Sherwin Richard Court
A True Story…..
A Small Step for You,
A Giant Step for Me!
Though this is a true story I have changed the names of a few characters and also a school in the story as it is not my desire to tarnish the reputation of anyone and also as I have not been able to gain the consent of others.
The big hand on my watch had just crossed the number two on its dial, the sun was at its zenith in the sky and the loo was blowing with a vengeance. The once green playing field of the school now appeared a light shade of brown while the tarred roads used for walking appeared to be a pool of black, melted, candle wax. At this misfortunate time of the day classes had just ended for the day and after the initial hullabaloo of excited students running down the corridors, and anxious parents having left with the apples of their eyes, there was a noise so loud it was like silence; the utter silence filling what had been a raucous hub of school, as oppressive as the ferociously hot afternoon air. The entire school wore a deserted look. There was only the Deputy Headmaster clearing up his desk, preparing to leave for the day. A security guard was going from room to room checking to see that no child had been left behind.
This was the time I began to climb the concrete staircase that led to the two upper floors of the building that housed the classes of the middle school; grades five to seven, the office of the only person in the building and the teachers’ staff room. I climbed these steps like a pilgrim, doing it religiously without fail every day after school, to meet my dad. My two brothers would meet me there and as soon as dad had finished for the day we would all leave for home. I was studying in the Primary Wing which was located very close, yet far enough for me to feel the vengeance of the loo and cause my tender skin to burn. I climbed the steps as tired as a race horse that had run the derby.
The morning had been long and the summer heat which had enveloped the city, sending the mercury shooting up the thermometer had only added to my exhaustion. The twenty odd steps usually were a breeze to climb during recess time but now they seemed to have multiplied and each step was taking an eternity to climb. Nevertheless, I wanted to reach the second floor to get to my dad who would be waiting for me in his class. I am the middle one of three sons in the family. The rendezvous for us was dad’s classroom, Class 7D. Hopefully my siblings would be there, for I just wanted to go home without delay. I hated school!
I reached the door and was delighted to have reached my Mecca, but realized that something was amiss; I couldn’t see my brothers playing, which usually was the only action that emanated from the otherwise deserted room, now as deserted as a graveyard. “Don’t tell me dad isn’t there?” It took but a second for my worst fears to become a reality.
Then thought came to mind, “Perhaps he’d be in the canteen for that’s the only place he would go after school. Yes, he must be buying some snacks for us to eat during our long journey home, in our car”.
Dad was really easy going with us and spoiled us rotten. I thought about the events which occured in school and came to the conclusion that no matter how difficult it was to spend the six hours in it, it was the thought of being with him and my other two siblings twhich only seemed to matter to me. They really made life worth living from Monday to Friday, the days we had school. My elder sibling, Shannon who was born two summers before me while my younger sibling, Stuart (often referred to as Stuart Little, after the mouse in the movie of the same name) is a couple of years younger to me. He was born in the fall of ’97. He is the only one of my family to be born in the capital of the country and not the capital of the state of West Bengal. My brothers were my best friends while dad was my phoenix! “Surely, they must be there and no other place,” I thought. ‘I’d better get there fast!”
“Sherwin, Sherwin” called out Mr. Brown, dad’s immediate boss. Then again he repeated the same, but this time in a much louder voice when he saw me descending down the stairs. However, I heard nothing! Then, when I was on the last step it suddenly occurred to me that on my way down the number of steps seemed to have decreased. “How could that be?” I wondered.
I ran to the canteen as fast as my little legs could carry me and to my utmost joy I found them. My kid brother ran up to me excitedly shouting out to me as if I was Shawn Michaels, his favourite WWE wrestler. “Sherwin we’ve bought pizza and coke”. Then, with a look of concern on his small, round face he said, “Why did you take so long, did anything happen? Did you get punished?” “No”, I replied", I did not hear the bell and so I got delayed”.
Once in the car I felt secure. I ate happily at my pizza while taking sips of coke in between bites. The coolness of the air conditioner, stomach full and my family with me; no, not my entire family for mom was at work, I felt much lighter than I was half an hour ago. My kid brother had fallen fast asleep. I put his head in my lap to make him feel comfortable. "He’s so small and cute", was the thought that passed through my mind. I began thinking of how fortunate I was to have my two brothers, and also realised why they were so special to me. Suddenly, I started to feel my eyelids begin getting heavier.
I was woken up a little over an hour later by my dad for we had reached our home. Soon the maid came down and helped us by carrying our heavy bags up the first flight of steps that led to our front door..
Less than twenty hours later I once again found myself climbing the same staircase for it was recess time and I wanted to find dad since mum had forgotten to pack my meal, and I felt as though my stomach was touching my backbone.
It’d been more than six hours since I ate breakfast, which was around the time that the cocks’ crowed and the skylight was filled with different shades of grey and blue. The time when the dark curtain which hid the world from aliens so that its inhabitant’s inactivity could not be seen by them; was slowly being lifted.
How I had wished that this curtain would never have been lifted so that I could sleep, forever! Sleep was bliss! No one to tell me what to do, and how to do it.
I reached the first floor where I found my dad in conversation with his boss and they seemed oblivious of my presence. “Should I interrupt them or should I wait till they’d finished? What did dad and mom say about interrupting adults?” I began to think. “Yes, never interrupt them is what they would often preach”. So, decision made. “It’s so easy to make decisions”, I thought and felt so proud of my achievement; it’s easy if you care to listen. I thought of why people didn’t just listen, when it cost them nothing to do so. Now however, I had another option to consider; what if they continued to talk and the bell rang? What should I do? I was now in a dilemma. Should I or should I not? What did mom say to do in a situation like this? I recalled her words vividly, “When you have more than one option to choose from and are unsure of which is the better one to opt for, you need to consider which one is more important”. That meant… interrupt them!
