One of Anand Sharma’s vivid memories is being surrounded by tea plantations in Assam where his parents used to work. His brain has registered only blurry images, for he was born with low vision and lost it entirely when he reached fourth standard “due to poverty and lack of nutrition”, he says. His education went no further. His parents relocated to Raipur in search of work and settled there.
When we asked this 43-year-old about his formative years he said he had three older sisters and four younger brothers. None of them are in touch with him. “They are leading their own lives and I believe they are well off,” he says. “None of them are willing to support me.” All he can tell us about his natal family is that his father died, and his mother, who is in poor health, stays with one of his brothers.
According to him, after he discontinued school he did nothing much, just spent his time playing, leading an uneventful life until when he was around 23 his mother asked him, “Do you want to get married?” His mother, who hailed from Kharagpur, West Bengal, started looking for a bride for him. He was 25 when she got in touch with a friend back home whose daughter was vision-impaired. The mothers spoke to each other and asked Anand whether he was willing to marry her. He replied, “Yes, if she is able to cook and feed me.” It turned out that the person he formed his strongest attachment to was his wife Anjali, who is now 41. They are inseparable.
There was one skill he picked up when he was young, and it served him well later on: cycle repair. In his neighbourhood there was a cycle shop where he picked up the knack, and he used to work there to earn a little money that would help ease the family’s economic burden. He says that by now he has become such an expert that he can pinpoint any glitch and fix it. He works in a cycle repair shop and the money he earns there, combined with his disability pension of around ₹500 per month, constitute his income with which he supports Anjali and their children Anushka and Vinit.
It was an employee at the cycle shop who took the couple to get their kids admitted to the local government school. Both children are in sixth standard: Vinit went directly into first standard and is therefore in the same class as his sister who is a year older. “We haven’t been to the school since the day they got admission,” says Anjali. “They get free food and free uniforms.” Also, a young girl in the neighbourhood teaches them in her spare time.
Anushka, a perky 12-year-old, told us that the subjects in school she likes are English and Hindi since they are “easy” but she finds science difficult. She would certainly need coaching in science if she is to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor. Vinit had just come back from school on 15 August when we spoke to him. “We had flag hoisting at school today,” he said, and added innocently, “My mother never went to school.”
Anjali has lost touch with her parents. “We don’t have the money to travel to West Bengal to visit them,” she says. They live rent-free in a house that belongs to a relative. “We don’t know how long we will be allowed to stay here,” they tell us. We got the impression that they live in a state of anxiety and insecurity, which makes them all the more dependent on each other as they have no support from their families. In fact, even as Anjali says that both her children are good in studies and she hopes someone will fund their education, the couple fear that they may not look after them later in life. “Since our own family members have abandoned us due to our disability, will our children also do the same?” they wonder.