"You have nothing to worry about anymore. Believe me; you will grow up to be someone the entire nation will recognize. If you have the talent for dancing as you have for gymnastics and if you believe that you can, and if you so strongly desire to be a professional dancer then I assure you that we will help you to achieve the best you can, as long as you are here, with us. We do not propagate the notion that only if you excel in academics can you be assured of success in life. The philosophy of this institution is to prepare you for the future, in whichever field that is most suitable to help you in your later life," said the director, towards the end of my personal interview with him. I had mentioned to him about my hearing impairment and how it caused me feel like a burden to my parents, teachers and to myself in general.
This interview happened when I was to be admitted into another school since I had failed the final examination in my previous school and the embarrassment and pain was too much for us to overcome. Mom who had worked endless hours with me was distraught at my results and seemed at a loss for ideas to comprehend the reasons for the innumerable 'F's in my report card. Dad and my brothers tried hard to console me and mom, but unfortunately, all their efforts failed to make us feel any better. I was angry with myself for bringing so much shame to my family and also because I had caused the people, who loved me, hurt and sorrow. Mom had gone into a deep depression and hardly resembled the mom I had always known. I too, was a broken boy and felt as though my soul had been ripped out of my lean frame. Life seemed meaningless and my days were even gloomier than the weather in winter for my mind was as foggy as the air that enveloped our home. I did not want to repeat the class for I had worked too hard to deserve a punishment as bad as that. I wondered about mom and if she had the strength to endure it, all over again. And why did she have to? Why was she being persecuted too? The questions were all there, but like a repeat of the questions on the examination papers I had no answers.
This new school like my previous one was also located in Uttarakhand, but not in Nainital. This one was located in Dehradun which is the capital city of the state. It was also a totally residential school however; the difference here was that it was a co-educational as well as an international school. It was massive in size and had all the amenities in it to aid a twenty first century learner. It wasn't like any school I had seen, maybe I had, but in Hollywood movies only. It was immaculately clean and not a fallen leaf to or a loose pebble could be seen on the newly tarred footpaths. The place seemed to be as if it was somehow dug up and transported from some Scandinavian country. It was I thought a school that the entire nation could be proud of. I was truly excited to be part of this unbelievable school. Its awe inspiring beauty I hoped would inspire me to live my dream. The belief that God had wanted me to be here to show me the path forward entered my mind. If God was with me and was showing me the road to take, well then it was up to me to travel the path. If God closes the door, He opens a window and this school was my window. The past was history and its door was closed, forever.
As the school was a new one there was more staff than students in it and all the students had naturally been recent admissions. A majority of the few were first-time hostellers and so were handicapped without their parents support and guidance and therefore I fitted in with them extremely easily. I was like a family member to them and them to me. We all yearned for each other's company initially, but as the numbers grew we naturally began to spend less time together and formed new friendships. Soon a number of overseas or foreign students joined us. These students were from far off places like Thailand, the Koreas, Nepal and the Middle-East countries. I was able to connect with them as they too seemed handicapped since English was not a language they were comfortable with and often sought my assistance. Here, we all seemed to be birds of the same feather that flocked together. This flocking together satisfied my gregarious human need, for no man can live like an island. I was accepted by the overseas students because I only spoke in my mother tongue which they could understand while at the same gauge Indian students accepted me since I was one of them.
This acceptance of being an equal by all boosted my confidence which sort of gave new life to me. It was like nutrition being given to a starved Somalian child suffering from malnutrition. I no longer felt afraid of seeking help or trying my hand at things that I had assumed I was not good, such as horse riding, rifle shooting, or trying my hand at table tennis or using my legs in Taekwondo.
The transformation that the playing field made in me was unimaginable, less than a year ago. Now everywhere I went the playing field was the same for everyone as hardly anyone seemed to make me feel aware that they were aware of the fact, that I was hard of hearing. I was always chosen to participate in the morning assemblies or in inter class elocution contests and I even participated in a spelling contest and ironically won a prize in it too! To be honest I thought my teacher was either joking or crazy when she had informed me that I would be one of the participants to represent my class. I wondered that day whether she knew of my handicap. I decided that surely she didn't for who would select a hearing impaired student for a contest like this. I wondered if I should ask her if she knew about it and if she did then I would like to know why she had chosen me for this seemingly impossible event, and if she wasn't aware then I needed to tell her, just so that I did not disappoint her and in the process let my classmates down.
After lunch, I saw her standing outside her quarters talking on her cell phone and so I ran up to her. "Do you want to see me?" she asked, when she noticed me standing near her.
"Yes, ma'am but it can wait till you've finished your conversation," I replied, politely.
"I'm done actually," she said and then added. "What is it about?"
"Ma'am I was wondering if you know about my hearing problem," I said with an embarrassed expression on my face.
