diary!

13 January, 2014

Anu finally agreed to take me to the autistic school. It took some persuading from my part but she finally agreed. She was worried if I would be able to soak everything I see without going crazy.  Anu had been telling me stories of the school and the kids for quite sometime and I was really curious to see things for myself.

I have never  been in the company of literally crazy or autistic people. The only crazy person I know is the society watchman. He is a Nepali and eats green and red chillies for lunch, one after the other. If you talk to him he talks softly, you tell him to speak louder, he goes even more softer and giggles. When he gives me parking instructions he makes sure that I can barely see him. I still have to figure out where he stands. I get really worried, I will run him over someday. What if the fool is lying down right behind my car? He speaks Nepali, Hindi and English all in one scentence, he hardly ever makes sense. Actually the man who hired him as ”  THE WATCHMAN” should be crazier than him.

Anyways, I went with Anu to the school. She warned me that the kids can get violent sometimes. They throw chairs, they bite and they might slap you if you annoy them too much. Well, I told her that I would be ok but the first day was a little petrifying. The principal of the school welcomed me with a smile. She gave me an introduction about autism and how things worked in the school.

The scientific part of her explanation, I didn’t get much. All I could sum it up to was that, there is lack of neural development and there are abnormalities in the way they socially interact and interpret things they see. Autism is not diagnosed till the child is three years old. The child looks normal most of the times. If he is autistic and also mentally retarded then you can see some physical changes in him. Most of the times parents keep these kids hidden away from the world. Though research suggests that if autism is detected in the earliest of stages the child can be treated in the best way possible and there is a better chance of him being useful to the society.  Though still there are too many social stigmas attached to it and parents are paranoid of putting such children  in  special schools. Even today the mother is blamed for giving birth to an autistic child. It is absolutely unfair, both the parents are responsible.  The reasons for the birth of an autistic child ranges from exposure to excessive smoking,drinking, bad food habits,pollution,  pregnancy after 30 years of age, presence of an autistic child in either the mother or the fathers past seven generations, etc.  Autism has no cure.

After talking to her she told me to just observe kids in all the classes. There are atleast 40 kids in the school, ranging from the age group 3 to 16. I went into the first class having absolutely no clue of what to expect. As I went in the kids looked at me, some smiled, some yawned, while one of them said ” Namaste” at least ten times without a break. One of them must be about 6 years old he was constantly banging his head to the wall. The teacher was constantly pushing him away. When he saw me come in he came running to me and hugged me. He took both my hands and kept them tight around his head. His name was Shubham. The teacher told me that he constantly needs some kind of pressure applied to his head. While I held Shubham I saw Arnav sitting in the corner of the room, holding on to his ears and constantly humming something. One of the kids hit the girl besides him really hard. The teacher in the class took him away. While the girl started laughing. Another kid  took his pant down. Maushi came running and took him to the toilet. There was commotion in every class. A kind of commotion I had never experienced.

After spending some time watching them, I went back to the principal’s office. She asked me how I felt. I told her I was a little overwhelmed.  She asked me if I would still want to come and spend time in the school. I said I would like to if I can help. She smiled at me and told me to come for three hours everyday. She just said this before I left, ” Patience and love is all you need.”

16th January,2014

I have been assigned a class to take care of. The class holds ten children, I am in charge of five. The moment I went in the kids kept looking at me while I kept looking at them. We were new to each other. Adwait came running and held me, that kind of made me feel better. He at least didn’t throw the chair at me. Adwait was stuck to me for the next 2 hours of class. I didnt mind he was so bloody cute. He couldn’t speak a word and he didn’t respond to anything I said. He just smiled and held my little finger. The other four were Akhilesh, Alister, Diya, and Atharva.