After a moment of pondering I said timidly, “Dad, can I talk to you for a moment?” After that I found myself stammering when I had to say, “Good morning, Sir”, to dad’s boss.
“Good morning, son,” came a quick reply from him.
“Yesterday, when you came up after school to see your father I called you, didn’t you hear me?”
“No!” I blurted the word out almost spontaneously. “No, Sir, had I heard you I would have certainly heard what you had to say. I’m sorry Sir.” I guess I said this out of habit.
“It’s alright.” He said these two words with so much of kindness that I felt all was forgiven. “It’s alright Richard, we’ll continue later. You better see what Sherwin wants.”
“Right sir, I’ll take your leave”, dad said and left with me.
We went to the canteen where scores of students were placing their orders with Mr. Peter Goodley, the manager of the canteen while others were voraciously eating their purchases and some jostling around trying to convince the young ones to share their food with them. On any other day it would take almost the entire recess period to get to the counter to place my order as the bigger and stronger kids would simply shove me to the back of the line. But today my dad was with me and I was confident that not a soul would dare hassle me for dad being a staff member was always invited to place his order before the students. This ws not an exception but a rule for thisprivilidge was bestowed on all the staff members. So, there I was at the counter waiting to place my order when dad said, “Turn around.”
“Why?” I was unsure as to why dad had suddenly come up with this seemingly ridiculous request.
“Because…,” he hesitated; unsure of what to say. “Because I want to give you something and I don’t want you to know what it is that I’m ordering for you. I want it to be a surprise.” He then went on to add, “And, I do not want you to turn around till I say so.”
I did as he requested without another thought, unsure and curious of what to expect. Like anyone, I too love surprises!
“Ok son, you can turn around”.
Again he repeated, “Sherwin you can turn around now”.
I waited and waited for him to tell me to turn around; getting impatient and more and more expectant.
“Sherwin, turn around and see what I have.”
I wondered what it was that was taking him so long. It’d been more than a minute, I guessed. Just then, I felt a light tap on my right shoulder and immediately turned around like a top spinning at great speed and faced my dad. He had a Choco Chips ice cream in his hand; my favourite ice cream in the entire world! I was thrilled to bits. He lowered his head so that his face was at the same height as mine and said with a smile as wide as the rainbow, said, “Plant it”. Immediately I planted an affectionate kiss on his cheek and ran off to eat my ice cream, but not before saying, “Bye dad, thanks for the ice cream! See you after school.” I was in good spirits not just because I had got my favourite ice cream, but also because there were only four periods left, and of them two were Art periods which I enjoyed. The only other times which I liked while I was in school were recess time and going home time.
The bell would be rung to announce the end of the school day and as there were a few minutes to go before it did my teacher wrote the homework on the blackboard. She had set us the six times multiplication tables to learn by rote. She then reminded us lest we forget, “I want you to learn the six times tables by tomorrow. If anyone does not know it by tomorrow you will not go out for recess, instead you will have to stay in class during that time and learn it in the classroom, and if necessary you will stay back after school too, till I am convinced that you know it.” I never heard a thing she said but I could figure it out by the movement of her lips. These words kept moving around again and again in my head, all my way back home. They seemed to haunt me and found pleasure in tormenting me. Usually I would fall asleep pretty fast as the air conditioner really lulled me to sleep and also since it was immensely boring being seated in the car for over an hour and a half doing nothing. But that day sleep would not keep me company. It seemed to have deserted me when I needed it most, for I desperately wanted to get the terrifying words out of my head.
I lived in Gurgaon, located on the outskirts of New Delhi. The journey from my school to my home was approximately thirty seven kilometers. Mom and dad had purchased this home just a year back and were extremely proud to be the owners of it. Ever since I could remember we had lived in rented flats in New Delhi and shifted homes at least thrice because the landlords of those homes would make some excuse or the other so that they could avoid extending the lease, reason being they would get a higher rent if they leased it out to a new tenant, especially the Afghanis or the Kashmiris. Thus, even though our home was located so far from school, it was our home! There was another benefit too as my mom now had a lesser distance to travel than before as her office was situated in Gurgaon.
It was almost two hours later when we entered our apartment which thankfully was on the first floor. My two dogs, Rover and Lassie came to the door to greet us with their tails wagging behind them. Rover and Lassie were new additions to the family; mom having got them for free from the company’s kennel. They were a pair of Beagles, imported from the USA. Lassie reminded me of the dog in the Jim Carrey movie, Mask. They were very docile and timid but very affectionate. The company where mom was employed was a leading pharmaceutical company. The company had given away these lovely animals away for free as a law was passed that the practise of using dogs as guinea pigs was to be discontinued. Mom and dad had felt that the dogs were so timid was perhaps because they had been given different types of drugs for specialists to observe their reactions to, before trying them out on humans.
Asha, our maid servant, who had been with the family since my elder sibling was barely a month old, helped us change into our home clothes, before we settled in to eat our lunch. We were really fussy eaters and always gave trouble to eat our food and today was no different. But as usual Asha patiently cajoled us into eating everything that she’d cooked and served. She promised us a glass of Pepsi each, if we finished all our food. I must declare that despite the fact that she was uneducated she was very worldly, and knew the power of offering incentives which others might deem to be bribes.
“Time passed so quickly when I was at home,” I thought when mom came home some hours later. She really looked beautiful! She reminded me of a Hollywood actress, but I wasn’t too sure which one. I tried to concentrate by closing my eyes and thinking of which movie I had seen recently. Yes! I remembered, it was ‘Pretty Woman’, mom reminded me of Julia Roberts minus the spiral perm. Mom certainly had her lips, her nose and her slender figure. I figured mom would be a little shorter than her but I wasn’t sure for I did not really know how tall or short Julia Roberts was. Mom even walked and dressed like her, but not like how Julia Roberts dressed in the first half of the movie. “Whoo, Thank God, she didn’t!” I said to myself.
