Eons ago, in morning school assemblies my generation mindlessly chanted “O Lord……Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love…”. Eons later a vacant tubelight flickers on in my brain, as I mingle with the kids at UMANG Jaipur. UMANG is the NGO I work with (thanks to IBM forever) and a place of learning and recreation for (severely) developmentally disabled kids. I’m consulting at UMANG on issues of business strategy and planning but its also become clear to me that I’m serving my apprenticeship to these kids on core life issues of strength, fortitude and attitude.
Leen and I arrive early on day one to witness the students arrive. They come with little fuss lurching down the driveway on crutches, sliding on uncooperative feet, stumbling unbalanced, recovering, going into the next cycle of steps, arriving...being lead onto the campus by escorts, parents, classmates…and ALL smiling. Next come two who hold hands to accumulate the reassurance needed to get past the threshold of their classroom. UMANGs staff is everywhere….almost a 1:1 ratio of helpers to students, wheelchairs are filled with bodies lowered out of auto-rickshaws and then vacated faster than you expect. Right on the hour, the din outside morphs into classroom sounds inside.
Leen ‘Deedee’(sister) and Mir “Bhai”(brother) are introduced to one class. Loud good mornings spill out. Eager hands reach out for ours, awkward, deformed, able, unable, strong, hesitant, uncontrolled, miscontrolled…each fueled by unbounded enthusiasm. … touch is important, a overt acknowledgement of our acquaintance, of the possibility of a new friendship or simply the joy of a shared world. In many cases I’ll never know, but that doesn’t diminish the lesson it holds. After thousands of corporate handshakes we finally find a crowd that has no agenda past the handshake. It is an end in itself. And the goal for the morning. Leen and I are shaking hands, smiling, attempting eye contact, attempting speech, not able to contain the creation of so much instant emotion….trying hindi, trying English, shouting words like cricket, chocolates, Tendulkar, Spain, New York…
For three hours we go from one class to the next. Each child is a new friend, each disability establishing its own boundaries of interaction. At the end Leen and I are exhausted but happy. This feels good. Very good.