It is extremely difficult to hold their attention for too long.  Alister was the only one who spoke out of the lot. He didn’t make too much sense though. I tried to make him say his alphabets and he was with me till the letter ‘p’ then he asked me, ” how many ‘p’s do you have? ” Before I could answer he was pulling Diya’s hair and she was pushing him away. Diya looks like a princess, she is that pretty. I tried to play ball with her but she just couldn’t hold the ball. All she did was smiled. There was an occasional ‘Chi’ and ‘Mama’ that came out of her mouth but that was it. I just couldn’t get her to say an ‘A’.  Akhilesh was the singer. He just sang, words didn’t make any sense. He  sang without a care in the world. I would try to make him say ‘one’ he would look at my mouth,roll his eyes and start singing. Atharva was constantly crying for the first half an hour. I gave him a ball and asked him to throw, one throw and he stopped crying. I played with him for ten mins. He wouldn’t catch the ball, just throw it.  Autistic children can repeat an action for a million times. Atharva could  keep throwing the ball all day. I tried to make him say A, all the time while playing with him. I never got an A.

Two hours passed by and time just flew. It was time for lunch. The children can’t eat their own food. So every teacher has to feed two kids in lunch time. I got Akhilesh and Atharva. Akhilesh was singing now in Atharva’s ear and I got the first smile of the day from him. It was like someone  finally got Akhilesh’s joke. Akhilesh went bonkers with his singing, after that. Everyone around us bursted out laughing. Lunch was peaceful. I fed both of them and they ate whatever I gave them to eat.

It was time to go. I kissed the kids good bye and I think they didn’t like it too much. Autistic children are not too comfortable with physical proximity. I am going to remember that. I have overheard a lot of stories in the time I have spent here. There is one kid Sahil, who was thrown in a dustbin and was picked up by an orphanage. The orphanage then realised that he was autistic too, so he is being sent to the school. Another kid’s mother ran away after she realised that her child was autistic. The father got a paralytic attack soon after ,which made him unable to move. The grandfather has Parkinson. He gets a pension of 10000 rupees every month. Half of which is spent on the school’s fees, the house is run in the remaining money. I think this quite literally is the mother of all tragedies.

When I got out of the school today. I wasn’t really happy. There is no sense of achievement here. You have no idea if you have been of any help to the kids. We in the real world are so used to putting in an effort and getting a desired result. In their world results may be seen today or you might not see them till the time they live. There is no guarantee. I feel so angry at the fact that life can be so unfair for some of us. It is just heart breaking.

I don’t want to give up just yet. I know something in me is changing. I don’t see it yet and I can’t point on it either. I just know that I am going to learn somethings here which I will not learn anywhere else. The change I’m sure is going to be positive.

Tomorrow I am going to make Alister say the alphabet till Z. I will try my best to make it happen.


The Nameless Hero

My sister and I always take the train from Bombay to Pune. Most of the time we board the general compartment because it’s extremely difficult to get reservations last minute. We always reach an hour early so that we get a seat. Last Sunday like always we took the Pragati Express which leaves at 4.30pm from Bombay. We reached there early enough to get place to sit.

The general compartment of any of the Bombay- Pune trains is an extremely crowded place. The compartment in it’s real capacity can accommodate only 200 people, but that’s never the case. There are at least 400 people on board. Half of them doing the 3 hour journey ,standing all the way. There are men,women and children of all ages. There is hardly any place to move. In such a crowded bogie there is a constant flow of men selling toys,food,drinks,accessories,etc. There are beggars, blind men singing, cleaners and so on. I am always amazed by the Indians way of accommodating and adjusting. A general compartment is a great demonstration of both these qualities.

Though there are people from all classes both of us have never felt unsafe or in danger of any kind. Though there are 400 people, it is quite peaceful always. Though in this particular journey we had a little different experience.  Fifteen minutes into the journey and the compartment was already full. We didn’t even realise how and when a 60 year old guy wearing a black coat with Shivaji’s photo on it pushed through people to come and stand right in front of my seat. I sat at the window, my sister next to me and a guy may be in his 30s besides her.