The first thing mom did after saying; “Hi guys” was to look for her cigarettes. It required no guesswork to know that she would have one as soon as she returned from work. If she was unable to find one then poor dad, he was sure going to have to be prepared for a not-so-nice evening. Luckily for him, he had a few. I thought “Dad you are a lucky guy tonight!” True to my belief, mom gave him a huge grin and told him, “Richie, you are the most wonderful husband in the world.” Just then Asha walked in with two cups of piping hot tea and some hot samosas which she had just warmed up in the micro wave. She also brought some mint pasty sauce which she had made some time earlier in the day.
Mom and dad began chatting with each other while I was trying to memorize my tables. I’d been learning them for more than half an hour, but couldn’t remember after six times six. I became so frustrated that I started to cry. Mom looked at me, “What’s happened darling?” I informed her in between loud sobs, “I’ve been learning these stupid tables since six o’clock and I just can’t remember it, and if I don’t know them then Ma’am says she will not let me eat my Tiffin or go out during recess, I hate Math! “Ok, baby, don’t cry! Just give me five minutes to freshen up and I’ll help you”. I felt like crying even louder when I heard this.
Dad announced about half an hour later that it was dinner time and wasn’t I glad to hear this? I’d had the worst last hour with mom as she’d been screaming and yelling and threatening to beat me up, and once even said in frustration, “Richie I give up, this boy just can’t seem to learn, sometimes I wonder if he even hears what I’m saying.”
Dad hesitated and said, “Honey, go easy on him, he’s been trying hard, I guess you both are really tired.”
Mom looked at me with a defeated look on her face and said, “Are you sure you even listen when I’m speaking to you?” Before I could clear her doubts, dad intervened and I said to myself “Phew, another five minutes and surely I would have got a slap across my face,” though I need confess that mom never hit us. In fact when mom used to get really angry she would say, “Tomorrow I’ll not spare you, I’ll beat you so hard you’ll regret it”. To this everyone broke out into peals of laughter and Shannon said, “Not tomorrow mom, today, we want you to do it today.”
Over dinner dad narrated to mom of what had happened during recess at school. I did not catch the entire conversation between mom and dad since I was not really paying attention or looking at their faces. My trained eyes caught dad saying, “When he had his back towards me I called out to him about three times, but he never responded at all. I do think the boy has a hearing impairment and we need to get it checked. You were right all along when you felt the very same thing, but I always told you that it was impossible. Actually, Mr. Brown informed me that when he called Sherwin yesterday and Sherwin did not hear him he thought that Sherwin had a hearing problem and suggested that I do, what I did, during the recess.” Dad almost choked when he said, “I think my baby is....deaf.” I noticed mom’s eyes turning moist, but she said nothing, she just shook her head and wiped her eyes with her hands.
Curious to know whether my parent’s fears were justified or just a heartfelt illogical excuse to justify my low grades in school, the following afternoon I along with my parents visited Dr. Rakish Gupta, at his clinic in Sector 52.
His clinic was the last commercial space on the first floor of the double storied building that made up the market. No one would ever have thought it to be a clinic but for the signboard above the door which read, Dr. Rakish Kumar Gupta Clinic.
The signboard seemed new and the paint on it fresh. It was simple, measuring I guess six to seven feet in length and about two and a half to three feet in width, the letters painted in a glossy black which were clearly visible against the milky white background. Looking at its colours reminded me of the zebra, and immediately I thought, “I wonder whether a zebra is black with white stripes or white with black stripes. I must ask dad, he’s the best at general knowledge in the house.”
The clinic was one merely in name as on entering it, it appeared to be one large room with a small cabin constructed behind the doctor’s black, swivel chair. The entire so-called clinic was cramped and confined and it was apparent that Dr. Gupta did not enjoy the material success of others of his profession.
The doctor was a skilled audiologist, in full command of his material, succinctly explaining to mom and dad words I did not know and therefore, not understand. “Mr. and Mrs. Court, Pre-lingual hearing impairment exists when the impairment is congenital or otherwise acquired before the individual has acquired speech and language, thus rendering the disadvantages more difficult to treat because the child is unable to access audible or spoken communication from the outset. It is important to note that those children born into a deaf family using sign language have no delay in language development and communication. Most pre-lingual hearing impairment is due to an acquired condition, usually either disease or trauma; therefore, families commonly have no prior knowledge of deafness.”
“Tell me doctor, how bad is my son’s case?” mom asked.
The doctor noticed the anxiety on my parents face and replied in a comforting expression, “Please do not worry, worry does not solve anything!” He then began injecting humorous asides to relax my parents and lighten the mood by singing the first verse of ‘key Sara, whatever will be, will be!’ He smiled and said, “I will give him an audiometer test and then tell you what needs to be done next. For now, you just may sit here while I conduct the test on Sherwin or you may take a stroll in the market and come back after about fifteen or twenty minutes.”
Tell me doctor, “What are the different types of tests that one can take and also what type is best for my son?”
In a rather nonchalant manner he said, “Some of the tests are performed to determine the best hearing aid according toaan individual’s degree of hearing loss. The tests include whispered speech, tuning fork, audiometry, otoa coustic, emissions and auditory brainstem response. My advice is to do the audiometry test as it is the most accurate.”
