The excited father was waiting to get the good news from the doctor that his baby was well. He had no reason to believe otherwise as none of the tests performed earlier had any negative reports at all. He waited anxiously, seated outside the operation theatre on a chair clutching onto a bouquet of flowers in his hands. He had hung a bag which was packed earlier by his wife, with all the necessary items that would be required by the unborn child, post delivery – diapers, baby vests, Johnson’s baby talcum powder, cream, a soft hair brush, half a dozen feeding bottles and half a dozen infants’ outfits. He himself had packed a number of chocolate bars and some health drinks for his wife, unknown to her, of course. He had already rehearsed in his mind what he was going to tell his wife when he saw her and also tried not to forget how he needed to carry the new joy that was entering into his life. He was edgy and fidgety! He had been sitting in the very chair which was the nearest to the door, for well over an hour. He had fought the urge to go to the cafeteria as he was afraid he would miss the doctor when he broke through the door. Unfortunately for him, the door had not budged an inch since his wife followed by a train of attendants had entered through it behind them.
“Was the father at the hospital there alone? Where was his son?” enquired Stuart. I remained focused on mom’s mouth, the movement of her lips, and her facial expressions while she was articulating each and every word. Once again I had to make the same request, “Will someone please say what was said?” And, it was mom who would do so. In fact there was some dissention brewing up between my elder brother against me and my mom as he was beginning to believe that mom cared for me more than him and I could guess where it was coming from; the fact that as she came to my defense most of the time, whenever there was a dispute between us.
Mom continued with her story, beginning by answering the question. “His son was not with him since it was a rule of the hospital that children were not allowed, except on specified days and times. So, the woman’s husband was completely in the dark about his newly born boy’s struggle for survival. Rather he was beaming, the adrenaline pumping like a powerful water jet. He was an embodiment of nervous tension, his heart almost bursting out of his chest”.
At last the doctor emerged, but said not a word! The husband was completely now at his wits end, not knowing what could have caused the doctor to suddenly lose her sense of speech, or as people say, become tightlipped.
The lady’s uncle named Donald, who was an employee at the hospital, came and met the husband. He said, “I need you to be strong for I am afraid what I am about to say is not good.” The husband’s legs suddenly began to buckle under the words that were uttered and he became pale, the colour in his face fading. “Your son is in a very bad condition, he probably won’t survive. The doctors and nurses are doing their best, but I must say they’re not too optimistic. I’m truly, truly sorry to have to tell you this, but I feel I need to prepare you for the worst”.
The bouquet of flowers which the man was clutching so tightly just slipped through his fingers and fell to the floor, the beautiful blood red petals becoming severed from their stocks, lying there on the spotlessly clean floor waiting for their sad demise. The man who was had purchased them as a symbol of his love and gratitude to present to his beautiful wife whom he pictured lying on the hospital bed clutching onto the newest member of their family and looked a picture of happiness barely a few moments ago, now resembled a man who had just emerged from a horror movie - pale, shaken and afraid!
All our eyes were moist. We did not know what to say!
“Clearly the man was heartbroken! And heartbreak is worse than a disease; for with a disease the pain is physical whereas with heartbreak it is mental. The man tried hard to stay strong, but was finding it extremely difficult. All the thoughts of his wife and especially his baby hit him like a ton of bricks. He was clearly, visibly shaken up. All that was comprehendible through his sobbing was, “I don’t want to lose by baby!”
Uncle Donald empathetically said, “Come on, I know how you must be feeling, but you must have faith, the pediatrician is in there and he’s very good. I’ll go back in and find out what the progress is; in the meantime you just hang in there”.
Mom paused and scanned the faces of the three little faces looking at her with as much concern and curiosity as a scientist working on a world changing experiment. The two dogs were sound asleep and except for dad’s occasional snoring, which naturally was inconspicuous to me there was pin drop silence in the room. Then mom continued her narration. “The doctor came out about twenty minutes later along with Uncle Donald and went straight to the baby’s father. They were smiling, and it was the doctor who spoke to the baby’s father this time. She said, “Congratulations, young man you’re a father, the second time over. We managed to save the baby’s life but I’m afraid you will not be able to see him for some time as he is still under medical observation. The little fellow is a fighter! If he makes it through the next few days he’ll be fine. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve other patients to attend to.” Uncle Donald stayed with the father and informed him that the baby’s lungs were filled with water and so it was unable to breathe and that is why the baby was blue in colour when he was born.
The baby’s father said to the doctor when she was out of earshot, “Beautiful tyrant” and a “fiend angelical!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” we asked, almost in unison.
“I don’t know, but remind me to ask your father when he comes back from chasing the pigs to their sty. He’s the one who is always quoting Shakespeare.”
“What happened to the child?” asked Stuart.