"Yes, I do and so what about it?" she asked, anxiously.
"Then why have you selected me for the spelling contest when you are aware that I have this problem?" I asked, curious to have an explanation.
She looked at me and said, "You don't have a problem conversing with me so where is the problem. Sherwin you hear with your eyes and have a rare gift and I want you to make use of this and not waste it. Now does that explain my decision?"
"Yes ma'am you have explained it very well. You are an amazing teacher! Thank you for having faith in me," I exclaimed in all honesty.
"Thank you for the compliment and let me tell you that you are a wonderful and charming child and I genuinely like you," she said, with a smile across her beautiful face.
"Ma'am can I ask you one more question?"
"Sure! What's the question?" she said, not appearing impatient.
"Ma'am, how did you know about my hearing problem?" Did dad or mom mention it to you?"
"No, they didn't," she said. She paused and then asked me, "Hasn't your dad ever mentioned to you, that the teachers have access to all personal dossiers of the students in which all your personal information and medical records are kept?"
"No ma'am he doesn't really talk about school matters and policies at home, at least not when I or my brothers are around," I said in reply.
"Ok, see you later, and have a nice evening," she said and then turned and went into her quarters.
I stood there thinking that God had not just opened one window but several windows! Now, with them open there was plenty of light for me to see all that I possessed, in abundance. My world which consisted of the school and its members began to look up at me and not down, as was in the case in my previous worlds.
The evening sky was fast changing its appearance and colour from azure to a steely grey as the hills on the horizon seemed to beckon the sun as if to swallow it up while the trees, tired of carrying their leaves for more than six months were shedding them with gay abandon and in the process they appeared naked. In less than twenty minutes the sun would have been fully consumed by the night sky, but just before that phenomenon could occur, the outline of the hills would be wrapped in a light of silver to announce that the sun was going down; in a blaze of glory. This was a regular spectacle which I had noticed ever since the first leaf fell delicately to the floor about a fortnight back.
At this time of the day I'd be making my way to the dance studio where I would be consumed in perfecting tukras, which means using the corners and diagonals of the floor, and so on to highlight specific highlights of the dance which I was to perform at the 'Chitr Taal', dance competition at the prestigious, Town Hall on the coming Saturday. I had no time to admire the free and fantastic gifts of nature as Mrs. Pramila Pandey would be waiting for me, there. The competition was going to be tough as only the very best from the various schools of Dehradun would be competing and thus I could not afford to be even a little bit complacent. Honestly, I was feeling like I was a fish being pushed by a massive wave onto the dry sandy beach.
The door which had a smartly polished, brass 'Om' sign on it was locked, as it always was at this part of the day since Mrs. Pramila did not allow anyone to enter the studio as she had reserved the studio for me, to enable her to devote all her personal attention on me, which I obviously required. I was her pet project! The persevering and perfectionist that she was, she was not going to lose out; not with me! I guess that she was greater than the sun since nothing could swallow her desire to shine and spread her light.
"Hello, Sherwin! See what I have for you!" She exclaimed in excitement, holding out a pair of ghungroos which definitely appeared old and used.
"Good evening, ma'am, whose ghungroos are these?" I asked, holding them in both hands.
"These were my first pair of ghungroos which my mother had bought for me before my first performance. Now they are yours…. I had promised that I'd give it to the person who was worthy of wearing them or else I'd never part with them".
I felt a lump suddenly develop in my throat and for a moment I was both deaf and dumb as I froze like a statue. At that one moment there were two statues in the room, one me and the other that of Natraj, that stood two feet tall, bronze and beautiful, posing, beside the mahogany door. I looked at my reflection in the mirror that covered the entire wall in front of me, without batting an eyelid. I saw this skinny, five foot two inch boy with wavy black, thick crop of hair staring back at me. He was wearing a lemon kurta and white pyjama and had a pair of kohlapuri sandals on his feet. This boy in the mirror awakened me from my trance and in the process helped me to find my tongue. "Thank you ma'am, "I'm honoured, I truly am! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" I found myself repeating these two words, not knowing what else to say.
"I've been waiting years to get rid of them", she said humorously. "Now let's get started, go on put them on and lets me hear the bells tinkle rhythmically, they've been silent for too many years. I guess they too want to make some noise and make themselves heard. Go on, hurry up!"
There were also the two men who played the tablas present in the room and who had been playing the instruments for me for over two months. They were employees of Mrs. Pramila's private dance school located on Rajpur Road. They were young men, but were highly skilled, one of them had been trained in Varanasi and had been playing the instrument since he was eight years of age and now he was at least twenty four or twenty five years old. The other guy was a local and had been with Mrs. Pramila for more than a decade.