At this point I was quite bored since I did not understand what was being discussed. My eyes immediately went to the walls which I noticed were covered with recent photos of the doctor posing with different dignitaries. One frame contained his medical certificate while others seemed to be downloads of illustrations of the human ear. There were also a couple of posters of hearing aids which resembled company catalogues. My mind then wandered off to my home, wondering what my brothers were up to. They were invited to come with us, but they declined as Stuart’s friend had said that he was coming to spend the day with him while Shannon’s favourite movie, Batman and Robin was being aired on HBO. Mom had left money with Asha to buy them whatever they wanted. I was thinking of how they must have been enjoying themselves while I was feeling as if I was sitting through the Good Friday mass, as I was being forced to be in this boring clinic, with this boring doctor. He had also mentioned the word, ‘test’ which sent a cold shiver down the back of my neck. The very word should never have been coined was my opinion of it. I thought, “Why wasn’t I born at the time of Adam and Eve?”
I was certainly made aware of the time period of my existence when dad said, “Son, go along with the doctor into the sound proof cabin,” he gestured with his hand pointing to the cabin behind the doctor’s chair. I got up and followed the doctor who shut the door behind me.
I sat down in a chair in the soundproof cabin and was a handed a set of headphones which was connected to an audiometer. They were small foam earphones which I inserted into my ears. The audiometer produced tones at specific frequencies and set volume levels to each ear independently. The doctor instructed me to convey to him whether I had heard the tone by raising one hand. As the test progressed, the doctor, plotted points on a graph where the frequency was on the x-axis and the loudness on the y-axis. Once each frequency of hearing ability was tested and plotted, the points were joined by a line so that one could see at a glance which frequencies were not being heard normally and what degree of hearing loss may be present. After the tests were over he told me, "You can go and join your parents, I will join you all in a few minutes after I complete the test results".
On opening the cabin’s door I noticed mom sitting in the chair with her face towards the window, she was turning the pages of a magazine while dad, one arm across the chair, looked over her shoulder. I noticed that they both had handsome profiles: the thin, clear sunlight silvered the bridges of their noses. They looked stressed and oblivious of my presence.
I said excitedly, “Mom, dad, it’s done, I finished the test.”
Mom turned to the doctor with a shocked expression on her face, when he made his appearance, and I could see that she had paled. It was the question she most wanted to ask, and the most dreaded question at that . Dad was just sitting there with his head down, looking I guess, at nothing. He half closed his eyes, and then, very slowly said, “Is everything alright?”
The doctor said “Mr. and Mrs. Court I’m afraid the news is not good.”
Mom immediately interjected “How bad is it? You can tell us straight up, we’re prepared for the worst.”
“Well, then I’ll tell you straight up, your son is stone deaf in one ear and about eighty percent deaf in the other.” He said this without any remorse or feeling. He came across as a lizard, a cold-blooded creature that pounced on its prey without any warning.
His words caused Dad to be stunned. Mom didn’t speak, but resembled a kettle of feeling boiling against the lid. Her expression was one of anguish. She didn’t look like my mom.
After a brief pause dad seemed to have composed himself and said in a calm voice, “What’s the next step?”
The doctor took out a catalogue of Hearing aids and began explaining to dad like a salesman selling his goods, “Sir, it’s best you buy a Siemens Acuris Life-the first wireless aid.” He then went on to explain its features as if he were a Biology teacher explaining the functions of the human ear, in a rather monotonous manner. “It is an open canal aid, which has flexible tubes with soft tips; it has 3 memory settings, 16 channels and comes with a two year warranty.”
“And how much will it cost,” said dad almost spontaneously.
“Only about 2000 US dollars, but if you buy it from me I will give you a small discount” was his reply.
“Thank you for your time doctor, I’ll be in touch. And doctor can I have your business card so that I can get back to you.”
“I’m sorry Mr. Court, but I have sent my cards for printing and the printer has not yet delivered it to me. You know how it is in our country; you never get anything on time. But you can call me on the number you have,” he said almost apologetically.
Mom paid him his fees while dad ruffled my hair and patted me.
On our way back home there was complete silence, it was as if someone had died in the family. When we were near Sahara Mall mom said, “Let’s treat our brave son to a treat at McDonalds.
“Good idea,” said dad, smiling in agreement.
I thought, “I like tests like these, I don’t mind taking them every day.”
At the restaurant I had my favourite, ‘Happy Meal’ while dad had a burger and cold coffee and mom decided to had the same. We also took two ‘Happy Meals’ for my two brothers back home. We ate and chatted as if it was just a normal visit to McDonald’s. No talk was made of the visit to the doctor’s clinic.
That evening was the one which would change my life forever; my only silver lining was that I had not the faintest idea at that moment how bad it was going to be. I was able to comprehend that things were amiss as both my parents had ‘stress’ written all over their faces and I knew I was the writer of those letters.
Mom and dad were speaking in a very animated manner, but since I wasn‘t able to comprehend what they were discussing I asked Shannon to be my interpreter. In fact, I would rely on Shannon to repeat almost whatever people would say. At times he would get really irritated and say, “Can’t you pay attention when people are speaking, are you deaf or what?” Hardly did he know that what he spoke in jest was so true. I too would get equally exasperated as I was dependent on him or someone else to help me out and couldn’t figure it out as to why I was not able to hear. It was exasperating because if Shannon or anyone else did not feel like repeating what was said there was nothing I could do. I was helpless! I felt like an infant who was hungry or sick or feeling hot and no one being an a position to fathom out what the infant's crying was all about.
Would the test that I undertook earlier in the day change things for me? I was not a fortune teller and so did not have the answer. I wanted to believe that it would if it were for my betterment.
Shannon did not lose patience with me this time, and in a very patient manner told me that I was the topic of mom’s and dad’s conversation. Dad had said, “The poor boy is going to be typecast, henceforth. He’s going to be sympathized with by one half of the world while the other half is going to look down on him as if he is an inferior being. He’s going to be labeled in the staff room in the same manner as others who don’t perform well. What I don’t understand is how children like Sherwin are labeled as ‘handicapped’ when there are thousands out there who are so-called ‘normal’ and still aren’t able to perform so many things. How come no one calls them, handicapped?”
