A Flight to Remenber

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Hi Friends! In the wake of the incident of a family having a daughter with autism being escorted out of a flight I too want to share my experience with all of you. In doing so I am hoping to highlight the importance of autism awareness and I hope more and more people are able to appreciate the cause we strongly believe in and action for.
This incident happened some four years back when my son (who has autism) was about ten years old and we were on our way back to India from Auckland after a month long holiday. The flight from India to Auckland was a pleasant one, and mind you it was a long one (From Delhi to Singapore: 6hrs + another 10hrs from Singapore to Auckland + the layover time in between transit).
We were looking forward to getting home and had a three day break planned at Singapore, for another mini holiday before winding up our trip.
All went as planned; we checked out from our hotel well in time for any last minute hitches and were very much in time for our flight. Saksham was well prepared, well fed and all set.
As the plane was about to take off we thought we’ll take him to the loo so that he is comfortable and does not have to get up till the “fasten your belts” sign is switched off.
Most of us are aware of the kind of sound a toilet flush makes in a flight, so we always made sure to take him out and then flush just to ensure that he does not get overwhelmed with the sound (something common with the kids on the spectrum). However unfortunately for me, because of the confines of the bathroom his leg accidentally pressed on the flush button and within seconds all hell broke loose. He was in a major meltdown, kicking, screaming, biting, head banging and the works. The plane had already started taxing for the take off, but all that was a blur at the moment. There was nothing we could do to pacify him. In fact within seconds of this I was bleeding from a lip cut, my hubby was scratched all over his face and arms and my elder one, then just 13, stood and watched helplessly the ordeal with tears brimming in his eyes.
The co passengers were all stunned, but some of them came forward to help… in fact I remember a tall burly fellow trying his best to pacify our little bundle but to no avail. I saw some had tears in their eyes and were very sympathetic. None complained or said anything.
Very soon we noticed the plane had stopped, in fact it had been docked right back, and we had the pilot and the flight attendants right next to us who told us very calmly and politely that we would have to de-board considering the child was so stressed.
Within minutes we were escorted with utmost dignity and with a very empathetic attitude out of the plane where a person from the airlines was waiting with our checked in luggage already arranged in a trolley. This person was also supposed to manage our ticket re-booking for when we were ready to fly again and escorted us to the concerned departments so we could do the needful without hassle.
As soon as we were out of the flight our lil man was a picture of calmness as if nothing had happened .( A change of scene is what helps ease a meltdown).
Soon we were back at the hotel where thankfully the room we had vacated was still available. We sat there absolutely numb, not knowing what to do next, feeling almost trapped, since our visa was on the brink of expiring and the only way out was a flight. We could neither eat nor sleep. Thankfully our friends there came to our rescue and took us to a doctor, who heard us out and helped us to finalize the way forward. All this while the staff from the Singapore airlines was in touch with us and managing our tickets so that we did not miss our connecting flight from Singapore to India.
On the day of the flight just before boarding, we went to the hospital where the Doctor was waiting for us and promptly put Saksham on a sedation medium so that he slept thru the flight. He also provided us further medication for our ongoing flight along with the necessary paperwork for custom clearance for carrying medication in person. When we reached the airport to board the flight with Saksham fast asleep from sedation, the staff was ready for us. They allowed us in the flight even before the business class passengers and made sure we were comfortably seated. Throughout the flight they kept checking with us if we required anything and assured us support in whatever way they could.
Saksham got up with about an hour to land and I did not take him to the loo in case he got reminded and lost it again. But my fears were unfounded, he was his comfortable self and it was a major relief when we landed in Singapore, our mini holiday reduced to half a day. The best part was that the staff of our ongoing flight to Delhi was also well informed and left no stone un- turned to make our journey comfortable. All credit to Singapore airlines, who almost hand held us, all the way back to India and their parting shot was, “Do Fly with us again”.
Writing this for all of you, has brought back memories of the flight which gives me both chills and a feeling of warmth from the way we were treated with understanding and empathy right from the word go.
These two incidences are sharply contrasted because there is one thing that sets them apart. While what happened recently is fraught with ignorance, the one we faced was about awareness. We were lucky to have people around us who were aware and because of that we could handle such a tough situation.
The only solution then is to spread awareness so that acceptance follows and people can take appropriate action. Having said that, however well prepared parents may be, while taking their special ones out on a holiday there will always be unprecedented triggers in the environment that can set off such responses.
Show empathy, learn and be aware and give the benefit of doubt to parents who are already going thru tough times on a daily basis. They have a right to enjoy life too whenever they can steal these moments from this roller coaster ride they have been strapped to, definitely not out of choice.