When I was ready they took up their positions directly in front of me so that I could see the movements of their fingers and their hands as the moved them on the instrument. I had mastered the art of dancing to the movement of their hands and fingers. If they did not play the correct beat I was immediately put off which created me to falter. Their fingers and hand movements were the music to my ears. Their hands and my eyes were a marriage in which both partners had to be in complete harmony and synchronicity lest there be a misunderstanding and the marriage end up in divorce.
Once I was given my cue to begin I started by moving only my feet to the beats and then the movement proceeded to the rest of the steps of the dance. Mrs. Pramila did not stop me even once, and only when I had completed it did she smile and say, "That was excellent!" The two tabla players clapped for me and the local player said, "Shabash", which meant very, good! We did the routine twice over before finally calling it a day.
Town Hall was abuzz with activity and the dress rooms were chaotic to say the least. Teachers, students, parents, make-up artists and God knows who else, were all rushing around the rooms. They seemed to me, to resemble Paltan bazaar on a Sunday morning which would be so crowded that a person would not be able to see their own shadow and perhaps, mistake someone else's shadow to be their own. I could well imagine the din and screaming that must have been emanating from it and for once felt blessed. I turned a blind eye to all that was happening around me and focused instead on Mrs. Pramila who was painstakingly putting mascara on my eyes and dressing me up exactly as she thought I needed to look. She would not miss a crease in my costume or a let a stand of hair on my head be out of place. I gave myself to her and knew better than complain even though I didn't feel comfortable when she applied lipstick on me. I trusted her and revered her in the same manner as a follower has faith in their guruji.
Slowly the pandemonium subsided and the population in the room began to decrease with every performance. I felt my heart begin to thump so furiously that I thought that it could be noticed and heard by everyone in the room. "Ma'am, what will happen if I forget the steps?" I asked, panicking, for I was suddenly overcome with stage fear.
"Do not worry about anyone or anything, just focus on the tabla players, and before you know it you'll feel as if you own the stage", she said in an assuring manner . And that is exactly what happened when the curtain lifted and the spotlight shifted on me.
While I was dancing I felt like a swan gracefully and elegantly gliding on the surface of water of clear, blue lake. I felt as though I was mesmerizing the audience which included the Mayor of Dehradun and other eminent dancers, with every movement of mine. My musicians did not miss a beat and we worked in perfect harmony, exactly as we hoped to work. The standing ovation which I received after my performance was the proof of the taste of the pudding and testimony that I had done Mrs. Pramila proud and had lived up to her conviction and her belief in my abilities.
Mrs. Pramila was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs that led to the dress room from the stage and she almost ran to meet me and when she did she hugged me. "You've done it! This was your baptism and now you are an official amateur classical dancer. Congratulations!" She was pleased and I was pleased too. We were both pleased and I'm sure, so were the tabla players.
The next morning I was the talk of the school. It all started out with me being felicitated at the morning Assembly and later throughout the day almost everyone I met, from the Chairman of the school to the Laboratory assistants were complimenting me. Even Jigme, the Sleeping Buddha showed some liveliness by hugging me like a grizzly bear, nearly cracking my ribs in the process. I wore this huge smile on my face bore this feeling as if I were the winner of 'So you think you can Dance' contest. To be honest I had difficulty concentrating in class as I kept replaying the events of the previous day in my mind, over and over again.
Later that evening, my dream was transformed into a nightmare. I was informed by mom that Ms. Pramila was not returning since she had resigned with immediate effect. Apparently, her only daughter had met with a critical accident and so she had to leave Dehradun to be with her. I now clearly understood what people say about life being unpredictable, filled with its ups and downs. I was fortunate or unfortunate, whichever way one looked at it for I had experienced it in less than the earth completing even one complete revolution on its axis. That night though, I felt as though I had lost something special without a hope of ever retrieving it again but I was grateful to her for making my life so special.
Just before I hit the sack I said a silent prayer, "God please look after Ms. Pramila. She's another Mother Teresa to me and so do all you can to comfort her and if possible save her only daughter." I paused and then continued my talk with God, "I don't mean to be selfish, but could you throw me another lifeline, someone like Ms. Pramila".
I looked around in the dark room, dimly lit with the moonlight that shone through the glass panes. My elder sibling was sleeping peacefully as expected for he was not one to ever stay up late. I stared up into the moonlit sky and began to wonder if my grand dad and my aunt Donna who had passed away a few years back were looking down on me.
I had little or no recollections of my dad's dad as he passed away when I was just a year old, but my aunt Donna, with her red hair and freckled face was a special aunt of mine, she was extremely big-hearted and always helped out with the decorations on birthdays and other functions. I'm sure that if they were looking at me they must have been discussing about how my life was playing out and must be assuring themselves that I would overcome this obstacle, eventually.