” I’m keeping my bags here madam, don’t mind.” the old man said keeping his bags besides my  legs. The moment he spoke I could smell alcohol and I knew that things could get a little difficult. I whispered to my sister to be careful. He was constantly talking to himself and peeking into my sisters mobile screen. After half an hour or so the guy next to my sister got up for a minute to fetch a bottle of water. The drunk old man tried to push himself through the guy , to get to sit next to my sister. My sister and I shouted at him, and the guy sitting next to us pushed him aside. ” kya kar rahe ho uncle? Mien sirf pani leneke liye utha tha. Aapko dikh raha nahi hai  yahan pe ladkiyan baithi hain! ” I personally wanted to kick him right in the middle of his legs, My sister told me to keep calm. I did. We couldn’t push him aside, there wasn’t any place.  It was so crowded that all we could do was to face the drunk man the best way possible.

After this both of us were tense. The drunk man was constantly chattering in English with his wobbly tongue. ” One has to adjust. I’m senior citizen. I’m proud to be Maharashtrian. Jai shivaji! Why she keeping her purse on seat? She should keep me. Seat is for people not purse.”  At this the man sitting opposite to us started laughing. ” What you laughing like foolish? Shivaji is watching, he is watching.” he said pointing at the Shivaji photo on his coat. The old man was constantly swaying , almost falling over us. The guy next to us sensed that there was no point shouting at him. He looked at my really worried sister and said, ” Don’t worry I’m here. He won’t do anything.” My sister nodded. While the rest of the men in the bogie were busy laughing and drinking their chai this guy did something that took me by surprise.

He looked at the drunk man, and said, ” Uncle, aap ek kaam karo aap idhar aake khade raho.” The guy spread his legs a little, pulled the old man and made him stand sideways between them. Then he tightened his grip with his legs and put a hand around his waist to stop him from swaying forward.  I looked at the guy and he smiled at me. I smiled back.

The guy held this man the same way throughout the journey. The drunk man kept blabbering and talking nonsense. But he soon realised that he had to shut up and this guy would not let him move. I could see the guy getting tired or trying very hard to fight his sleep. But he just did not let go of him, not till the end. We had to get down at Shivaji Nagar. We prepared to get up. As soon as we got up the guy pushed the old drunk man on the seat. I did hear a ” hush” from the guy. It must have been an effort to hold a smelly, constantly talking , weighing over a 60 kg man in a firm grip for 2 and a half hours.

We looked at the guy and said thank you almost simultaneously. ” For what?” he asked. ” For holding a man by his waist, for 2 and half hours. You must be tired. I heard a sigh of relief the moment you pushed him on the seat. “
“Oh! That. That was because I just really wanted to pee!” He laughed and rushed to the toilet. Both me and my sister laughed.

In all the rush of getting down I forgot to ask him his name. Being a hero is not about looking good, or wearing a spiderman suit or killing 20 people at once. It is about doing the right thing. To have the courage, the presence of mind to think wisely in a tense situation. It is also about holding a 60 year old drunk man by his waist for two and a half hours so that the two women sitting next to you can feel safe. Finally it is about doing all this not because Shivaji is watching but because you feel a moral obligation to protect women from irresponsible men.

I might not know his name but for both my sister and me the nameless guy is, a hero. I will never forget him.

"The Bombay Local"

 When I and my sister get down at the Dadar station, I have a smile on my face and she has a frown.  She hates Bombay. The heat, the crowd, the smell, the lack of space, most of the things. She is an absolute Punekar. She regrets the fact that she was not born in Pune. While I’m really jealous of the fact that she is born in Bombay, and me in Gwalior.

When we get down at the Dadar station at 6.30 in the evening, it is  peak time in the Bombay local trains and stations.  We have to take a train to Santacruz where my father lives. To do this we have to go from platform number six to one. When you have to cross this bridge at 6.30 with your luggage, it is a great task. I and my sister mostly take the left hand side of the bridge but in 3 to 4 mins, we are pushed all around and we find ourselves right in the middle. I feel like it’s only two of us against a thousand people. We seem like the only ones to be walking in the opposite direction. I kind of enjoy this experience. I am smiling most of the time while my sister gives me that, ” what is so funny, you idiot?” look.    In one of this encounters my sister’s dupatta went missing and she realised it only after we reached the platform.  In that crowd she didn’t even realise when her dupatta slipped away. I controlled my urge to laugh, it helped when my sister herself bursted out laughing.

