A Right Disabled

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Bhanu came to our house when he was a young boy sixteen years old. A stout lad with pale eyes, sallow complexion stood before me clutching his father’s hand like a child. He wore the most bewitching smile on his tender face, which belied his chronological age. I had been frantically looking for a boy who would be a companion for my only child. Dhruva, is barely seven years old. I would be out for a 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. new job, and I needed someone to be with my son during my absence.

The father introduced his son to me as “a boy with delayed milestones and immature.” I looked at Bhanu with those pale eyes betraying sunken pain. I was a bit confused about having a boy with cognitive impairment in my house as a companion of Dhruba. But when I started talking with him, I was satisfied that the boy might be well put in service. Slowly Bhanu settled down to the rhythm of life in our household. I found that besides being a tad slow in comprehending instructions, he had no major difficulties. Once he got the hang of it he stuck to whatever was said with religious sincerity.

Bhanu did not know to read or write though he was sent to a village school. He could not read a clock or carry out money transactions. Though his cognitive development was impaired I was surprised to find that he often developed his own strategies (aided by me) for coping with his handicaps. My son used to return from school at 3 p.m. Bhanu kept track of the hands of the clock. The right angular position of the hands upwards on the left side of the face of the clock gave him the indication that it was time for Dhruba’s arrival. I had tried heart and soul to acquaint him with the three Rs but, much to my dismay, found that he couldn’t cope much with it.

Bhanu’s bonding with my son was my primary consideration. I was gratified to find my son’s affinity towards this new found ‘Dada’ gradually increasing. Bhanu too, reciprocated by being  xtremely caring and protective about his little ‘Bhai’. After a month of observation, I could breathe in peace. Bhanu’s lacking did not stand in the way of my son’s care and safety. On the contrary, his naivety and tender love acted as a double shield for my little one.

I was also impressed by his honesty quotient.

Bhanu was not only fond of my son, but he also adored me. My instructions to him were considered to be hallowed and inviolable. He also chose a verbatim meaning of my direction. One day I told him, “Bhanu as soon as I am back from office in the evening please hand me a glass of water to soothe my parched throat.” Bhanu nodded his head in agreement.

The next day I returned home and nabbed the doorbell. The door had been hardly opened when out flew an outstretched hand holding a glass of water to greet me. “Kakima(aunty), here’s your glass of water”, Bhanu uttered, flinging the door open while I was still outside. I chuckled as the simplicity of the dear boy captivated my heart. I understood that boys below the average intelligence range abide by directions as close to the meanings of the words suggested in an expression!

Usually, I didn’t make him run errands as I knew his over-simplicity might land him into trouble. One day I was in the kitchen rustling up a delicacy for my son. Suddenly I realized that an important ingredient in the recipe had been exhausted. I had no other alternative but to send Bhanu to fetch it from a nearby grocery. I very well knew it would cost Rupees fifteen, but since I didn’t have the exact amount, I gave him a twenty Rupee note and said, “Look here Bhanu, you take the stuff from the shopkeeper and then hand over this note to him. He will return three notes to you (What I meant in my hurry was a one Rupee note, and a couple of two Rupee notes amounting to 5 Rupees). In a hurry, I made the blunder of not telling him that the return money could be in the form of a five Rupee note or other denominations too.

After some time, a young neighbour knocked at my door and informed me that he had just seen Bhanu engaged in an altercation with a shopkeeper and was on the verge of manhandling him.

In breathless anxiety, putting off the gas stove, I ran to the shop and spotted Bhanu still shouting in a frenzied voice, “Why are you cheating me with only one note? You have to give me three notes you swindler!”

I was flabbergasted. I had never seen him in such an aggressively defiant mood! Seeing me he calmed up a bit and said, “Tell him aunty that he has to give back three notes as you had said.” He held in his hand a five Rupee note!

I resolved the dispute by explaining to the shopkeeper everything admitting my fault. Fortunately the shopkeeper was an acquaintance as our grocery was delivered every month by him. Having faith in us he was convinced by my explanation and forgave Bhanu, leaving me at peace.

A couple of years passed. Bhanu became an integral member of our family, thriving on our unconditional love and care. I was thinking of sending Bhanu to a Rehabilitation centre for special children where he could pick up skills that would help him to earn a living later in life. I firmly believed that these children with cognitive deficits were capable of working and could fend for themselves if properly initiated in the training of a skill that suited them.

One summer morning, suddenly Bhanu’s father appeared in our house. I was a bit surprised as it was not the beginning of a month when he usually turned up to take the monthly remuneration on behalf of his son.

“I have come to take Bhanu with me to our village”, he declared.

“For how many days?” Bhanu had gone to his village only for a day or two twice in these couple of years.

“He won’t return. I am taking him to work with me in the field, and this good for nothing boy can prove his worth by only slogging in the field” he passed his decisive judgement. Without waiting for an answer, he ordered Bhanu to pack up his things and bid me goodbye.

The sunken pain which I had witnessed in Bhanu’s pale eyes on the very first day had evanesced for quite some time. Now there resided a glitter of happiness. At his father’s command, the happiness in his eyes transmuted instantly to the previous look of a sea of pain.

I tried to refrain his father from taking such a hasty decision, but all in vain. After all, he had the right of a father, and I could at the most wield the petty power of a well-wisher of the unfortunate boy! It was a great relief that my son was away at school in those parting moments.

Bhanu went away reluctantly with his father while I stood abandoned at the doorway with a heavy heart. I waved to him as long as he was in sight, and he too waved back. Crestfallen, I bitterly rued that I had miserably failed in my dream of giving Bhanu a rightful place in society, a place each and everyone in society was entitled to.

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Amita Ray
Amita Ray

A former associate professor in English and Vice- Principal of a college based in Kolkata. She is a Translator, Short Story writer and Poet. She has four volumes in Translations (one co-authored) of noted Bengali authors to her credit. She has translated Abanindranath Tagore’s 'Khirer Putul' that is inducted into the Post–graduate curriculum (English) of Burdwan University, West Bengal. She is presently a translator in several on-going projects. She has published a collection of short stories titled 'Trail of Love and Longings'. She has also authored a book of poems 'Until Birds Sing' She is an executive committee member of Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata

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