For once, mom was short of words to say, and for once she was found wanting. Perhaps she knew what to say, but didn’t know, how. Then, after a long pause she said, “Richie, when did you ever back down from a fight, you’ve battled even in your dreams. This is one damn fight if anyone can win, it’s you! We’re all with you supporting you tooth and nail, come hail or storm. Believe me we’ll weather the storm and come out dry.”
Colour seemed to reappear back on dad’s face, “This little acorn of ours is going to grow up into one of the finest oaks! We’ll see about getting him the Hearing aids. We’ll begin first thing, tomorrow. Sherwin is surely going to win, I knew it the day he was born and I still maintain i, nowt. Now mother, where is that pork roast which you promised?’’ asked dad, changing the subject.
Later that night, I changed into my cotton night suit; it was light blue with small teddy bear prints on it. My two brothers had similar night suits except that they differed in colours, Shannon’s was a bright lemon and Stuart’s, a baby pink.
My first born sibling and I shared one room which was very tastefully decorated. On one complete wall dad had hand painted a scene from the Walt Disney movie, Tarzan. The other walls had more of dad’s paintings of other Disney and other comic characters which he had cut out after painting and pasted them on thermocole. The wrought iron bunk bed on which we travelled every night to Dreamland was snug up against the right hand side wall of the room, opposite our wardrobe which was constructed in a niche in the wall, and beside it was Shannon’s favorite toy – the desk top computer. Stuart would sleep with mom and dad while the dogs would sleep wherever they wished. Invariably, they landed up with Asha, who would make a hue and cry over it, but then surrender to them eventually.
In bed that night, I lay awake, waiting for the mom. I was tense from waiting, my body under the covers stiff as a board till eventually she came.
The light that filtered through the opening of the door which was opened ever so slowly, so as not to disturb us, however made me aware that she was coming. She entered the room to check if my brother and I were sleeping. She checked the covers and when she felt self-assured that we were as snug as bugs in a rug she left the room as carefully as she could, so as not to disturb us. I pretended to sleep for I did not want her to worry; it had been a hard day for everyone. I wondered what the future held in store for me, Key sara, sara was not the answer, I knew for certain.
For the first time in a very long time I questioned God. “Why, me, God? God, tell me what did I do wrong, what did my parents do wrong?” God did not answer. I wanted to protest at being forced into a pattern of life which was so different from others, to say goodbye to a normal life. Was God, wanting to test me, or my parents? Perhaps I’ll know some day or perhaps not.
I lay there looking up into the luminous stars which were shining on the ceiling. They were stuck onto the ceiling by dad when we had shifted into our room. Perhaps they were shining for me. I cried and cried as I was afraid, not of the dark but afraid of the unknown, of my future and how I would or could adapt to society’s demands.
A few days later, we were all at home, mom was doing something in the kitchen, Shannon and Stuart had gone with Asha to the bazaar and I was watching, Fashion T.V. on the idiot box in the hall room while dad was surfing the internet. Suddenly, dad called out to mom, “Sabby, listen to this, “It says on this site that children learn to communicate by imitating the sounds they hear. If they have a hearing loss that is undetected and untreated, they can miss much of the speech and language around them. This results in delayed speech and language development, social problems and academic difficulties.”
“Well I guess this explains Sherwin’s academic difficulties and other problems which he has encountered. The writing was on the wall and all too clear for us to see, but we just did not want to accept the truth even when we surmised that he had this impairment. We just lived in denial,” said mom with a look of regret.
“So true, it’s so true! I guess it’s never easy admitting that someone you love so much could be a handicapped child. Parents always want to believe that the apple of their eye is as good as the rest in the basket if not even better, so even if told or offered proof that it is not as good as the others they will not accept the truth.”
I switched off the television and went to the other room to hear what my parents were discussing and also since the programme on air was a rerun which I had seen before; a Michel Adams, production. My brothers and friends often ridiculed me for watching this channel and therefore I would view it when none of them were around. They had no interest in fashion and were of the opinion that it was only for the fairer sex. I tried to explain to them that I liked the creativity, the poise, grace and confidence shown by the models as well as the colours and detail that go into the making of each garment, but they wouldn’t buy my views and instead called me, a weirdo. Another reason I liked this channel was because I merely had to view it as there were barely any dialogues to follow.
Mom and dad never seemed to have had any objections to me viewing this channel as they believed in the saying, ‘To each man, his own’. On the other hand I felt my brothers would feel embarrassed as their friends must have certainly been discussing, what they called – ‘my weird interests’. So, to enable them to feel comfortable when their friends were around I would switch the television to channels which they believed boys of my age should be viewing. At these times I used to feel like a trained animal in a circus performing against my will for the audience. I even put on a Hindi movie at times, though I could not follow a thing the actors said, in the same way that I was unable to follow anything my Second Language teacher at school would say.
As I entered the room mom indicated for me to sit next to her. I asked her, “What are you talking about?”
Mom replied, “We were discussing you and how we have lived in denial about your hearing difficulty. Had we just been more open to the possibility then perhaps we would have taken you for the hearing test earlier perhaps things would be different now.”
“Do you know that you did not start speaking till you were almost four years of age and even then, at that age you would speak gibberish?” dad asked me.
I nodded with my head, indicating that I did.
Dad continued, “Well, that was a sign in itself. It’s not that we were not concerned about your inability to speak, we were. In fact, we sought advice from elders and doctors and they all told us that there was no need to worry as some children start speaking late and would even humor us by saying that once you did start speaking you wouldn’t stop and that then it would worry us even more.”
Dad paused for a few seconds and then said, “Do you remember what happened with you at last year’s sports event, when you ran in that race?”
I looked at him with much embarrassment, the colour fading in my face and said, “Yes.”