The Nudge

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It was one of the many mornings that come and go but today there was a restlessness that I felt in my heart. I was aware that it was that time of the year again when the world tries to make a difference in the life of children with Autism by spreading awareness. I too wanted to do better than the last year when we had got our home decorated with blue balloons, lit it up in blue, asked friends and family to dress up in blue and send me pictures which I had compiled together to make an album on Face book, share a bottle of blue fruit champagne, got a local bakery to put up a print out on autism surrounded by blue balloons  to draw attention of the customers and offer chocolates to all the kids that came in that day, in a bid to spread awareness. Wasn’t too bad considering I had only become aware of WAAD, World Autism Awareness Day, a fortnight before it is celebrated the world over on the 2nd of April every year.

This year had to be a step better, I needed to be heard a notch higher. On an instinct I decided to meet the Principal of Ryan’s International, Ms Sarita Katiyar, where my elder son attends school. I have met her often on my school visits and she always came across as a warm person. She knew that my younger son is on the spectrum, so when I went and met her with an idea of the Ryan’s children presenting a skit on autism awareness, she immediately agreed to it and gave very positive inputs and promised me full support.

Emboldened with this response my next stop was McDonald’s. This because it is a child friendly organization and I was hoping that if I could request them to put up a chart on autism awareness and dedicate a corner for the cause and decorate it with blue, at least some people might get curious about it and Google for more. But guess what?? After an initial meeting with the duty manager ( Mr. Amit), I was soon talking to their store manager ( Mr. Anshul Sharma), who in turn introduced me to their area manager( Ms Poonam Choudhary) . Over a fortnight and a series of meetings, it was decided that not just a corner of one store but all the Jaipur vide stores of McDonald’s were to go blue in support of Autism Awareness.

What followed were meetings with the Directors of Disha foundation Ms. Kavita Verma and Ms.Arpita Agarwal, Directors of Approach Autism Mr. Anurag Srivastava and Ms.Garima Srivastava, and the Principal of  Kid’s Planet Ms Nisha Sharma to work out the nitty gritty of organizing the event. A meeting with Ms Girishita of Rajasthan Patrika, ensured a week long countdown with pictures and information on Autism, which I regularly sent them for their media portal, “Media Action Group”.

Soon enough banners were printed with the logos of Disha( a multi disability school), Approach Autism, McDonalds, Ryan’s International school, Kid’s Planet, Credent and Skorpious Films, who all partnered for the cause and contributed in making this a very successful event. Media too was present to cover this.

On the day of the event, everyone wore blue. McDonald’s store at Gaurav tower became the venue of the event, and was beautifully decorated with blue balloons and lights. Children from Ryan’s School Padmavati, dressed in blue gowns performed and sang beautiful songs.  Our special children on the spectrum came down with their parents and care givers and enjoyed.  A special child Dhruva showcased his talent to tell the day on which a given date falls on. Badges, “I Understand Autism”, were pinned up on walk-ins as they were told about Autism and a signature campaign was conducted. McDonald’s generously treated the children and volunteers to burgers and ice creams. The whole ambience of the place was ethereal and full of joy.

As I write this and look back, I realize what I had set out with and what ultimately was achieved was possible because there were people out there with lot of love, patience, warmth and willingness to make a difference, in their heart.  All I did was to nudge them, like one does a domino. A little push and the effect starts. It is all there within us, we just need to recognize it and then there can be no stopping.

Post this event; I have loads of new friends, loads of promises, and loads of ideas to make it a bigger and better event next time round. I guess all I have done is to set the ball rolling and now it is up to all of us to make sure it does not stop at any court.  If it is some encouragement, I have just been told that McDonald’s is seriously contemplating to continue this drive next year as well and with all its stores North India vide joining in. I want to name this event, “The Nudge”.

