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“I have been singing since childhood. You can invite me for any event and I will come and sing with my group”

Rakesh Bhatara (65) from Amritsar narrated how when she was pregnant with her second son Sameer 36 years ago, she went with her husband Ashwin for a medical check-up. The doctor who did the ultrasound told them, without being specific, that the baby would have a disability, and suggested an abortion. (Indian law permits an abortion if tests show the baby would be ‘seriously handicapped’.)
It was Ashwin who put his foot down even more firmly than Rakesh. “This is my child,” he declared. “I won’t allow it.” Sameer did turn out to have an intellectual disability and Ashwin loved him dearly. “My husband died of a jaundiced liver 21 years ago,” Rakesh reminisced. “He used to say that Sameer is god’s gift and we should cherish him and give him the best life possible.” Ashwin’s life-giving, life-changing decision has endowed the world with such a warm, bubbly, talented soul!
“The two of us have a small, happy world of our own,” Rakesh told our EGS interviewer on the phone. Sameer eagerly spoke about himself: “I love singing and I have been singing since I was two-and-half years old. I started with reciting kirtans from the Guru Granth Sahib and later moved on to other songs. I also sing professionally and have performed on many stages. You can see more on my YouTube page ([@sameerbhatara9564](https://www.youtube.com/@sameerbhatara9564)). I also have a brother Sushil who is five years older than me. He lives in Australia with his family. We will be visiting them in March.”
Rakesh clarifies that “two-and-a-half years” isn’t an exaggeration: Sameer has such a good memory and keen ear that by listening to the kirtans sung at the gurudwara he learnt the Sikh holy book by heart. He can’t read and write, though. Since he was unable to fit into the regular academic schedule, school after school kept letting him go (“sometimes I even paid twice the fee, hoping they would keep him”) until he was 14, when Rakesh decided to stop his schooling. Since singing was his forte, she encouraged him to take the stage whenever an opportunity presented itself.
Ashwin died when their sons were teenagers, and she raised them on her own. “Both of us come from large families but nobody helped us. I sold the machines from my husband’s cloth factory and used the money to build some rooms that I rented out, so that I could take care of my children. After Sushil started earning he began to support me. He got married in his twenties and had a baby only in January last year! We visited him after the birth and will go again next month.”
Since Sameer’s fine motor skills are slightly impaired, his hands lack dexterity, and therefore Rakesh helps him with actions such as buttoning clothes while dressing, but he can manage most activities on his own. She chokes up when she says, “It pains me when people say bad things about him. It used to hurt me earlier and now I don’t care. But it took me a while to stop feeling awful.” Her tears rob her of words for a few moments before she continues: “I tell Sameer not to worry, we are a team. My only wish is that he becomes self-sufficient.”
Like a breath of fresh air, the NGO Agosh Holding Hands entered their lives. Sameer and the daughter of Agosh founder Maninder Kaur used to attend a special school. The principal used to corner the toys, eatables, stationery and other items that people gifted to the school, sell them to the children and pocket the money! “We were upset and we used to tell each other, ‘Why don’t you start a school?’ It was Maninder who took the initiative,” says Rakesh. “Sameer and I go to Agosh every day. He teaches the kids how to sing and play the harmonium too. I celebrate the birthdays of my sons and grandchild with the children there.”
After they return home at 5 p.m. Sameer likes watching “Tarak Mehta ka Ulta Chashma” on TV and playing games on his phone. Fond of home-cooked food, he especially favours mushroom, paneer burji, and methi sabzi. “He keeps singing to me,” says Rakesh, and it is not surprising that her favourites are songs dedicated to the mother.
“I will sing for you!” Sameer exclaimed to our interviewer before singing “Luka Chuppi” (about a mother searching for her son) from the movie “Rang De Basanti”, bringing tears to her eyes. Knowing that she is from Bengaluru he signed off with: “If ever there’s an event in Bangalore, be sure to invite me. I would love to come and sing, with my group, and I won’t even charge a single paisa!” 


Vicky Roy