I recalled that race and felt sick in my stomach. It was a year later but I am could recall the incident as if was like I am being awoken from a nightmare. I recalled that day so vividly that it seemed as if it had happened only yesterday.
It was as if the entire population of the city had turned out onto the school’s field, men women and children. They were all either sitting or standing in or around the huge, colourful tent that was erected for them to witness the events of the day. The important dignitaries and the school’s Principal were seated on comfortable sofas, in the centre of the very first row. Many people were standing except for the ones who came early and were able to secure seats with proper vantage points for them to see. My mom and younger brother were seated in the first view, owing to dad being an employee in the school.
A variety of coloured flags, along with the four House banners and the Indian tricolor fluttered in the light breeze that blew on that winter afternoon. The victory stand, the most important symbol of the day was strategically placed in the centre of the field to give all the spectators a clear view of the winners who stepped onto it, and received their medals from selected, distinguished guests of the Management. A number of officials and assistants could be seen all over the place, adding to the importance of the occasion. Being one of the most important dates on the school calendar every staff member was dressed in his or her Sunday best, befitting the occasion.
My event or race was the first one after the interval and I wanted to meet my mom, but the teacher who was,In-charge of the participants informed me that I could not leave the participants’ tent. She then proceeded to call out the names of all the participants of my race. To my good fortune and hers, I was with her when she called my name for who knows how her blood pressure might have risen had I not heard my name since she was famed for her temper which could flare up at the slightest provocation. Then we all marched with great enthusiasm to the starting line.
I stood there as proud as a peacock, waving to my mom and Stuart. It was a 50 meters run from start to finish and I was sure that I would easily outrun all my competitors.
I was still looking at my mom and didn’t hear the starter’s whistle. It’s only when I saw everyone laughing that I looked around and to my horror I noticed all the other participants were almost at the finishing line. Some of the other officials were screaming and waving their hands in a bid to get me to run. In fact, I became the center of attraction as well as the laughing stock, too. I felt so embarrassed that I hoped the ground under my feet would open up and swallow me alive. Not knowing whether to run forward or back I decided to play it cool by waving to my mom as if I were unaffected by all that was happening, which backfired on me as this brought added laughter to everyone. The laughter of the announcers was amplified by the public address system which seemed to serve as a catalyst for even more laughter. It appeared as though the audience was at a Laughter Show rather than a serious sporting event, and I was the star performer on stage.
Now when I recall what I did wrong I realize that it was not entirely my fault, for had the Starter stood in front of us instead of behind then I could have seen him blowing his whistle.
“Well, my son that was another signal which we ignored, consciously or unconsciously. I cannot be sure,” uttered dad regretfully. Mom then interjected with her own analogies by saying, “The first indication or signal was the time when you would be playing with one of your innumerable playthings and I would call out to you, but you did not seem to hear. I never looked too deeply into the matter as I believed that you were so deeply engrossed with playing with your toys that you were not paying attention. The other was time was when I would try to make you pronounce a certain word and you would continually mispronounce it which would frustrate me, though I would never show it.”
Yes, I used to detest preparing for a teat at school especially the oral tests, wherein the teacher would ask questions and I had to give the answer verbally. I recall this one time when this teacher who used to speak so fast that I could not catch all the words. I tried guessing what she had asked by picking up a few words which I was familiar with. Unfortunately, I was not able to guess the answer correctly and so ended up blurting out an answer which was way off the mark, resulting in the entire class becoming hilarious. As for me I did not know where to hide my face. I was certainly the odd one out, the only one who could not answer the questions which the others could.
I decided that whenever I knew that there was an oral test to be held I would make some excuse to miss the test. From then on I missed school many times and I never gave an oral test, the rest of the year.
Mom said “I now know that you were not to blame when it came to you not being able to pick up words and learn answers when I used to make you repeat them after me. I’m sorry for being so hard on you, if only…”
Dad interrupted saying, “Sabby don’t go round badgering yourself, feeling guilty for all that has happened, you are not at fault. Yes, I agree that had we known earlier then things would have been different but we cannot change what has happened, no one can, not even God! We’re going to forget all about the past and face the future happily, hand in hand. I agree that we have fallen off our horse, but luckily we still have the reins in our hands, we now need to climb back onto the horse and ride it to the right place, this time.”
I just sat there, passively sitting, listening to the two of them. I really did not know what to do or what to say, or even whether I should even say anything or not.
Mom too said that she needed to go to the kitchen to finish up the cooking and even asked dad if he’d like a nice cup of hot tea.
There was no guessing what dad’s answer was to that because dad never declined a request when tea was on the offering. Yes, dad was a teetotaler and did not even drink beer, but he was an addict, an addict to tea.
I went to my room not really sure of what to do, my two brothers were away and so I had no one to keep me company. Mom was busy and dad did not want to be disturbed so I took one of the boxes that contained our toys and climbed onto the top bunk of the bed, the bunk which Shannon slept on. This box contained toys which I used to play with when I was much younger, specifically dolls. I stopped playing with them only because it brought embarrassment to my brother. I know he’d get wild if he discovered me with them, but he wasn’t around and I’d make sure he never found out. I was good at hiding almost anything, even my emotions.
While rummaging through the box I found a pant which I recall my late aunt, Donna telling me about when she was alive, “Sherwin this pant is the first pant you ever wore, and I made it. It seemed impossible that I could have ever fitted into it as it was tiny, the littlest pant that I had ever seen. My mom had assured me that what she had said was the truth; it was as true as the sun shines during the day. My grandmother had said that I was the smallest baby she had ever seen in her life and my grandmother had seen a number of babies in her lifetime. She once told me that I was so small I could fit into a shoe box. I still find it almost preposterous to believe that any human could be that small. The one thing that makes me believe them though, is the fact that I was born two weeks premature, and both mom and dad said it was just as well else I might never have lived to see the light of day.
