Leen and I have been meeting ‘Bhai-sab’ our quirky white-haired auto-rickshaw driver each morning at promptly 8:30 to embark on our bumpy, jarring, violent, jerky, horn-blaring, smog-inhaling, sleep-expelling ride into the office. The only place where I recall feeling this instant mix of fear, anxiety and exultation is on an old roller coaster in San Antonio called the ‘Rattler’. I think the same engineers designed both devices.
The other day we get on campus and while we do our good mornings we take pictures to create marketing material. There are loud cries coming from an adjacent class. Cries of pain, maybe of frustration and certainly of anger. A student is not having a good day. The UMANG staff is unrattled. We know this because looking at their calm gives us the courage to calm down. The girl is led outdoors...
In the hallway outside is the enclosure that serves as the Speech therapy center. Sharmila had asked me to help with videotaping a session. I, of course, am overawed by everything here, so I oblige. Two kids are sitting at a desk and one working with a largeish calculator like device. I zoom in, eyes and lenses. “What do want to tell me today?” Sharmila gently asks him. The child strains, braces and swoops to tap an icon on the calculator-like device that says ‘My Mother’. The device speaks the words for him. “What do you want to tell me about your mother”?
Tap-à “My mother loves me”, the calculator says!
If you are the teacher, you smile and Sharmila does. If you are me, this is heady stuff, a very intelligent little boy who cant speak, just told you about his biggest love…his mother. Choke, tears, wow...! Zoom out.
Then there’s this wonderful kid on a wheelchair that looks like one of my Rajput buddies from high school. Proud black moustache, well groomed hair, a steel ring at this wrist….”Good Morning Bhavani” I shout. That’s when he slowly unveils his 1000-watt smile. “Good Morning” he retorts. Our hands meet in air….”Kaise ho Bhavani?”.
Late morning one day UMANG plays host to group of sixty ladies; the wives of most powerful Indian army officers here in Jaipur. They come equipped with bags full of craft tools, projects, ideas, excitement, enthusiasm and patience. These one-on-one craft workshops are their way of honoring UMANG, which educates their own developmentally disabled children. I see the significance. I am on a CSR (Corporate social responsibility) assignment and so are these ladies. We talk to them about our ‘Branding’ strategies for UMANG, about our appreciation for their support and implore them to become our brand ambassadors.
The noisy gate of the vocational training center announces our entrance. Shakuntala and her kids in the patio are all smiles. Hellos come in many forms: words where possible, nods where possible, smiles where possible and any movements where possible. Hello all. We're here to meet Pramilla the coordinator of this unit, a superb educator, patient teacher and overall nice-person-and-manager of this unit. She is putting the finishing touches to some artwork of the kids. Squeezing golden glitter with a flourish, turning a patchwork into an artwork. Leen and I join in and its arts-and-crafts time…children again with glitter, cards and a messy art table... the CSR mission is checked in at the door!! After a while I have to stop to attend to an ongoing discussion in the group. Leen is absorbed, her attention and the glitter sticking to the card. Later she celebrates, “I did six cards”!!!
As we return past the main building we find a girl sitting and swaying back and forth on a blue trampoline who’s motion must sooth or smooth her loud and strong movements. She is inconsolable. She can’t verbalize why. She may be able to communicate, but just not this minute, this hour. Meenakshi is by her side gently talking, asking, consoling “Kya hua beta (what is it child?)”….Kya hua beta…..Kya hua beta….Kya hua beta...Kya hua beta...Kya hua beta...Mir