(On my bucket list for next year, “Light It Up Blue” for Jaipur, which could not be possible this year due to the “Code of Conduct” in place for the coming elections, though the letter drafted for the cause had reached the CMO).

Music To The Rescue

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I was sitting around, looking out of the window at the relentless downpour and feeling a wee bit gloomy. The weather has been like this for the past couple of days. Trapped indoors with cold and wet weather outside playing spoil sport, can be a huge dampener. I knew I had to do something drastic to pull myself out of this ever increasing depression. … and guess what or rather who came to my rescue ….. Kishore Kumar.

I just put some Kishore Kumar romantic songs, which hubby dear had downloaded on to the iPod and voila !!….. The mood changed from one of gloom to one of romance…and joy de vivre !!  The incessant rain suddenly was melodious music and it surely lifted my spirits. The numerous mundane chores which were lying around postponed for another time were suddenly taken up and done away with. Such is the effect of music.

The lyrics, the composition and the melodious voices, which put love on the pedestal almost to a point of reverence….truly amazing. I’ve grown up listening to this music over the radio……Vividh Bharti. Song after song…gems after gems….to suit all moods ….. making you smile, making you cry……. making you mushy.

But for them, ‘Antakshri’, would not have been possible, You sit to play and the songs that you’ll sing will be the older ones. The latest ones, however good they may be, just elude you.

Would  our children be singing the same songs, would they be playing ‘Antakshri’, like we do whenever all of us cousins get together, and sit up  singing the night away. I really wonder if they will ….. though I surely want them to carry this legacy of music forward….. for which I guess we’ll have to make a conscious effort ……. cause music alone is one force which binds us.  It transcends all languages, all boundaries…… and reaches out to our souls.

Extreme Makeover

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Watched a program called extreme makeover today. It was about two people. A man who was deaf n dumb, his ambition in life, to become an ambassador/voice for his kind ; and  a woman, mother of three boys, wife  a single mom since her hubby ,an army man,  was always out on duty.

The man needed a makeover coz he was going to be the voice . With his front teeth missing, a much receded hairline n a pot belly, not to mention the crooked nose, the team of makeover had a task to get to but not as daunting as the one they had to undertake on the woman in question.

She had a figure one  could kill for, the kind everyone slogs for achieving, after working out hours together in the gym, and abstaining from all the sinful foods that so beckon you. She used to be a beautiful woman once, as was evident from the earlier pictures that were shown, until one fateful day when her husband, back from one of his numerous duties, unknowingly brought with him, a deadly companion. As she unpacked his rucksack, she felt something crawling on her face, which she brushed aside on a reflex. It was actually a spider, which as an after effect left a trail of destruction on her face and in the scalp of her hairline. It was badly disfigured. She had been   coping with the embarrassment of living this way for the past three yrs, till this makeover happened.

It was heart wrenching  to watch these two people coping with all the stress, living away from their families, going from one operation to another, from one specialist to another, but it was equally heart warming to see them emerge fully healed and reunited with their families. A very emotional moment for us viewers too.

I suppose these people were chosen for a makeover not just because they needed to be beautiful, but because they were beautiful inside. The man would still have continued being the voice of the mute and the woman would have continued on her journey of bringing up three beautiful children, albeit a little self-consciously.

Also it got me to think how little did it take to destroy beauty, which we swear by and feel so proud of. I guess the trick is to be beautiful inside, and once this extreme makeover is achieved, rest automatically follows.

PROCRASTINATION

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The dictionary meaning of  procrastination is to postpone doing something.

All of us, with the exception of  a few, are addicted to some degree of procrastination.

I remember the time when mom would wake us up for school and we would go, “just five more minutes please”, and trust me those five minutes of sleep were more fulfilling than the entire night of sleep. I would tell mom to wake me up on the Sunday as well, so that I could go right back to sleep. Till date the biggest grouse mom has against me is,“ You do everything, but always do it at the last minute”. My hubby still doesn’t get up till his alarm has rung four times at least. Whenever I remind him to do something, he says “kar loonga”,( I’ll do it), so much so that I tell him that, “kar loonga”, is his midddle name.

I guess it starts from there on. If anyone calls you, you do not go immediately, instead you go, “one sec”, or “gimme a minute”. I see procrastination in all walks of life.

