As soon as I had landed at Bangalore airport, I called my wife, Mamatha. I’d been travelling for a week on business. I wanted to let her know that I was leaving for Mysore right away from the airport and would be seeing her in a few hours.
Instead, she shocked me.
“Hello, Mamatha,” I said to her when she answered and continued “I just landed. I will be leaving right away for Mysore.”
“Mohan, I am pregnant,” she told me in return. A plane took off just then, and the noise of it gave me a few seconds to recover from my shock. From the telephone booth, I watched travellers frantically run for their flights, baggage in hand.
Mamatha was carrying our second child. Our first child, Yogita, had been born blind and with arrested cognitive development. Since her birth, our lives had been a challenging trail. With society still holding archaic views about children with disabilities, we had to figure out the best way to parent Yogita on our own. We needed to figure out what was wrong with her and then try to get her the help she needed. She was declared completely blind and, even at two and a half years, she could not speak a single word. The unfamiliarity of dealing with Yogita by our extended family and society only added to our misery. Thirty years ago disability scared people and children with disabilities were shunned.
For me, watching and parenting Yogita was overwhelming and devastating. In contrast, Mamatha weathered it all like Superwoman.
Now the news of another child brought a strange sensation of fear and delight in me at the same time. My mouth went dry, and I rolled my tongue over my parched lips.Would this child be healthy? Would Mamatha undergo threatened abortion again? In the first trimester of her pregnancy with Yogita, Mamatha had undergone immense physical distress due to some unexpected bleeding with a threat of abortion looming large. What if this child also had disabilities?
“Really?” I said, trying to hide my apprehension.
“Yes,” Mamatha said.
“Wow. Great.” I suddenly wanted to be with Yogita, hugging her tightly. I thought of her incredibly beautiful face. “How is Turry?” I asked.”She is doing great. She is as happy as ever.” Mamatha told me. Turry was our nickname for Yogita.
‘Naa,’ I told myself, thinking back to when Mamatha and I took Yogita to see a few specialists in the US. They had tested her for chromosome abnormality and ruled out any defect. Besides, Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital confidently told us that Yogita’s case was one of a random developmental error. The chance that subsequent children would be born with the same disabilities was close to zero. Still, we were both anxious throughout the rest of Mamatha’s pregnancy. She must have asked me a million times, “Mohan, what if the second child has issues too?”
“Come on, Mamatha”, I said carefully putting on a brave facade to cover my worry that I had in my heart. “Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital categorically declared that Yogita’s case was a random developmental error and not congenital. Why are you getting worked up?”
“But Mayo Clinic said there is a 12% chance,” she said, referring to the Mayo Clinic’s conclusion. They had tested her just a week earlier and declared that the chance of recurrence in our subsequent children was 12%.
“The doctors at the Mayo Clinic were just defensive to avoid any lawsuits,” I comforted her.
Throughout her second pregnancy, Mamatha suffered from extreme psychological conflict, and no one, young or old, knew how to react or what to say to her. I returned from work one evening to find Mamatha sitting on the bed sobbing.
“What’s wrong, Mamatha?” I asked her as she watched Yogita sleeping by her side.
“Your aunt had come home,” she said.
“And?” I asked with a raised voice.
“She asked me if anyone from my family had problems similar to Yogita.”
“She can go to hell,” I said. “I wish you had asked her if there was anyone in my family that has problems.”
Somewhere deep inside both of us, we wanted to raise a healthy child, and experience a normal life. And we were worried about how Yogita might react to a baby in the house.
“How will Turry react, Mona, will she resent or welcome the new baby?” Mamatha asked me.
“I am sure she will love the company. But we should never impose the second child to look after Yogita. We must make Yogita completely independent,” I said.
Over the next several months, Mamatha woke up every night with dreadful thoughts about the health of the new baby.
“What is the worst that could happen?” I idiotically reasoned late one night. “Yogita will have another special child for company”. It was a ridiculous thing to think, but somewhere in my conditioning, I had developed this disposition that it is wise to be mentally prepared for a negative outcome so it wouldn’t come as a rude shock. I kept blabbering about it to everyone around me to reinforce it in my mind.
