A Prodigious soul

SUMANA SAHA

“Of all the joys that lighten suffering on the earth, what joy is welcomed like a newborn child?” – Dorothy Nolte

The news of a newborn cousin was very exciting for Tablu. In a closely knit family like theirs, growing up is a nourishing experience. And the thrill to see a new life take form, have a voice of its own, its own preferences, favorite color, and music – the news of a new cousin filled him with a unique relief that he wasn’t the youngest one anymore.

Tatai – that’s how his mother called him, and the rest of the family as well, a closely knit family.

Soon, Tablu heard them say, he was different, and that infants of his age respond much more than him and are able to express their simple emotions. They waited, the elders, for him to grow out of it, but as time passed, it became more evident that he wasn’t expressive, and didn’t bother to or couldn’t convey his thoughts and emotions, although he responded to activities that required intelligence of children of his age.

“Aata gache tota pakhi” didn’t amuse him either. It seemed as if he was listless to all of them. His doctor suspected autism. At first they thought that consulting a large number of doctors will prove otherwise – as if doctors secretly conspired to trouble them! Denial finally gave way to sorrow and concern. For a toddler, who barely knew the heavy words of grown-ups, future and career, his mother’s finger was the only refuge – holding tightly as if shocked by the apathy of a society, waiting for him to grow, only to be scorned and ridiculed, not accepting and willing to understand a kid who is just different.

Tablu saw his aunt bursting into tears – tears of concern for a toddler. He is six now and there hasn’t been a day when he said a single word. Everyone thought he doesn’t have the ability. But the doctors said, “He is fine, this is just anther symptom of autism.” They have tried so much to make him talk, asked him to say “Ma”, for that woman whose heart is as heavy as this universe. But he never said.

The world has seen brilliant artists and scientists, who were and are autistic. Several great feats were achieved by these autistic kids, who grew into unsurpassed talents. These facts never consoled his mother, although Tablu’s teenage brain was pretty relieved that his Tatai might have a different life. But the doors of opportunity weren’t completely closed or if in some cases closed weren’t locked. He might have to burst open some doors, but they were all there for him. They were, they had to – that’s what family is for!

He always liked the TV – the colors, the music, the voices seemed to amuse him, and occasionally he would jive with the music. Amazingly, he loves listening to Rabindra Sangeet and most of the time detests the Music of this generation. The schools his parents tried admissions in made excuses, as if the knowledge factory wasn’t ready to actually teach a slightly different child, who wasn’t the proper raw material for their cooked education.

His parents found a social school finally, while he silently questioned whether it was him, or the people around him who failed to understand that he had problem grasping the simple emotional support and nourishment he deserved from people who weren’t his family.

The fundamental ‘problem’ an autistic person suffers from is the problem in grasping facial expressions, non verbal communication, etc. But is it really a problem to be free from the convoluted phoney idiosyncrasies of human society?

Tablu likes it when Tatai smiles at him sometimes; he somehow feels; he understands everything.

Discussions get serious sometimes, concerns and sobs overwhelm everyone, while Tatai stacks his little cars together, or makes tall towers from his blocks one over another – certain traits of autistic children.

While grown-ups are trying to find at least two nickels of hope to ring together, Tatai and Tablu watch cartoons on the Television, clutching hands and smiling at each other rather courageously as if knowing – it goes on.

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