Just then mom walked into the room holding a glass of fresh lemon juice and handed it to me. She drew the drapes to prevent the harsh glare of the summer sun from entering the room. Then her hand stretched out for the switch to the air conditioner and turned it on, she did the same with the light switch. “What are you up to?” she asked. Then she noticed me with the pant. “What you still have this pant?” her eyes lightened up.
I was eager to learn as to why I was considered fortunate to be born premature; why did they say I might have died had I gone the full nine months. I needed to know. Could this have any link to my hearing impairment? “Mom if you have the time now, could you tell me if there is any link between me being born premature and my hearing problem and why do you and dad, say I was fortunate to have been prematurely born?”
Mom I need mention was, and is the best mother I could have wished for. She always had time to give us time no matter how tired she was. There were occasions when mom came home after midnight from her office and would have to leave very early the next early the next morning. Even at those times she’d never neglect us or ever say she was exhausted.
I recall the time the former President of America, Bill Clinton was coming to her the company headquarters where she worked. She had barely slept for the entire week preceding his arrival. She, being the President of the company’s personal secretary had to insure that everything was arranged perfectly, not a stone was to be left unturned, every detail no matter how trivial it may have seemed had to be exactly as was befitting a man of the President’s status.
There were hundreds of phone calls to be made, invitations to be sent out, flowers to be booked, manuals to be prepared, liaising to be done with the police and the security staff of Maurya Sheraton Hotel, where he was to put up, when in Delhi, liaise with the American embassy staff regarding a number of issues besides insuring that the Convention Hall was decorated exactly as the office desired.
It was even during that week that she managed to find time to ask us about how our day was and had an ear to listen to our childish complaints. Though being a career woman she never neglected her household chores, and motherly responsibilities. She had a prestigious and enviable position! It was a position many women in Delhi would have bribed heavily to secure. It must have broken her heart when she gave it up eventually for her family.
She requested me to come down from where I was, with the comment, “I’m too old to climb up, so you had better climb down.” I got really upset with the former part of her statement for I believed that she was far from old as far from the truth in a newspaper claiming that a man was pregnant. She, according to me was better than some of the models on the Michael Adams show. Even without make up she was a stunner, she was drop dead beautiful!
I know a lot about beauty because I believe I coined the word, in one of my previous lives.
I descended the flight of ladder like Spiderman, swiftly and confidently. I joined my mom on the carpet and sat comfortably, opposite her with my legs stretched straight out in front of me. Mom was sitting cross legged, looking a picture of serenity! I actually believe that for an instant, there was a halo round her head and a pair of the softest, most delicate and whitest pair of wings protruding behind her. To be honest, wings or no wings and even if I was imagining things that weren’t there, this was how I saw my mother; an angel – sent from Heaven to protect me, to shower me with affection and most of all to tell me that it was alright to be what I was.
Moments spent with mom were the most cherished moments of my young life and that moment was one such moment, a moment or a memory that was priceless! Mom was to me, what the truly magnificent Taj Mahal was to the great Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan.
“When I knew I was pregnant with you I had requested dad to allow Dr. Hartnit, the same gynecologist who had helped me bring your brother, Shannon into this world, to be my gynecologist again. Dad had agreed for he told me that I was having the baby and not him, so he’d do whatever it would take to make me feel comfortable. There was one little inconvenience though; we were living in Delhi and the doctor was based in Calcutta, thousands of miles away,” she said.
“What I was born in Calcutta, in the same hospital where Shannon too was born?” I asked, curiously.
“Yes, and I was lucky as the same doctor agreed to deliver you even though I wasn’t her patient and she agreed without any hesitation. All she told me to do was to take my medical reports, when I went to see her when I reached Calcutta, which I duly did. I left Delhi along with Shannon and Asha a month before your expected date of delivery; there I stayed with an uncle of mine, Uncle Donald who lived in Park Lane.”
“What, dad didn’t go with you, why?” I asked.
Mom seemed to understand my confusion and put me at ease immediately by saying’ “Your father had work and was not granted leave. He came as soon as his school broke off for the holidays. He was so sad that he would miss your birth as you were not expected to be born at least before the second week of July and dad had to return back on the fourth of July, so when I went for my check up the day before you were born I explained dad’s predicament to the doctor. She told me not worry and that if I wanted she could perform surgery on me the next day and that’s why you were born on 29th June.”
The door bell rang must have rung at that moment for mom left me to see who at the door. She said, “That’s got to be your brothers, if we have time I’ll continue the story after lunch. Is that ok with you?”
“Sure mom”, I said, as I ran as fast as I could to put my box of toys away, before my brothers saw them.
It was four in afternoon and the neighborhood was quiet. The strong summer sun had sent everyone scuttling for the prime locations under their homes’ electric fans or to the comfort of the air conditioners, if they could afford one. Even the cold drinks’ vendor and the ice cream vendor were asleep under the shade of their parasols. The entire colony seemed to resemble a dreary desert. It appeared as if its residents had had an overdose of sleeping pills along with their lunch. A few of the neighborhood dogs had either taken up residences under the parked cars or found puddles of water to comfort themselves in.
Dad it seemed was driving the pigs home with his snoring, “burrzzz…wheee, burrzzz …wheee” he continued to go on like a steam engine, nonstop. We were dying to laugh and were finding it difficult to contain ourselves, but mom said, “You’ll wake dad up and he’ll get mad at you, I suggest we go to the other room.
Once there, Stuart began imitating dad, “burrzzz….wheee, burrzz …wheee, and we all burst out laughing. Stuart laughed the most, in fact he became hysterical and his laughter served as a catalyst for all of us to laugh more. Stuart was a great mimic and a deserving nominee for an Oscar award, maybe.
