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Meenu (name changed) joined the Intermediate Science course in our college last year. Initially I did not realize that her gait was peculiar or that she walked with a limp. She always occupied a corner seat and seemed to be a cheerful young girl with a keen interest in her subject. Her smile was contagious. It was only when she started attending practical classes that I noticed that her friends had to support her while climbing stairs and she took slow and measured steps even on level ground. It took her a few minutes to steady herself before getting up from her seat.
A little before Republic day her friends approached me saying that she wrote poetry and wished to read it out after the flag hoisting ceremony. She had not known that the last date for receiving entries was over. Could I do something about it?? Of course I could. I took the entry from her and inserted it in the folder after explaining her condition to the person in charge of receiving entries. It was just a small program meant to encourage talented students to come forward and participate and all participants were to receive participation certificates. It pained me to see her struggle on the stage. She was finding it difficult even to stand for the few minutes that it took to read out her poem. Despite it she continued to smile. Her friends willingly helped her down the stage.
Having a little time in hand, I called her over and asked her where she lived. I thought that I could perhaps bring her along to college if she happened to live near my home. She lived in the opposite direction so there was no point offering to escort her. I then asked her if her father worked for Tata Motors that was close to the place where she lived.
I live with my maternal uncle and aunt (mama and mami), ma am she replied. My uncle works for Tata Motors and my aunt works in a primary school.
I was impressed. Taking care of a physically handicapped teenager was not easy. I thought that her parents were perhaps dead, for who else would leave their disabled daughter in the care of relatives. Or perhaps they lived in some remote village and had sent the girl to Jamshedpur for college education. I thought twice before asking-
What about your parents? I was totally unprepared for what I heard next.
They abandoned me at birth. My maternal grandmother took care of me initially. My maternal uncle and aunt have taken over after her death.
Don t they have children of their own?
They have a son and daughter who are now in middle school.
But why did your parents do this to you? I just could not digest the information.
Within a few days of my birth the doctors told them that I was crippled and would have difficulty in walking. They just walked off from my grandmother s place asking her to put me in an orphanage or dump me in the garbage bin. They would have nothing to do with a lame child a girl on top of it.
Didn t you grandmother reason with them? I asked.
She did. But they stopped visiting her for fear that she might force them to take charge of me.
How about your present care takers? Do they treat you well? I asked.
However, there was no need to ask. Her quiet confidence and cheerful disposition said it all.
They treat me at par with their own children ma am. She said. My uncle made it clear to my aunt before marriage that I would be their first born and she agreed.
Do your parents have any other children? I asked.
They do, but I haven t met them.
By then her friends became restless and wanted to leave. They normally walked her to the auto stand and helped her board an auto. Her uncle or aunt would pick her up at the destination. The girl left but I kept thinking about her for days. There was something about her that made one take notice of her. She seemed to have no bitterness against her parents and the well deserved concern shown by her friends was mainly due to her attitude. God bless you my child, I thought. I also kept pondering over the possible reason for such a sweet child being abandoned by her own parents. I then remembered that in a dance contest that I watched in Kalaignar TV a very talented young girl spoke of having been abandoned by her parents because she was born dark. She was being looked after by her paternal grandmother and aunt. So these things do happen. Parenting a handicapped child was a challenge that some may not want to take up. I am not finding excuses but disowning a child on account of her skin color?? Well as I often say being a parent is different to becoming a parent.
Long back I heard a Tamil saying-
Athai asal illai. Ammami uravu illai.
This may be roughly translated as
One s paternal aunt(father s sister) being a blood relative can never be a stranger. And one s maternal aunt (not a blood relative, having married one s maternal uncle) could never be a relative.”
I am glad Meenu s story belies the proverb.
The Hip Grandma lives in a small industrial town called Jamshedpur and despite all its
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