We all know that certain things have to be done, yet we keep postponing it till we can’t any more. Is it the thrill of doing things the last minute and the pleasure and confidence that you derive thereafter for accomplishing it, or is it just force of habit. Irrespective of what prompts us to procrastinate, we just do postpone things.

The only people, I can think of, who probably do not have the luxury of this habit are probably the doctors, who can’t possibly say we’ll save a life a wee bit later, or the daily laborers who have to earn their bread for the day for their families ( I am sure I am missing quite a few here). Though I am sure given a chance they would too.

Just one thing though, procrastinate anything, just do not postpone life. Live it to the fullest  today, for tomorrow may have another story to tell !!

The Backyard Tree Springs Back

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The patience has finally  paid off.  Spring is here. As I look out of my kitchen window, I see my tree and notice that suddenly, as if out of nowhere, little tendrils have sprung out all over. Nice pale green ones surrounding little buds. I experience a happiness beyond words, the kind that springs from the deepest core of your heart.

As each day passes, there are marked changes. Every morning as I make a hot steaming cup of tea, and stand sipping it, the beauty that is unfolding right before my eyes leaves me breathless.

The tendrils have now transformed into miniature leaves, almost shaped like stars. I have seen the full grown ones before they shed during autumn so I know what to expect,  no prizes for guessing that.

The birds are slowly returning to make it their home once more. The branches are still visible and are making a huge display before they disappear behind the ever growing leaves, to remain in oblivion till the next autumn. Some fruits, all withered, brown n spiky still hang on from the last season, not hanging on to dear life, but I suppose hanging out there to give the necessary  support n guidance to their younger generation. The old guard will leave once the young brigade is all ready to take charge.

That’s what life is all about. Giving way to the next generation, passing on the baton of life, leaving a legacy that inspires the generations to come with its beauty and serenity.

The Backyard Tree

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This tree that I want to write about stands proud n tall in the garden in the backyard and is visible from my kitchen window. It has been my constant companion since the time we rented this beautiful house, here in Auckland, almost six months back.

When we came here it was the beginning of summers, and this tree was lush green and its spiky fruits, the size of small plums, hung in twos, suspended by a thin vein, looking like small chandeliers, shyly peeping from behind the curtain of leaves.

It was a sight to behold, as many birds seem to move in and out of it making the sweetest music as they went about their day. It gave me a lot of pleasure to watch it and suddenly I would not feel lonely and so far away from home.

As months went by, I heard autumn was fast approaching and somewhere that made me sad. I somehow could not bear the thought of seeing my companion all barren, but I could not have been more wrong.

As autumn approached, the tree transformed into a golden yellow bouquet, its fruits too took on a golden hue as I watched mesmerized. All my sadness put to rest, making me realize that the statement,’ a thing of beauty is a joy forever’, holds so much water.

It did not stop at that. It slowly changed into a riot of fiery red and orange, almost looking ablaze, and then as days passed, one by one it started shedding its leaves. They lie there, at its feet, in a heap. I could not bring myself to sweep them away, as they lie huddled together in this cold and rainy weather,  probably comforting each other.

And the tree; it stands just as tall and proud , with its branches, now visible, spread out , as if welcoming the rains and winters with open arms. Its fruits, brown n mature, shy no more, and as the sun manages to peep out of the clouds the raindrops suspended on its branches shimmer like thousands of diamonds, and as the day draws to a close, the silhouette looks just as impressive against the greying skies in the horizon.

These transitions have made me think that it is possible to be happy in all seasons of ones life. The trick is to go by the flow and wait for each day, in anticipation, for a new miracle to happen. The leaves will return, as will the birds. The good times will return, just hold your ground and keep your trust.

Ma

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Picture a young petite woman her long tresses braided into a single plait, wearing a khaddar sari with a colored border; not the designer fancy one, but more like a thin broad color stripe running along the entire length, carrying a steel tiffin carrier, the kind having compartments one upon the other, held together with a steel frame, walking towards a building spread over a few acres of land, with a board outside that reads Mental Asylum in Bolds. The questions that race into the mind may vary from “What is she doing here?”; “Does she work here?”; “Would she be carrying that tiffin for some doctor?”; “Why should a young girl like her be here at all, among the dwelling of the insane”; “Wouldn’t she be better off away from such a place?”