Mom was about to say something when Stuart again says. “burrzzz…..wheee,” and then Shannon also got into the act which caused Stuart to get back into a laughing fit. Unfortunately, I was momentarily distracted from watching Stuart and so didn’t catch what he had done or said, but when I looked at my two brothers laughing like Navjyot Singh Sidhu on one the Laughter Shows that were aired over the television I too joined them.
Lassie and Rover came into the room and climbed onto the bed. They too wanted a piece of the action. Lassie immediately became quite enthralled with Stuart’s giggling and responded by sitting on top of him, while Rover, the gentleman that he is was felt quite embarrassed with his wife’s behavior and just stood where he was glaring at her. Perhaps, he was waiting for some sort of instruction from one of us. He never was one to do anything on his own. Lassie on the other hand was an attention seeker and was always alert and active.
Mom patted the bed beside her. Rover picked up the cue and jumped up onto the bed and made himself comfortable. The bed was now filled with three children, their mother and the two family dogs. Quite a crowded bed, to say the least! It was beginning to resemble a railway compartment where a berth meant for three people to sit on had double the number.
“Who wants to hear a story, a true story?” asked mom with much enthusiasm. “I”, we all said in unison. Lassie, hearing all our excited voices also barked, “Woof”. She too, it had been noticed loved hearing stories, while Rover perhaps, whom had felt as though he had heard them all, took this time to catch forty winks.
Mom cleared her throat and sat up straight and looked right at me and began, “Once upon a time there was this couple, a married one, who had one son, but because the son was lonely they asked the stork that delivers babies to please bring them one for him to keep him company. The stork agreed but with one condition, which was that the eager mother carry the baby in her stomach for nine months, before seeing the baby.”
“What baby did she ask for, a boy or a girl?” chirped Shannon with a mischievous grin on his face.
“She wanted a girl I think while her husband wanted another boy, but they were not very particular and were open-minded, boy or girl, what difference would it make was their belief. Well the lady happily agreed and informed her husband of the good news that the stork had given her. It was after about some months that the lady’s stomach began to swell. Her husband was not very happy now because he had to start buying new clothes for his wife to feel comfortable in. But he was a good man and was earning well enough so he would take her to the market and buy her new clothes and other things too, every now and again.”
“What about their son, wouldn’t they buy him anything?” I asked.
“Well, their son loved trains; he had an obsession for trains and was bought every type of toy train that was manufactured in those days. It did not stop at just having trains at home, almost every month he had to be taken to the Railway Museum in Chanakyapuri. Also his dad would take him to the local railway station in Lajpat Nagar. There they would wave out to all the guards on the trains that passed by.”
Shannon began to blush and his face bore the expression which suggested he knew who the boy was.
Mom continued, “As you can notice from the places mentioned this family lived in New Delhi and you all know how beastly hot it gets here and how stifling one feels. Well this lady used to find the heat unbearable. She used to feel so hot she felt she could eat an ice berg. She soon became the ice cream vendor’s favourite customer. It seemed as though she alone that ate all the ice creams in his cart, leaving the others in the colony with none”.
“Did she share some with her son?” asked my little brother.
“Her son did not like ice creams”.
Shannon made a sort of a chucke with his mouth which made us turn and look at him, but said nothing. He too did not like ice creams.
“The lady also had another vice which was very harmful for her baby, she would smoke cigarettes. She was addicted to two things, ice creams and cigarettes. Her doctor had warned her that these were harmful for her baby’s health but she just could not stop herself”.
There was a ray of sunlight that filtered itself through the small gap between the drapes which seemed to be filled with coloured dust particles. It resembled the glittering gold and silver confetti that is thrown on newlyweds after the exchange of their marriage vows. With my attention on these eye-catching particles I was unable to follow what was said in the meanwhile. I therefore asked mom to repeat what she had said which really upset my elder brother. “Sherwin, why can’t you pay attention? You’re really so bugging!” he said with a look on his face that showed his frustration.
Being so used to his grumbling and bouts of frustration I didn’t pay much to his anger. He was really all smoke with no fire.
Mom continued with her story but not before making it aware to me that I needed to focus on her face and not look away. “Sherwin if you do not look at me then you will not understand what I am saying and I really don’t have all day to keep repeating myself. If your dad wakes up then the story will have to go to sleep. Do you understand?”
I just nodded in agreement without saying a word.
“As I was saying earlier this mother could not resist the temptation to smoke or avoid her craving to eat an ice cream. Her craving to eat ice creams was so great that she would get up once or twice at night too and ransack the refrigerator. Sometimes, if she was unable to procure an ice cream she would put a piece of ice into her mouth and swallow it.”
“She wasn’t a very thoughtful person I should think; I can’t imagine why she would do these things knowing that it would put the unborn baby’s life in jeopardy”. I told her as if I were a philosopher.
“I agree” said mom. Then, after a short pause, perhaps thinking of the politically right thing to say, she added, “Well they’re many things we do as human beings though we know it could be detrimental to us, but why do we do it, because we’re human and prone to things doing irrationally. One of the greatest ironies of life is that man will always be willing choose to eat the forbidden apple”.
“What exactly do you mean by that?” I asked in all earnestness.
Shannon who was very knowledgeable piped in, “Do you remember the case where God had told Adam and Eve not to eat one particular apple as it would result in dire consequences?”
“Yes, and she ate that apple” I said in reply.
“Exactly, she was forbidden from eating the fruit but could not resist. All men and women are vulnerable and are unable to stay focused all the time”, was Shannon’s emphatic explanation.
“Well this lady was made to feel guilty all her life for her weakness to abstain from the forbidden fruits as she lost her son almost the moment he was born. The poor innocent baby was completely blue in colour when the doctor brought him into the world. The baby was barely breathing and could not cry. The doctors attending to the mother and son beat the son on his bottom in an attempt to make it cry so that it could take in oxygen, which was necessary for his survival”.
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