“Well the child survived, but his parents did not get to see and hold him baby for more than seventy two hours. All that time the baby was kept in the nursery. It had pipes attached to both its tiny arms and had a nurse monitoring him all the time. The baby’s parents would glance at their bundle of joy and worries through a glass window. On the third day, when the baby was handed to them the father was afraid to carry the little fellow because he looked so small and so delicate. The baby was barely four and a half pounds and was a little bigger than his father’s palm”.
“And what happened after that?” I asked, eager to learn more.
“Then, the father picked up his son. He did so in such an awkward fashion you’d think he was holding a bomb and then when the baby was comfortably asleep in his arms he gave the baby its name.”
“What did he name the baby?” I asked, impatiently.
He named the baby boy, Sherwin. He told his beautiful wife who was lying in the hospital bed, “Let’s call him Sherwin, a sheer winner, for he surely is a winner of his very first battle!
“That’s a wonderful name and a wonderful explanation too! Why don’t we call him Sherwin Richard, after you? Maybe he’ll inherit your talents that way,” said the wife.
I smiled feeling as pleased as punch. I was proud that I was a star, even if it was only in one of mom’s stories.
The next day was Monday, the start to another week, and definitely not the best day of the week for average graders like myself, average graders as classified by our report cards. But, this Monday was different as mom was accompanying us to school. She and dad had decided to inform the school authorities about my hearing impairment. It was a good thing I thought as I felt that perhaps the teachers would treat me differently. Perhaps, they wouldn’t be so hard and so obnoxious, henceforth. Hopefully, my classmates too would treat me with more kindness. This was definitely the right thing to do, I reassured myself.
After mom met the Principal’s secretary and explained the reason why she needed to meet him she was told to write an application and attach the medical reports to it. After duly doing so she handed the papers to the secretary who then informed her that she would personally hand them over to the man.
“Can’t I meet him, I don’t mind waiting?’’ said mom.
“Sorry Ma’am, the Principal has more important issues to deal with today”, said the secretary in a robotic manner.
“Ma’am what can be more important to a Principal than his student’s well-being? Could you at least inform him why I’m here?” pleaded mom.
“I’m sorry Ma’am but at present he’s got more important matters to attend to”, was her only reply.
Mom did not know what to say to which would convince the lady to allow her to meet the Principal. When she knew it wasn’t going to happen she decided to leave, but her body language clearly suggested that she was upset.
What the lady behind the glass window said next was totally unexpected and uncalled for. “Ma’am there are special schools for children like your son who have hearing problems, perhaps you should seek his admission into one of them.”
Mom said nothing. Partly it was the strangeness of the lady’s statement which had so shaken her and also because she had been unprepared for the almost violent, hostile behavior of the lady, and also the abrupt way in which she had offered her recommendation. She slowly descended the many steps and went directly to the parking lot. She sat in the car for a long time with her hand on her cheek, contemplating whether to inform dad of what had just transpired or not. Finally, she decided against it.
Most teachers in India who possess a longtime service record in a particular institution are of the opinion that they are untouchable. They imagine themselves to be the pillars of the institution and if they were to be removed the institution would collapse. They are not apt to following instructions no matter how constructive they may be or how beneficial too. To them a mouse can only be a rodent and not a computer part. In my opinion the names of such teachers should be typed on the computer screen and then the DELETE button hit.
I had the unhappy experience of having one such particular teacher assigned the duty of being our class teacher. She would have been better had she been assigned the role of an army commander. Her every word was to be paid heed to and her every command carried out with such precision it was as if it were a landing a missile on an important enemy installation. She hated having to repeat herself. Her philosophy was simple – “I say and you do!” I guess she must have learnt the poem, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, when she was young.
If she did not like me when I was first admitted into her class she hated me even more after she had been advised by the school Principal on how she should handle me, owing to my hearing impairment. I am certain that it hurt her ego. She certainly did not need to be told on how to handle a student in her precinct. She grabbed every always opportunity to singled me out for ridiculing, making me the butt end of her every joke. Yes, she always reprimanded me for not completing my work on time or not following some instruction which she had given. She often used to say, “Don’t think that because your father works in the school you will be given special privileges or even for the fact that you are deaf”.
At those moments I wanted to have the courage to tell her the truth; my dad being employed in the school was a cross I was carrying rather than any privilege.
How I rued her mentioning in front of everyone in the class that I was deaf, she might well have said that I was dead, for people have more respect for the dead than the deaf. Soon students whom I did not even know would start using sign language to try and communicate with me. It was humiliating to say the least. Others would stare and snigger or start inventing their own signs. I wanted to scream and tell them, “I can read your lips, there’s no need for all this drama.” The universal truth was that no one would believe me for after all it was the teacher who had had told them that I was deaf, and teachers’ don’t lie! It's true teachers were put on a pedestal and treated as gods and goddesses, at that time, hence their word was the Bible..