If you want to see and experience the spirit of Bombay and majority of  her people you have to travel in a local train. You realise how tough life can be.  I had a great experience recently. I had to travel everyday from Santacruz to Churchgate as I had a tournament to play. After my practice I was heading back home in the evening. I had this huge kit bag with me and I was really tired. I entered the train and to my utter disappointment there was no place to sit, so I just stood right next to the door with the kit in front of me. It didn’t seem so intimidating yet. As the train reached Churni road the compartment was almost full but it was still comfortable.

 The next station passed by, and that was when the real fun started. The train now was jam packed. There was an aunty wearing a cross across her neck, right next to me. I asked her if I was standing on the right side to get down at Santacruz. She smiled and asked me, ” First time? ” . ” No, just after a long time. Have lost practice.” I replied. ” Dont worry, you are on the right side only.” I expressed gratitude to her and God. There was no way I could have got down at Santacruz if it was going to come on the other side. I couldn’t even see the other side. On the next station there were at least 30 women ready to pounce on the train. I held my kit bag tighter. Didn’t really help! One fat dark woman didn’t see my bag and she tripped and fell over on the other women in front of her. You can’t really fall in a Bombay local train. There is no place to fall. ” Kya bhara hai us bag mein? Mien bhi fit ho jaongi!! ” she shouted. I thankfully couldn’t see her when she said that. She was pushed away by the crowd in the front. I thanked God again.

I was on the left corner, right next to the door. In very similar conditions,with a  very big bag weighing 10kgs!

After this at every station the train stopped I would shout, ” Badi bag hai niche, Dekh ke, please” It didn’t help too much but it was the least I could do. There was constant fighting and bitching going on around me. They were a bunch of real angry and tired women. These were the kind of things I over heard,

” Arey Mera duppatta.”

” Push mat karo, jagga hai kya age.”

” She stamped on my feet first.”

” No manners this young generation has! Don’t even say sorry!”

” Arey jara jagga do na! Ab kya pappi doge kya aunty?”

” These women should be bloody sent on the Virar train, then they will know.” ( it is said, if you want to punish a man and send him to hell, push him into a train going to Virar.)

” Bandra utroge, nahi na toh phir piche jao na.”

After some 30 mins on board I luckily tried to confirm if I was standing on the right side to get down at Santacruz. I was a station away. I asked a girl next to me. She looked at me with fear in her eyes. ” No! Santacruz is on the other side.” I started sweating a little more and panic started setting in. The woman next to her saw my  face and gave me a golden rule of travelling in a local train.

” ALWAYS, always make sure you ask two different people about the right side of the platform. If their answer is the same only then rely on it.” I think I will remember this all my life.

By this time all the angry women around me knew that I was in trouble.  Santacruz was a minute away. I gave up hope. Suddenly a woman next to me shouted, ” Take your kit bag above your head. We will push it ahead and you too. Don’t worry. ” The platform came. There were again 30 women ready to pounce. It was “us” against “them”. Till that very bit we were all angry with each other. Though, we suddenly transformed into a team with a mission. Once the train stopped, we had a minute. I frankly have no clue what happened. I pushed through bodies, smells and boobs.  By the time I was out a young girl in  front of the crowd was holding my kit bag. I took it from her and a few women were smiling and waving goodbye as the train left. We won, and I wanted to do a victory dance.

Such is Bombay. It is a very harsh city. People are always angry,tired, and chasing a dream or even a train. They will abuse you, push you, step on you to get ahead. But then they will also help a girl with a 10 kilo kit bag to get down on the Santacruz station. Humanity is slowly becoming rare. When you experience something like this it brings a smile on your face. More so when the big dark woman who tripped because of you is amongst the women who  smile and waved you good bye. A smile like that remains with you.

the Band Stand Heroes!