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“Cricket is my abiding passion. I am also a strong self-advocate”

You would be making a huge mistake if you thought that Kavish Khanna (23) from Amritsar, who has quadriplegia, poor eyesight and slurred speech, can do nothing much. Kavish, who has Cerebral Palsy (CP), can only slightly move his arms and has undergone multiple surgeries for his eyes and a major surgery for a dislocated hip. But don’t forget that he has a mind.
And what a keen, strong-willed mind it is! When Vicky Roy went to his house for the photo shoot, Kavish called the shots. His mother Prerna Khanna (46) told us that he hates the sympathy that most people show towards him, and so he has appointed his younger brother Ruhaan (19) as a ‘gatekeeper’ to screen visitors! He laid down rules for Vicky – he would pose only this way and not that, not more than five photos etc. (Regular EGS readers might recall Prerna being mentioned as the skilled, compassionate special educator in Manas Wadhwa’s and Niyati Mehra’s stories.)
Kavish, a diehard cricket fan, and cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle have been chatting since 2020! But more of that later… Considering the severity of Kavish’s CP, doctors had said that if he was unable to walk before age six he never would. He was given physiotherapy from age one but his parents realised that the best therapy could be found in the nation’s capital. So Prerna moved to Delhi with Kavish and two-month-old Ruhaan since her husband Gaurav owned a factory in Amritsar and couldn’t accompany her. Gaurav and his father Arun Khanna would visit her frequently but it was she who concentrated on Kavish’s treatment. He went through intensive physiotherapy as well as multimodal therapy but to little effect. Prerna found Kavish’s cognitive and language skills developing well and she decided to teach him herself after doing B.Ed in Special Education and many short courses in multiple disabilities.
After two years, Arun induced the Delhi therapist to start a practice in Amritsar on a property he owned! On the same premises, the family started an NGO and a school, Global Institute for Childhood Disability (GICD), for Kavish and similar kids. Ruhaan was admitted to the renowned Spring Dale Senior School. Every night the brothers shared stories about their day at school and Kavish complained to Prerna, “Ruhaan does so much at school and I do nothing.”
Prerna shared Kavish’s comment with the GICD parents, who had formed an association, Amrit Parivaar, with District Commissioner Rajat Agarwal as chief patron. The association started contacting Amritsar’s mainstream schools but none had a special educator. At Prerna’s insistence, Agarwal called a meeting of all public and private mainstream schools at which the Spring Dale principal Rajiv Kumar Sharma was present. He stated that he was open to the idea of inclusive education. Prerna joined the school in 2012 as a special educator and Kavish, along with five other children, became the first batch with disabilities. “Today we have more than 70 such children!” said Prerna. No other school in Amritsar has emulated Rajiv Sharma’s pioneering initiative.
Kavish has a full-time helper, Bahadur, to convey him everywhere but dependence hasn’t affected his fiercely independent spirit. He follows Prerna’s advice: “You have to demand things; they won’t be given to you on a platter.” When he was in Standard 1, a teacher, who misread his inability to hold his head up, told him, “Don’t sleep in my class”. He was highly offended and retorted, “I am not sleeping, ma’am. Please ask me any question.” He started to press teachers to ask him questions. Today he is the president of the school’s self-advocacy club and has one-on-one sessions with the principal on how to improve the school. Aided by a scribe, he is currently writing his 12th standard Board exams.
Kavish’s iron will had once moved the sports coach to tears. When Ruhaan was in Standard 5, Kavish was in Standard 4. Sports teams were being created in school and Ruhaan chose lawn tennis. The following year, Kavish approached the coach Rahul-sir and announced, “I want to be in the cricket team.” Rahul-sir fumbled for an answer and replied, “But you’re only in Standard 5.” The quick rebuttal was: “But Ruhaan joined the team when he was in Standard 5.” The coach tried again: “You need to put in a lot of practice to get selected.” Kavish came home with the address of Rahul’s coaching academy! He insisted on being coached, with Bahadur pushing the wheelchair. Even in scorching heat when no other kids were around, Kavish, drenched in sweat, would be practising. Rahul tried stopping him but he replied, “I’m only following your words. You said I need practice!”
Kavish absorbed Gaurav’s love for cricket and nurses an intense passion for the game. He follows every match among every country and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of nearly every player’s name and statistics. When Australian cricketer Philip Hughes died in 2014 of a cricket ball injury to the head, he told his parents to “take the money you were going to spend on my birthday and donate it to his family”! He listens to TV commentary while Ruhaan becomes his ‘eyes’ and gives a description. Ruhaan, in his first year at the Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology in Patiala, had instinctively bonded with Kavish when he was just a toddler and has been his loving motivator ever since.
In 2020, when Prerna was looking for ways to occupy Kavish during the pandemic, she impulsively emailed Harsha Bhogle at 11 p.m., introducing her cricket-crazy son. Just 15 minutes later, Bhogle replied that he knew others with CP and would love to help. He shared his personal WhatsApp number and ever since he and Kavish have been in touch, exchanging voice notes. He guides him on how to analyse the game, choose Man of the Match and so on. In 2022 he sent him a Mumbai Indians T-shirt on his birthday with this handwritten letter: “I hope you enjoy wearing this. And keep falling in love with our great game. I am so proud of all that you are doing. Hope you have a lovely birthday. Wish you lots of happiness.” He also sent him a birthday video message last year.
Bhogle has sparked off a glowing light in Kavish’s life. Last year he had expressed an interest in meeting Kavish and perhaps 2024 will make it happen. The IPL begins on March 22 when Kavish’s board exams end. A good omen?


Vicky Roy