I was forced to live quite a lonely life in class as almost all my classmates conversed in their mother tongue, Hindi which I did not know or understand. The only language I knew was my mother tongue, which is English. The students were often reminded that they were not to be found speaking in their mother tongue, but it really hardly mattered to them, it was like pouring water on a duck’s back, for as far as they were concerned it had no effect on them. Added to this there was another problem, I could hardly follow what they spoke in English too as they spoke very fast or would not be facing me. As a rule children don’t have the patience nor the inclination repeat themselves so I had to be contend with that philosophy of life. The end result was that no one wanted to play with me.
I had but one friend in my class, but to my misfortune he wasn’t very regular to school and nor should I say was he very smart. However. I would feel good if I saw him. He used to help me with completing my work and repeating instructions as he empathized with me every time I got scolded or every time I was the butt end of a joke. He used to often advise me, “Go tell your dad about the way you are being treated, he’ll know what to do”, and I would always say, “It’s my problem, I need to handle it”. Unfortunately, I was wrong, very wrong! It was hard to be charitable towards a class like this. It was difficult to sit back and contemplate the real wonder of my peers and the so-called normal ones, the ones that the Almighty had chosen to be born with all their organs in proper working condition.
As I lay down in bed one night, in the darkness of my room I began to feel sorry for once more being aroused by this deep and bitter hatred for this stereotyping of people who possessed some impediment or the other. It was no better than racism I thought for racism too was an accumulation of years and years or even centuries of human discrimination. I at times felt like Frankenstein’s monster, only animated by my classmates for their needs. I supplied them with their need to have something to laugh about and to gossip about. I felt the strain too much to bear any longer, the strain to be more assertive and prove that I was normal. I needed to prove to them that they too had shortcomings. I wanted them to understand the life inside me, a life that had much to offer them and all mankind. If only they could understand that all children with hearing impairments were human too and not some strange alien that had crash landed, uninvited onto their self-professed, perfect planet.
I was never given the opportunity to participate in any inter-class or inter house competitions. I was never considered competent enough. I used to sit in the audience and watch everyone else perform and notice their proud parents smiling and taking photographs of them. It was those moments when used to feel like a loser, good for nothing, besides being an embarrassment to mankind. I used to feel happy seeing my other two brothers on stage or on the athletic field, but it used to make me feel a hollow pain in the pits of my stomach, a pain something like a cramp; a pain that I had become so familiar with, I could recognize it ever so often. I was not jealous of my brothers; no it definitely wasn’t jealousy, but envy! I was envious that they had the opportunities to make my parents proud whereas I was the complete opposite. I used to wonder if I was actually an embarrassment to them. I knew I was so different from my brothers who were well-known for their talents. Shannon used to win all the elocution competitions he participated in and Stuart was following in his footsteps. They were a part of every race and every competition whereas I on the other hand was always a mute spectator.
I longed to be there on stage, in reality I dreamed of performing on stage and of getting a standing ovation from the audience. I was a dreamer and it was my dreams that brought me happiness and which took me away from the true the reality of my miserable and quiet life. My dreams were always filled with colour, flashing lights and thunderous applause. They were never in black and white.
I guess like in the newspapers the headline news which is printed on the front page for everyone to read, but with the passage of time it would begin getting less coverage and eventually was moved to the back pages, till at last it was given no space at all since it was not interesting any more. I must say the same thing was happening with me, I was not the hottest news anymore and I was happy it was happening! At last, after many months I started feeling a little more secure in my classroom and had even been able to find myself a couple of friends. My grades though, did not show much improvement despite my best efforts. Even my military-like teacher seemed to have softened down.
The summer vacations were barely a fortnight away and I had started crossing out the days on the calendar in my school diary. After this period, which was the last one for the day, there would be barely eleven days left, including Saturday and Sunday which were holidays in themselves. I was feeling good thinking about them. The last class was Mathematics and I had decided that I would complete all the work whether I understood it or not. I had made up my mind to copy everything from my friend seated beside me. He was the one who felt sympathy for me and had come up with this idea of copying his work; for it was no secret that all that the teacher wanted was to see, was the work completed, it wasn’t really her problem how it was done or if a student had understood if they had understood how to solve it or not. I was at last learning the ways of education in India and though I was not really learning much academically I was getting a free education on becoming worldly.