The numerous normal ultrasound pictures of her foetus did no good in calming Mamatha’s nagging worries. Dr.Rajeswar, the radiologist, comforted Mamatha when he noted that “the eye sockets are very clearly visible and well-developed, and I am very confident that the baby’s eye formation is perfectly shaping up. It is a very healthy baby.” It was very reassuring to Mamatha, and she became more relaxed thanks to the hi-tech scanner.
“Isn’t that wonderful, Mona, that the baby has normal eye sockets and is healthy?” Mamatha asked me as she held Yogita on her lap. To celebrate the good news that Dr.Rajeshwar had given us, we had ate Jamuns at Chikchiktha, a restaurant close to our house.
“Aren’t you grateful that the eye sockets have developed so well and the baby is healthy at six months?
“Yes. Thank God,” I said.
It was challenging handling Yogita in public, but by this point, we had gotten used to it. Our day of reckoning finally arrived on November 8, 1991. Around 9 pm, I was fidgeting and pacing in front of the labour ward at Aditya hospital. At last, when the nurse came out and told me it was a girl, I asked desperately, “Are her eyes OK, nurse?” She nodded her head, routinely avoiding looking at my face. I was petrified. Suddenly, irrational thoughts filled my head. What does it mean that the nurse is not looking at me? Is she diplomatic? Is she lying? I rushed into the labour ward.
Both Mamatha and I could make out the instant we looked at the newborn baby that she could see. My God, what a contrast between eyes that can see and eyes that can’t. Even on day one, Rachita’s (we named the newborn Rachita) eyes were open and full of life. Yogita had hardly opened her eyes during the first few days of her life whereas Rachita had taken the world in from day one. Her sparkling large eyes were like sunshine to our starving souls. Mamatha and I exchanged glances and whispered to each other, “She can see.” “Isn’t it is so obvious?”
My brother came to see the child, and when I told him the baby’s eyes were normal and healthy, he asked, “How can you tell?” I responded, “I just know.” Everyone was very happy for Mamatha and me.
We just kept looking at her eyes. They were so lively and responsive even when she was a week old. A surge of pity would envelop our minds for Yogita but would soon pass away with relief at Rachita’s normalcy. Rachita was indeed the sunshine in our lives while Yogita was the full moon of our souls. Both were gifts from the same God. Rachita walked at eleven months and started to speak at fifteen months while Yogita saw with her fingers and expressed with her tender cooing.
Right since the day Rachita was born, Yogita would listen to Rachita’s cooing with rapt attention. As days went by, Yogita became more and more curious about Rachita’s variety of noises and would listen to Rachita’s blabbering with her mouth wide open. I often wondered what went on in Yogita’s mind.
“Mohan, come here and see this,” Mamatha called to me, laughing, as I was strumming my guitar on the ramp at the main entrance. Yogita lay on the mat, sucking away at Rachita’s feeding bottle after having snatched it away from her. Rachita, who was toppled over on her tummy, watched Yogita merrily sucking away at her bottle. I burst out laughing, too.
As Rachita turned two, she would play with Yogita by holding Yogita’s fingers and take her for short walks and feed her favourite goodies. Yogita developed an immense liking to Rachita and with her constant presence, Yogita’s sleeping habits started to normalize. As she grew older, Rachita would take Yogita and walk her through restaurants and family functions protectively. The innocence of little children is so pristine, and that is probably one of the reasons why we in India consider babies and small children manifestations of divinity. Children are born with an unconditioned mind and a soul that is an extension of the Universal Consciousness, Brahman. Since the mind of the child is still unconditioned, their innocence is utterly pure.The child then undergoes conditioning by the world and develops a false sense of “self” in the mind which we Hindus call Maya. Infants and children with unconditioned minds are so pure and perfect since they are as yet untouched by the world and hence are considered closest to Gods. We were delighted.
There is a beautiful poem by Corrie Ten Boom that sums up God’s tests in my life and goes like this;
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colours
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside…….
,,,,,The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skilful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern, He has planned
He knows He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who levave the choice to him.
Life becomes fair in the end. Life is always a leveller. Maybe it holds no prejudices like human beings.