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I’m a doctor to be. So in the journey of these 4 years, somewhere along, I lost my outlook to look into people’s lives as a fellow being. I saw “patients” every day; but they became just “ cases”. Disease, Disability, Deformity , I saw them all. But I forgot about the people who had them… I didn’t see their pain, their suffering, their day to day challenges, their emotional trauma, the sacrifices of their family, their sighs or their watery smiles…I didn’t realize their battle , their determination, their hopes and their dreams…It was then I got the reality punch. A phone call!
That phone call jolted me out of my ignorant, conveniently unattached way of living….
The call was in search of a “M.A.D” volunteer. “Make A Difference” is a voluntary organization where English is taught to kids at orphanages, by trained volunteers on weekends. My Prof who had called me , told he wanted someone who could teach a kid who has been admitted recently. Due to my natural curiosity and love for kids, my legs on their own accord moved to the paediatric ward. I was so enthusiastic to meet the kid, I hadn’t pressed the prof for any more details.
And then whoa! It was when my Inclusion Moment happened. My moment of Enlightenment. My Wake Up Call, literally! In the form of a 6 year old boy..
Empty, sorrowful eyes stared back at me. Burn marks over his tiny body burnt my heart. The bruises and graft patches made my eyes sting. Then when I just got over my initial shock, the amputated limbs, made my lungs constrict and throat tighten. His anguish tore my heart. My eyes searched for his family. When every bed in paediatric ward was surrounded by family members , his was hauntingly empty. When every mom was fussing over her sick child, here, there was not a single soul. The fear chilled my veins.. “This is unfair, cruel, fate is merciless!” screamed my mind.” Oh GOD! Please let it not be so” prayed my soul. My legs couldn’t hold me anymore .With limbs like leads, I walked back to the nurses’ station and collapsed on a chair. With trembling hands, I picked up my cellphone and called Sir.
The truth was worse than I had imagined. “ Manu lived in a farm with his parents. His father was an alcoholic. He was also abusive and resorted to physical violence. On that horrible night, his drunken father was beating his mother to death. Manu was begging his father to stop and was rewarded with a few nasty bruises and fractures himself. To save her dear child, his mom pushed him aside and became a victim to her husband’s crass comments and abuse .But it didn’t stop there and his mother was dragged to the outskirts of their farm. And he pushed her outside the fence, which was planted to protect the farm from wild animals. She got stuck in that electrical deathtrap. The current burned her and she yelled in pain. Manu, who was searching for his mother, heard her cry and ran to save her from its clutches. He landed on that electrical circuit on his knees and the electrical current snared his limbs. The neighbours came to the rescue. But sadly, his mother died on her way to the hospital. His father is now in jail. He has no one now…..” my Prof continued. I said something coherent and ended the call. I felt tongue-tied. I walked back to my hostel in a shock.
His story echoed around me. ”What can I do for him? “ the question gnawed my conscience. I knew he had already experienced too much cruelty and death, which, a child of his age, shouldn’t even be aware of. I thought of all the “Manu’s” around and felt like a noose tightening around my neck. Then I remembered the motto I had learnt as a M.A.D volunteer. “ We don’t crib. We do. We make a difference”. I gave myself a pep talk. I repeatedly told myseIf that “I can do it, I will try my level best to make a difference in his life. I want to make him smile. I want him to know he can do anything with determination.” I wanted him to heal both physically and emotionally during his stay at the hospital.
“ Be the change you want to see in the world”- Mahatma Gandhi.
So I became a kid myself, all over again. I felt his anxiety, his fear , his wariness. To get through the barriers he had erected , I had to be his friend, his sister. I started visiting him everyday and spending my evening at his bedside. At first , he ignored me, he cried, he threw tantrums, but I knew he was just testing the waters. I wanted him to believe that I wouldn’t desert him or give up on him, anytime. Slowly, he warmed to me. We started drawing together, playing together, reading stories together. I realized he was a very smart, creative, enthusiastic kid, who could be taught to live and love all over again. So we started with a story session. I would carry him to the seat overlooking the railway station and begin story telling. His favourite was that of the squirrel who helped Lord Rama to build the bridge, when he was in quest of Sita. And surely, why not?
The tiny weeny squirrel, though wounded, though slow, though infinitely smaller when compared to the mighty Hanuman and his associates, had a lot of self confidence, a load of determination and a warm heart to help others. And from then on , the squirrel became Manu’s hero.! The “N” number of times where the squirrel jumped into the chilling cold water and rolled in the sand with the sole purpose to help Rama build his bridge, became his favourite part. He started to appreciate the squirrel’s spirit ,to fight with confidence against all odds and hurdles, his faith, and his will power. And just like that, the change had begun. The healing had started. The clouds parted and the Sun shone again.
His eyes twinkled with hope and happiness. He started playing with other kids. He had a big smile ready for every person who walked by his bed. He became a pet of the hospital staff. He became a watchful guardian to the young babies when their mothers asked him to. He started to learn walking again…with his artificial legs. He started to learn to read and write Kannada, English and numbers. He even started telling stories of a Squirrel which could fly, which could swim, which could possibly do anything in the World, to the other kids in the ward.
And today, he is a charming, bright, kid studying in 2nd standard of a renowned school in Bangalore, with all the enthusiasm, love and hope of a kid and the self-confidence and determination of a Squirrel.
Manu…the memory of his broad grin will always make my gloomy days brighter. He changed me. My perceptions, my outlook, my world!
And my little Squirrel shall own my heart , forever!
This short story is an entry in the ManipalBlog.com writing contest 2014, in support of India Inclusion Summit 2014 to be held at Bangalore on November 29th and 30th. To know more about the idea of an #InclusiveIndia follow @IndiaInclusion on twitter or visit their Facebook page at India Inclusion Summit.
About the author: Ms. Shreyas K is a medical student at Kasturba Medical College Mangalore.