This year, I celebrated my birthday at school with 14 mentally challenged students who share my birthday month of June.
All the children who were celebrating sat on a plastic chair in one row facing eighty more children who sat on the mat opposite them. Children had prepared a small poem/talk/word of appreciation/song, each according to his ability to express their happiness. There was cake cutting session, dance, music, snacks and laughter.
I sat on the far left side of the row and watched them enjoy. Not everybody smiled. Some had blank looks, deeply lost into their own world. Some had to be helped to walk and take their birthday gift. Some looked curiously at the gift for few minutes, then tossed them on floor and some just refused to take their gifts.
My eyes rested on Jesal who suffers from ‘Dandy Walkers Syndrome’. He celebrated his eleventh birthday. He sat curled, sunk in the chair; his head drooped due to poor muscular support. The handkerchief pinned to his shirt collar was wet, soaked in drool. When his turn came to be greeted by his friend, an assistant lifted his chin to make him look up, helped him receive the gift and shake his friend’s hand.
Birthday is the day when they are made to feel like a royalty. It is difficult to understand what thoughts are running in their mind. Are they feeling sorry for themselves? Are they feeling unloved? Or do they have no feelings at all?
Later in the evening I made a home visit to Jesal’s house.
Jesal has a very caring and doting family. His parents, grandparents and his twin sister are his universe. His twin sister sometimes wishes on a star to make her brother as normal and intelligent as she is. She wonders how different her life would be, had she to share a room with him? She would have loved to play with his toys and sometimes have a pillow fight with him.
Jesal lay curled up on a small bed in fetus position, playing with his fingers. There was no acknowledgement of my presence or my greeting. I sat down closer to him on a chair. I tried making conversation with him, but there was no response. While chatting with his mom, I stretched my hand and placed my finger on his palm. His finger curled tightly around my finger and the contact was made. I held his hand, took it up in the air and down again, repeating it several times. I returned my attention back to the conversation with his family. Jesal continued to play with my hands, gripping my fingers, rubbing my palm and lifting my hand.
Although he made no conversation, nor made any eye contact with me, I think I saw his teeny-Minnie smile from the corner of his mouth when I said goodbye.