Life, is like a game of treasure hunt, knotted in a maze of unpredictable pathways, encountering unfamiliar walls of people against whom you lean in the twists of joy and turns of sorrow, the deeper you delve into this jungle of logic the deeper you are struck in a societal dogma but when you believe in your inner self and walk the unknown corridors in solitude with the algorithm of patience, there comes an intersection that aids you to stop by and introspect as to what really is this treasure that you are truly seeking, pondering upon which leads you to the direction of wisdom to seek this treasure called learning, an eternal process in life where each day unfolds newer experiences and each new interaction brings in a whole new perspective.
“She is not normal”, he had said mildly, at that time it really did not matter much to me nor had I encountered the word autism then, because for me! Abnormal was still better than a normal obnoxious sister in law and I had readily consented.
My sister in law was quite spontaneous, independent, was able to comprehend most things around her most of the times and seemed perfectly normal to me. She spoke cheerfully and listened intently but on the few occasions when the topics were beyond her comprehension it was indeed amazing to see how my mother in law pitched in subtly involving her, drawing her attention sublimely, telling her every little detail, ranging from the price of onions to a street’s name to where a particular bus or train headed, to who our home minister was. Whether or not she listened or understood, my mother in law kept narrating things around us for her. And I wondered how she could do it so untiringly and if it was of any help at all?
While I was still at the crossroads of life struggling to transform into a new leaf of a good daughter in law, accepting newer responsibilities and newer people in life, my sister in law turned out to be the ice breaker on many occasions which sometimes eased me out and many times made things more awkward. She followed me everywhere like a little child till I could take it no more but then I was her newfound buddy and she made it a point to keep me entertained and informed about my new surroundings which was a welcome gesture but one thing that perplexed me was this frequent question which she asked at least 8-10 times a day …”when will the Mehendi on your hands fade” and would check my hands each day. Once when I had adorned myself with my favourite Kohl she heartily gave me the world’s wildest compliment that I had ever received saying “Bhabhiji you look like Komalikaa(the seductive vampire of the Kyunki saas bhi kabi bahu thi fame)”!! I was quite annoyed and didn’t know where to bury my head and almost became an ascetic giving up on cosmetics for some time for the fear of receiving such vile compliments in public! But it did not stop there, every time she stayed back with me on occasions when my mom in law stepped out, she would stalk me back and neck and narrate even the minutest detail of every minute that she spent with me in great detail starting from how long I watched the TV or how long I chatted on the phone and what the hell I spoke on phone, at which my mother in law would just remain calm and mute while I fumed at why my mom in law never instructed her otherwise. A few days later when the Mehendi did fade away I almost got choked in disbelief when I heard her say “Now you can take up all the household chores full-fledged”. I was really dumb struck at her thought process and equally amused at her ability to score perfect fours like this! Even before I had recovered from the jolt she hit another six this time when she innocently enquired my mom in law ….”When are you going to hand over the keys (almaari ki chaabi) to bhabhi”?!
We had all burst out laughing together for the first time! Thanks to the many stereo type Saas-Bahu serials on air but this incident made it amply clear that she simply absorbed everything around her. The TV might have enabled her with shrewdness to say harsh truths in the most raw and unpolished forms but the confidence with which she interacted with people or lovingly made a hot cup of tea or reminded my father in law’s medicine time, her ability to respect elders and love the younger ones, an aptitude to clearly distinguish between the right and the wrong, all these are definitely qualities and habits that my mother in law has meticulously engrained into her over the years with absolute faith and conviction to even out the odds that life has mercilessly posed upon her without any fault of hers.
For some time like many others even I was critical of my mother in law for not encouraging her child to further her studies or pursue any kind of skills at all but my mother in law is a self-driven power house of energy who in the oddities of unavailable facilities for special education then, had somehow geared up to take it upon herself and move forward striding past the doldrums of a demanding life.
It is such a relief to see my mother in law engrossed in matters of current affairs, cookery, latest movies, recipes or reading today, in fact she is the official tweeter handle of the house as she stays updated on all matters and energetically tweets verbally all day on all possible issues, it is probably a regime she has practiced all along to keep her child and herself abreast and never indulges in futile talks or ugly gossips nor cribs or complains about life.
After many years now, after reading a little bit about autism, today I understand that, too many instructions would leave an autistic child confused, it was perhaps for this reason that she never stopped her child from narrating every little detail of what happens during her absence as things might backfire in the hour of need, if my mother in law were to instruct her to stop sharing then she would perhaps apply the same rule even if she witnessed a thievery or any other kind of abuse, so in a way it was a safety measure.
My mother in law’s unchanging calm expressions and the happy go lucky attitude towards life with a no nonsense aura that she carries without a bit of regret in her ever cheerful eyes, hosting a host of never ending list of guests sends me reeling beneath this toughness, with thoughts of those traumatic days that she must have dealt with at the initial shock of knowing that her child would not be what she dreamt of, the sadness and grief of knowing that it had to be her child of all the people out there, the anger and helplessness at the hands of destiny, an urge to deny the truth and yell at the whole world in a destitution of loneliness mixed with bouts of frustrations yet forbearing the tears and pain within, fighting coldly against all those gaping eyes around telling them that its not embarrassing to have her in the party! But then, perhaps, she was made of steel! Soon enough she had risen from this negative hangover and boldly chosen to accept it and face it and keep pace with life.
Truly our life runs on the tracks of experience adding newer bogeys of learning discarding the unpleasant and obsolete ones, I have learnt a lot of tough lessons from her that aids me to handle life better, there might a zillion things that we do not agree upon but I see her as an inspiration, an iron lady whose only motto in life is to keep her family happy and intact.
I have never seen her show any kind of frustration or insecurity or inferiority about her daughter’s disability in front of even the most accomplished peers, I have never seen my mother in law scream or ignore the silliest of child’s questions even on the most exhaustive days or at disturbing times, it is this untiring and enduring dedication of hers to keep her child informed and updated on all matters around her that not only makes room for others to respect and treat her equally without any indifference but also creates a conducive environment for her to feel completely very normal.
It is never easy to accept even a minor defect in your child because we all want the best for our children, recently my son had a fatal fall due to which his nasal septum was slightly deviated, although it is only an aesthetic implication our grievances were unbearable and took me a lot of time to come to terms with it, so susceptible are we to the societal pressures of living up to the mad race that we find it hard to accept even when you are a runner up or when your child has secured just a participation certificate but every time I am unnerved by such utter mindless helplessness, every time I itch to compare my child with others, every time I complain about life I make sure I look back and think of this pillar of emotional strength, my mother in law who is indeed #madeofgreat, whose courage to accept and come to terms with life’s harsh realities has redefined the benchmark of patience and strengthened my belief in this unconditional support system of love and care that cannot be measured or altered by the dynamics of superficial success in the society because happiness and positive thoughts coupled with an urge for learning and unlearning are the authentic ingredients that churn out a successful recipe for life.