The story is about a special child, Naina. She is born with a genetic disorder, Down’s syndrome. The story revolves around her. She fails to get the love and care that every child deserves to get. She is devoid of the basic rights of liberty and is chained.
We have been travelling for almost twelve hours now but despite that I was more excited than exhausted. Afterall I hadn’t been to my village for past seven years. Moreover the journey is just as important as the destination and that is more apparent when you travelling by a car. Windows down, I watched the miles disappearing beneath the wheels. wind striking against my face, I watched unfamiliar faces walk past. We were about an hour away from Saharsa, my native place located in bihar. My grandparents had settled there permanently now, after being retired from work. I had a full summer vacation ahead of me to rejuvenate my soul, this was escape from the chaos of a city life into the serenity of the woods and farms. So I had a complete list of the things that I wished do this time.
I reclined back onto the seat, comfortably still glancing out of the window when a pilot light of memory flickered into my eyes. Of all the memories that I had of my last trip to this place, naina was the fondest. I was eight when I saw her for the first time. She was sitting beneath an electricity pole on the kaccha road that led to her house. Naina, a girl with a flat face, small ears, slanting eyes and a small mouth that was opened at almost all times. Her hair was chopped like that of a boy that too unkempt. What fascinated me the most even then was that she looked like a carefree soul, unaware of her surrounding, of the people who passed by her. As a child I could not make out that she was much different from the rest of us. It took me more than just a few years to realize that she was a special creation with a bonus chromosome. She was a special child with down’s syndrome.
Naina was born to a mediocre family with two sisters younger to her. They were not special like naina but more valuable to the family. Her house to adjacent to that of my cousin, near the village’s temple. Her father owned a grocery shop in the village and he earned enough to provide all the necessities to her family. They avoided inessential comforts and luxuries and led a very simple life.
As a child, I was always much curious to hang around naina but was not allowed to do so. I found her sitting at corner of the road at almost all time of the day. Only when the sun went down would her mother take her back home. She sat there grinning at people who walked past her. Sometimes she cried or pick at her hair. Other times she would try to speak but her words could not be deciphered.she seemed to understand more than she could express. My family would tell me of her tales, of how she had beaten up a boy the other day. I would stand at a distance from her and watch her make faces at me. Through my cousins who stayed nearby, I got to know more about naina. She was of my age, infact we shared the same birth month. But unlike me, she could not speak, she had never been to a school. availability of an inclusive school for special children is often a problem in the rural areas. Besides she did not hail from a rich family that could afford even a therapy for her.
She had a disruptive behavior and a depressive disorder. Only once I could muster the courage to walk up to her. I had bought a chocolate for her, from her father’s grocery.
It was an uncle of mine who took me to her. That was the only time I looked so closely at her. She grinned at me with her partially opened mouth. But I was more scared than pleased.
And back to the same place years later, I had thought that the story would still be the same and this time I had decided to walk upto her on my own. I had brought a box full of chocolates for a friend who certainly won’t recognize me.
So the very next morning after I reached home, I was supposed to go and meet naina. I had not spoken to anyone about the chocolate box or my plans. I woke up early that morning. Took a shower and headed towards my uncle’s house who lived adjacent to naina’s place. To my relief, nothing had changed much over the years. I walked past the small mango groove that we owned. And I took the turn next to the village temple. I was expecting to find naina sitting there beneath the electricity pole but she was not there. So now I had to force my cousin to take me to naina’s house. I had a tough time convincing him but finally he agreed to come along. But to my surprise, he did not knock at the door of her house. Instead we walked up to the window at the back of the house and we peeped inside. The room was fairly dark but we could figure out the girl sitting at the edge of her bed, adjacent to the window.
As soon as he called out her name, she turned her gaze towards us. There she was, naina! She still looked the same expect for the weight she had put on. She still looked small. Her hair chopped like that of a boy, unkempt. So, nothing had changed over the year. She still had the same grin on her face that would make my heart melt every time. She seemed to be pleased on our arrival. I held out the box to her and asked her to come nearer. She got on to the bed and started crawling towards us. It was only then that I could make out that she had difficulty moving about.
I looked at my cousin and all he could say was, “the chain”. I looked back at naina, this time to her feet. Yes! The chain!!! She was chained.
I stood there looking at her. Now it appeared different to me. As we I had come to see a hostage. It must have been a regular site for my cousin may be. But to me, she was a friend behind the barriers. This was the first time that I had witnessed a girl in chains. She was there now, close to the window and she took away the box from my hand and tried opening it. I could not have stayed there a minute longer since I had got no reason to explain why I was crying. This was the girl I had met on the roads, back home I hardly ever thought of her. All I knew of her was that she was born with a genetic disorder, medically termed as the Down’s syndrome. she had opened the box by now and she crawled back to the edge of her bed. And I headed back from where I had come.
That was the last time I saw naina. I spent the entire vacation with my grandparents but I could never gather the courage to walk down the road to her house. Even I am a flawed human being. I escape the moments of crisis. I choose to run away from pain rather than facing it. I could do nothing for her.
Through my cousin, my family got to know about my visit to naina’s house. They would try to soothe me. But even after all the justifications, I failed to understand that what on Earth is so powerful that could compel her parents to captivate her. People often defended her parent’s action pointing out that the girl her run out of her home naked on several occasions. I was stunned that anyone would consider that a valid defense for chaining a child. Was it not an abuse? Running out naked, indulging into fights was certainly a problem but was that not insignificant compared to the massive human rights violation of unlawful imprisonment? Being a girl child in a small village, that too intellectually disabled, devoid her of the basic rights too?
I wonder how excited her parents would have been when she was nothing more than just a foetus growing in her mother’s womb. They would have planned every aspect of her life including the songs they would sing to her, the school she would be admitted into, her cute little night gowns but they certainly had not planned for her to have down”s syndrome. I wonder if she ever tried conveying her feelings to her parents. “love me, I am not what you had expected but still love me.” Was she ever jealous of her own little sisters?
Even after I had come back from my village, naina’s thought used to haunt me. She was in a physical bondage and I was emotionally bound to her. But it was only a matter of few days. I embraced the chaos of my life once again and she had become something abstract to me. The intimacy had already started to erode and the distance seemed to be infinite now.
She passed away the following winter. She met an untimely death. My parents say that she was born with some congenital heart disease so everyone knew that she was with such a fate. But the irony of her life was that people failed to acknowledge her presence even for such a short span of time.
Memories warm you up from inside but at times it tears you apart. I wish if I could go back and do it all over again, I would. But she got buried irretrievably under the sands of time. Days have transformed into months, months into years but the clinging of her chains continue to haunt me. Her memories don’t seem to fade away.