"An extraordinary student. I am extremely proud to have been associated with her." said the principal. "Proud to present Tara Aakaash, Best outgoing student, Academic year 2012-13."
The auditorium burst into a thunderous applause as Tara stepped on stage. The entire audience was on their feet as Tara received her Award and her Masters degree in Psychology.
I stood beside Meghna and Aakaash, Tara's parents. I did not see Tara. I did not see the reaction of the audience or the people on the dais. All I saw was these two people, who stood with tears of pride, love and happiness as their years of commitment, hard work and sacrifice finally was rewarded with this wonderful moment.
I am Kavya. A journalist. I flew down to Chennai to write a story on Tara. Four days ago.
It was a nice evening, a Thursday to be exact, as I landed on their doorstep. I rang the doorbell and looked around. A lovely home, an independent house (tough to own and maintain one these days..i thought), a small garden with an enchanting variety of flowers that smelled like heaven (good smells in chennai!! that's inviting), a sand box and a swing.
In front of the house was a lovely 'kolam'. The door was opened by Meghna, clad in a simple cotton saree, kumkum on her forehead, jasmine flowers in her hair and a radiant smile. One cant help but like her. I introduce myself, remove my sandals and step into the house.
She asks me to make myself comfortable. I sit down on the sofa, get out my laptop and recorder. A simple house, simply decorated, practical furniture...hmmm not too much clutter. In the puja room the lamp is lit, from the soft fumes of the incense sticks emanates the smell of sandalwood and the house resonates the soft chants of the Gayathri Mantra that is playing. The walls are adorned with pictures of Tara as a child, at school, and many many more. The kitchen is adjacent to the hall cum dining room. An open kitchen, I see a radio at the corner of the service area. Beautiful bamboo wind chimes hang just outside the open french windows that over look the garden. The hall has a large shelf filled with books and Music Cds. I was surprised at how old the model of the TV was. The house looked welcoming and was as if it was set up to stimulate all our senses...except...
Meghna walks in with a hot cup of filter coffee. "I hope you like coffee", she says. A ridiculous question to ask a journalist and a workaholic. I grin and thank her.
"Thank you for agreeing to share Tara's story with us." I said. "We can just start of with a few details today and then continue tomorrow if you are not comfortable. Its totally your choice. By the way, where is everyone else?" I asked.
"They have gone out for their walk as usual."she smiled. "But we can start. I will tell you what I can. Do ask me what you want to know."
"Lets start at the very beginning. When Tara was born." I said.
"The day Tara was born was and is the most beautiful memory in my life. August 25th 1991. I was in labor for more than 14 hours. Aakaash refused to leave my side and had to literally be kicked out of the delivery room." she chuckled at the memory. "It was an uneventful pregnancy with no complications or incidents. It was late in the evening when she was born, a normal delivery. Aakaash sat by my side cuddling the baby girl who was sleeping contentedly in his arms. He was esctatic. He wanted a girl you see. His parents and mine sat in the room calling every person in their phone contacts list."
"It was a beautiful night. Clear skies. One could see all the stars in the sky."
"Tara" Aakaash said. "I am going to call her Tara"
"Everything seemed just right. Perfect in fact."
"In the next few months we faced what we never even dreamed of. Tara would not stop crying. She wailed and wailed if anyone picked her up. She hated it when we brought her into the light. The only time she was not crying was when she was feeding or when she was sleeping. Six months passed. She gained weight. She was calm every time Aakaash or I held her. She just refused to be carried by anyone she did not know. She did not try to roll over. Did not like toys. Rattles and any toys that made noise or even soft music scared her to no end. She just screamed and screamed. It was horrifying for us. She did not make eye contact. And hated it when we left her alone in her crib."
"The Pediatrition finally told us to take Tara to an Ophtalmologist. It was puzzling to us but we complied. He told us to take a electroretinography (ERG) after a preliminary exam of Tara. It was to be done under mild sedation. We sat there in the waiting room, hoping against all odds that nothing is wrong with her. We were told that Tara had what is known as Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis. It is an inherited retinal degenerative disease characterised by severe loss of vision at birth. It seemed that our perfect world just crashed around us. We sat in shocked silence and as the doctor explained to us about the condition. Evidently it was a very rare genetic condition that had no treatment yet."
"We cried for what seemed like days. Our parents were being very supportive but nothing helped. My only concern was that
little bundle sleeping in my arms totally oblivious of what she has to face as she grew up."
Meghna wiped a tear and said, "Its been more than 20 years, that day is etched in my memory as the worst day in our lives. Everything changed. After a week of crying and discussing and crying and fighting and more crying, Aakaash and I decided enough was enough. We had to figure this out. We were making a choice, not to sit and watch our baby fight, but to fight with her. If possible fight for her. To do the best to make life as normal as possible. We read books by the dozen. We spoke to other parents with visually challenged children. We went for counselling. Everything may help. In the end, it is our faith, family support and commitment that changed our lives forever.'
"We decided we will forget that Tara lacked one of her senses. She does have the others. So we were going to stimulate the others!!"
At that point Tara and Aakaash walked in. After introductions and lots of chit chat I requested that I take leave so I can come back tomorrow to continue. I realised I had forgotten to call for a Taxi. Meghna, the gracious host insisted I have dinner and stay over. Ofcourse she would not accept the excuse of not having my clothes with me. Tara could lend me hers. I considered the offer. The hotel was quite far off and it was getting late and I was quite enjoying the company of this lovely family. I accepted.
That's when I saw. Saw what I had not noticed before. It zipped right past me as I squealed and pulled up my legs in fear. God save me. How am I even going to stay here I thought in horror.
To be continued......
I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th - 14th December 2013. Today's prompt is memory/memories.