The young woman I am talking about here is my Mom and to answer all the questions at one go; she was carrying this lunch box for her elder brother who was admitted to the mental asylum. It was not as if he would not be provided food there, but she was only fulfilling a mother’s wish to make sure her son gets to eat home cooked food. A sibling to seven others including five brothers, she was the one who took it upon herself to take care of her ageing parents and a brother who at the prime age of twenty–two had suddenly gone insane, so much so that he had to be institutionalized every now and then.

Her journey has been arduous, to say the least. She took upon this responsibility, and the responsibility of her ageing parents, which she could have shrugged off easily on the pretext of being a woman or a sister of five brothers, or a wife, or a mother of two daughters. She already had enough on the plate considering she was working too, and Dad was always posted out of town. Instead she decided to carry on undeterred.

As the elder daughter I have been a witness to all her trials and tribulations. Managing our education, home, her job as a Lecturer in College, and her PhD, could not have been an easy feat. She took it all in her stride and kept her chin up all along. If she felt any tensions they never trickled down to us. She gave us a very secure and beautiful childhood with beautiful memories filled up with happy times. The best times were when Dad would get home for holidays or we would go to him during our summer break, or when our cousins would visit. Our little two bedroom apartment would be flowing with love and the aromatic smell of food and literally bursting at the seams, more for want of physical space than anything else. Everyone so comfortably ensconced in the warmth of love here. This was a home away from home for everyone who stayed with us, not that there were no other choices. But I guess love takes precedence over comfort.

Moms are all heart and give loads of love to their children. My mom has been mom to not just me and my sister but she took care of everyone around her, be it her parents or siblings or friends or neighbors. She took care of her parents and her elder brother till they breathed their last.

 Her support system was her mom, like she is mine today. At 80+ she tries to do everything to make my life comfortable, managing the kitchen, listing the groceries, calling for vegetables and the works. She is the one reminding me to get things done on time. She takes full care of Dad, managing his medicines and hers. Takes the major tension out of life, what say??

As children the one person we take for granted is the mother and I guess I am no exception. I guess I am not ready to let her retire for a more typically old age lifestyle kind of a role. Probably I can’t visualize her like that since as far back as I can remember I have seen her always as a go getter, a working woman capable of so much and that too without any complains. The only complain being we do not eat well and on time, but hey isn’t that what all moms do?? Hers today mine tomorrow for all I know. I may not tell her everyday how much I love her and what she means to me, but I can never thank God enough for giving me such a wonderful one!!

Puppy Love

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Well this one is not figurative but quite literal. Yesterday saw a small pup, a pet of course. Unlike back home in India, here in Auckland you’ll never see a stray one. But seeing this little fellow reminded me of my sister and took me far back in time when we used to go to school in a rickshaw.

One such summer afternoon as we were on our way home, our rickshaw puller pulled over for a drink of water, and for a little respite from the sweltering heat. He parked it under a tree and ran across to a municipal tap, after instructing us to stay where we were, to where a few others were queued up waiting for a swig.

As we sat there waiting patiently, enjoying the cool shade of the tree, we noticed a small stray brown pup making its way around our rickshaw, sniffing around inquisitively and then looking at us expectantly with its beautiful liquid chocolate brown eyes. Like all babies do, this one too looked adorable. When nothing seemed to be coming from us except coos, the little fellow started whining. Now that sound was totally soul stirring and within that instant my sister decided that it was hungry and the mother, no where in sight, had abandoned it and it needed to be fed and needed a home.

Before I could even understand where this was leading, in one swift moment she got off and swooped up the little fellow in her arms and onto her lap. By the time our man returned, this pup was well covered and out of sight.

Once home, he was named Prince, and a cardboard box was lined with old cloth, which was to be his home. Prince was offered some milk, in a plastic lid, which he lapped up hungrily.

By the time  Dad n mum came back all hell had broken loose. The pup just would not stop whining. All attempts to pacify it, failed. Finally it was decided that it was missing its mom, and should be dropped back where it came from. Then began a round of pacifying my sister and finally it was given a tearful farewell and dropped next to its mother who had now made an appearance, with three other pups in tow. Both the farewell and the reunion were spectacular and are etched in my memory, and as for my sister, her burning ambition in life is to own a huge farm house and have a horde of dogs.