At last the bell rang, which to be frank I’d never heard, I’d never, ever heard the bell ring but one needn’t hear it since there was plenty of activity within and even outside the classrooms, which indicated that it had indeed rung. I noticed my classmates putting away all their paraphernalia, not merely books and pencil boxes but also a whole lot of other stuff such as Pokemon toys, tennis balls, WWE playing cards, Barbie dolls etc. One guy even had a catapult with which he used to break the glass panes in his bid to shoot down birds. There were spies placed at strategic positions to catch the culprit responsible for making the glass rooms into wind rooms. I was smiling to myself and packing my bag when I received a hard smack across my cheek which sent my skinny frame sprawling over my chair and onto the ground. I was completely dazed for a moment. It was like being hit square on your face by a punch thrown by Mike Tyson and had it were a boxing match I would have been counted out. When I managed to get to my feet, feeling groggy, my jaw feeling like it was shattered I received another shot, ‘whack” right across my knuckles. Gosh! I tried holding onto the steel ruler in the teacher’s hand but that only infuriated her more, it served as a red flag held by the matador in front of the raging bull. The classmates immediately stopped whatever they were doing, like statues in a museum, motionless. By the time she had finished with me, my knuckles were swollen and blood was pouring from my hands.
I was in pain, tremendous pain! I had never been beaten before and I could never imagine being beaten so gravely. Slowly all my classmates began to troop out, shocked and nervous while I sat alone in the class, crying in pain.
That was the last I ever saw of the teacher, the school or my classmates. My parents withdrew all three of us from school and dad put in his resignation the very next day.
He had served the institution for almost eleven years; he had served with dignity, honesty and with passion and had never sought of looking elsewhere for employment. The school was his nest! Leaving it was never a thought that ever crossed our minds and now that he had done so, it only meant that his broken heart had forced him to take such a drastic decision. He had taken this extreme step without having a backup plan or a job on the horizon.
That night I heard dad telling mom, “Why aren’t handicapped people accepted as being human too? They seem to be looked upon as some strange animal, tarred, dumb and a liability to mankind. In this world it was not merely a shame but also a sin to carry some impairment or impediment with you. Does no one think of how these misfortunate people must be feeling deep within their souls? Is there no way of ridding themselves from their oppressors?”
Mom’s reply was a very philosophical and logical one, “The whole world knows that violence breeds hatred and hatred breeds violence. Hatred can only be defeated by love and peace.”
“True, but tell me was Adolf Hitler and the Nazi’s defeated by peace? How many millions of Jews were massacred before they were given the right to live on the earth, and how many children like Sherwin will have to be beaten up and humiliated before they are accepted with dignity and honour and treated equal to all? The philosophy of love and peace is overlooked by all who are in a position of power”, said dad, trying to make a point. He was clearly and justifiably upset, his decibel level rising high enough to awaken a patient in a coma, “The greatest irony of life is religion. Fat priests shout from pulpits that Jesus Christ would save him or her from their sins. People could do without religions and Gods who died for the sins of the world as all it resulted in was leaving man bereft of remorse or self-responsibility for the crimes they had committed”.
“Darling, you’re a good man. I can understand you’re hurting and you are angry, but losing your temper is not going to change anything. We need to decide our next course of action, the children have to be put into a good school and you need to find yourself another job. We need to focus on all these things, they are our top priority”, said mom with much calm and also changing the subject.
“You know what I think we should do? We should go to the police and get the woman locked up. She’s a psycho! She should not be allowed to walk around as she’s clearly a danger to young children. Honestly, I feel like going and beating up one of her children so that she understands how it feels”, dad could hardly contain his anger and frustration.
“Why, what have her children done to warrant a beating? They’re innocent just like your son is. You’ll only be justifying what she did. Remember two wrongs don’t make a right,” said mom in reply. Then she added, “And as far as informing the authorities go, everyone is going to advise you that you should do just that. Advice is free my darling and therefore not always valuable so, give them a deaf ear. You cannot fight an institution; we have neither that kind of cash nor the time to do so, for you know how long court cases take in this country. You’ll end up attending one hearing after another and at the end be told that the case has to be adjourned from some reason or the other. You’ll probably die before there is any outcome and to add to it you’ll have to stay in the country for as long as it lasts. So my advice is to let the water still itself and allow all the crap in it to settle down to the bottom.”
“So, I’m supposed to do nothing, is that what you’re suggesting?”
“No what I’m saying is to be patient and have faith. Good things come to those who wait”.
“Faith is hardly the right word to ask a man in my shoes to believe in. I’ve lost faith in everything but you. I’ve had faith in religion and what has it got me? I had faith in my profession and what have I received from it. Faith unfortunately, has left me to rue my present fate! I’m sorry if I sound cynical but I’m in no mood for logical or philosophical reasoning”, said dad in abject resignation. Then he added, “All I would like to say is that life is going to be very different from now on, and all account of one heartless and cruel human being who has the audacity of calling herself a mother and a teacher”.
“You couldn’t be further off from the truth with that statement” agreed mom. “Now let us all eat dinner, we’ll just have to see how our cards pan out”.
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