My travels in the past week took me to Bokaro district, in the state of Jharkhand. This is one of the most industrialized zones in India and boasts of the Bokaro steel plant, which is the first ‘swadeshi movement’ steel plant of India. It was built with Soviet help in 1964.
I had some work there which got over pretty quickly, leaving me time to search out an old friend who lives there.Over dinner, we got talking about our old university, old friends,family , jobs, career, life. We reached a point where there was nothing else to talk about. Just an amicable silence between old friends, comfortable still, although meeting after many years and not being in touch in between.
Looking at me affectionately, he asked me in all seriousness whether I remembered gifting him a book of poems i.e.Tagore’s ‘Gitanjali’ and my words scribbled on it.Actually, he said ‘imperiously scribbled’. I smiled because I guess my handwriting is a tad disdainful and flamboyant.But I had no recollection of this incident or the words, which he told me were “It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very deeply”. I smiled yet again.He and I had been comrades once upon a time over tea,Marx and idealism. And it was he who used to accompany me on my Saturday trips to a school for differently abled children.
He accompanied me the next day once again like old times to the ‘Asha-Lata Viklang Vikas Kendra’. It was a surprise gift for me he said. ‘Asha-Lata’ is a school for the differently abled children of the society, aiming at meeting the educational, developmental, social and emotional needs of the individuals while treating each child with respect and dignity & recognizing the individuality and uniqueness of every student.
The caretakers were happy to take me around the school and proudly introduced me to their beautiful and extraordinary students.I met most of the students who are shown in this youtube video http://youtu.be/dnS7eZVjotQ . It was awe inspiring to watch children who could not hear or speak ,dance with perfect rythmn and synchronization to the music played by their friends who could not see. Happy smiles were showered on me as I distributed Kit-Kat bars thoughtfully bought by my friend. Over chocolates and much laughter, the children told me their likes,dis-likes,dreams.They were the same as any other children.
Two and half hours of un-conditional love and un-complicated smiles later, we said goodbye. Maybe, I shall perhaps not meet these children again in ‘Asha-Lata’ school? But read about a poet or a musician or an astronaut or a scientist doing the nation proud.And smile that he or she was a student of Asha-Lata.
I have this dream.
“I Have a Dream… someday my son, Zyon and ALL individuals with disabilities will be seen as HUMAN beings.
I Have a Dream… someday the human & civil rights of individuals with disabilities are honored and they are treated as equals.
I Have a Dream… someday ALL parents who have children with disabilities see their child as a blessing and not a burden.
I Have a Dream… someday there will be more jobs and opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
I Have a Dream… someday there will be UNITY “within” the disabled community.
I HAVE A DREAM! ” ( ‘The Day My Soul Cried’, Yvonne Pierre).
Bokaro,which I visited for the first time, will always remain special to me. Because of the courageous children of Asha-Lata. Because of my comrade. Because of his beautiful daughter , Nayantara, who cannot see…but has eyes which light up the darkness.