Day 55: A fitting finale

I remember watching a few cultural performances by special children in the past. Mostly when I was a child myself, and I had not yet been introduced to the concept of disabilities. I majorly remember feeling disgust, and some shame as the kids flayed aimlessly on the stage. I almost felt a tinge of disgust when the adults appreciated such a half-assed performance, while the normal kids had done much-much better. I have a second cousin with some developmental disabilities, and I remember always making some excuse to not visit that aunt. Even when I was there, I’d try my best to avoid any eye contact. Her loud voice and a lack of personal space all scared the adolescent me.

As we sat at Bethany School, watching the students of the Special School perform for their Prize Day, I felt none of those old emotions. In fact, I felt an abundance of pride while watching these students perform the little skit that we had scripted. I felt awe and amazement as the kids danced for one of the newest Bollywood numbers, never batting an eyelid away from their dance master amongst the audience. I felt mirth as an autistic child broke step from their action song to wave at Ms. Shanti sitting in the first row.

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Jeslyn’s Jesus Loves me 🙂

We reached a good 15 minutes early and I had an opportunity to observe the audience very closely. Most looked like any other parent in any other school; eager to watch their child perform on stage, engaging the other child who is too distracted to see his brother or sister on stage. Most of them had an empathy that is often missing in the competitive nature amongst us normal folk. They had a child that was suffering, and in that they were all united as a community. I felt that powerful bond in the hall.

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We also noticed parents react very differently to their child’s condition. I know it is very naive of me to judge an experience purely from the 15 second interaction that we were purview to. But we saw our dear Stuti run over to her mom and dad sitting a few seats away from us. The mother, first in her path, did not change her morose look at all, as she simply passed the daughter over to her partner beside her. The father was all smiles at Stuti as he hoisted her up on his lap and checked emphatically about her upcoming dance. Just in that body language, the mother somehow seemed to come out as the less supportive parent of the lot. Who knows what demons lurk under her breath there! Did she blame herself for her child’s condition? Does she fight the demons of depression that our society very conveniently ignores? Did she battle complications during her pregnancy that have scarred both her daughter and her for life?

If nothing else, the experience through this teaching practicum has taught me how normal these special children are and how abnormal our ‘normal’ lives are. The two lead boys, who vocalized our entire play, could have been kids in any normal school. I’ve already talked about how a major lapse in awareness can result in children getting taken out of normal schools, and pushed to a slower track.

It pains me that the society still has a strange but deep-rooted taboo associated with disabilities. The current schooling has definitely progressed since my time, and integrated education has brought our kids closer to disabilities. But there is still so much to do. Parents and students need to be caught up on so many issues faced by these children. Only when the mainstream starts worrying about these special children will the policy makers start worrying too.

While you were busy enjoying your morning at the Special School, I’ve spent the morning stalking mom and dad for food. So much so that now daddy refuses to look at me while he eats. 

Look how silly he looks, S. And that’s him eating my fave dosas. How can I let him be? “Scotch 

And I’ll be right here, waiting for you, dosa! 

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Day 9: Of growing women and sex education

It has always pricked my mind to ride a car to college all by myself. For someone trying to be considerate about one’s impact on the environment, avoiding this selfish, fuel-guzzling mode of travel seems like the least one could do. But when circumstances forced that to be the only feasible mode of transport for me, I started exploring options to car pool, so that we are at least sharing the load on poor mother earth. While this might make me come off as overly clingy (doesn’t she have other friends!), or a little psychopathic tending towards a sex offender (Cmon! Who offers a car ride without some ulterior motive, right?), I was doing it purely to share the ride with another.

And so, Tooti and I drove back from college together. She is a peppy kid pursuing her undergraduate course in bio-technology, and a great bharatnatyam dancer. I’ve noticed her before for her quirky whatsapp status messages and that’s exactly what got the conversation going today. “You reveal more than me and yet I’m always criticized. Why? A distressed crop-top asked a saree

There began our ride talk and it went from the culture stereotype that a saree brings in, to even the 9 yard revealing more than what it should, to teachers always having to confine to the stereotype of being saree clad for being taken seriously. This was some ten minutes into the ride and I completely lost track of time or the flow of thoughta after that.

We spoke about sex education in schools, or the lack of it entirely. It seems that even now, the tenth graders get a gist of sex education, through a gruesome video that is cringe-worthy. We commented about our mutual disbelief at how little our parents are ready to talk to us about sex, and how most girls learn about sex from their friends or cousins, or the all-knowing porn industry.

We realized that the problem was worse with men, who are barely given information about menstruation and the associated problems. Most men see their mothers, sisters and even wives go through it and yet it’s a topic of utmost taboo to talk about. Imagine the quality of life of a married couple, where an entire perspective of the wife is unknown to the man, and they choose to not even talk about it.

All my friends are making out for at least 40 minutes every day“, she said, wondering aloud if she did a mistake by breaking up with her boyfriend of three years. That led us to talking about pop culture and peer pressure and how it drives our relationships these days. Girls flaunt the ‘bases’ that they progressed with their partner, like a baseball trophy to be proud of. This peer and media-induced pressure is making girls like Tooti wonder if they were wrong by holding their ground and not putting out. “What if it was really love, and I should have allowed him to experiment?“, she questions herself.

We laughed at our parents and how unsure they are about talking to us about these sensitive topics. While her generation seems to have progressed and her father was okay about her watching a kissing scene on TV, I only remember awkward side-glances when someone on TV got cost when I was growing up.

All this talk made me realize that a major gap in Indian education system is the lack of awareness given about these real-world issues. What if each school had an S, for the Tootis and others in the school to go and ask their doubts to, and get answers alone – not judgements? What if the counselors in schools are able to build such a rapport with the students that they are able to have such ride talks, and walk out with a smile and a ‘we definitely have to talk some more’? What if the education system broke all stereotypes in the society and let children be children?

Deep, man! I’m just gonna lie here while you rant about sex ed and what not. Poor lasses like me don’t have to worry about such things. 

For us, the struggle is more real: like will I get 1 egg for lunch or 2.” Scotch 

Napping, leaving the worries to the world.