The earlier a child with a disability is diagnosed, the better their chances of progress. Sometimes, this early intervention can be a stroke of luck, as in the case of Satvik Choudhary (12) from Matour village in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh.
When Satvik was a year old his parents Rajesh Kumar (now 48) and Bindiya Choudhary (now 36) had taken him to a wedding where the food he was fed disagreed with him. When they returned home the baby was violently sick. Rajesh and Bindiya took him to a private hospital. There, the sharp-eyed doctors, instead of only prescribing medicine for vomiting and loose motion, observed that his hand and leg movements didn’t seem okay. They advised the couple to get him checked at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) Chandigarh. They took him there, and tests and MRI confirmed that he had Cerebral Palsy (CP).
Rajesh and Bindiya had no clue about CP. Bindiya’s first reaction was typical: “Why me? And what have I done wrong?” It took time for both to accept reality. It was also a financial strain for them to keep travelling to Chandigarh for Satvik’s treatment. Fortunately, a doctor at PGIMER told them about the Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development (CORD) in Himachal. In 2013 they started taking Satvik to CORD where he showed marked improvement with physiotherapy; he started crawling, standing, and finally walking.
At the beginning of every new academic year, it has become a regular practice for private schools to send their teachers to neighbouring localities to check whether there are children of school-going age. That was how the teachers from Maharishi Vidya Mandir approached the Choudhary household. Rajesh, who is a worker in Himachal Press, lives jointly with his elder brother Janak Raj, a driver, Janak’s wife Ashu, an ASHA worker, and their children Rohit and Monali. When the teachers were told that Satvik had yet to attend school since he had mobility issues, they readily agreed to take him in.
Being in an inclusive mainstream school was an immense boost for Satvik’s progress. Bindiya recalls how they sent Satvik’s special CP chair to the school and the principal sent it back, saying that he is able to sit at a desk like his classmates do. The teachers and children are very supportive and involve him in all the school activities, offering help whenever he needs it. He is now in Standard 5. Rajesh drops him to the bus stop from where he catches the school bus. Bindiya picks him up from the same place at 3.30 p.m. after which he has lunch, watches TV, goes out to play carrom with neighbouring kids, and waits for his father to return home at 6.30 p.m. Rajesh helps him with his studies and routine exercises. Bindiya informs us happily, “Recently he started doing yoga also with his father.”
Bindiya encourages Satvik to do everything on his own, whether it is brushing his teeth, eating or dressing. Rajesh is extremely considerate and the couple share in childcare and domestic chores. In their joint household with separate kitchens, Bindiya’s portion has a room downstairs, and her kitchen and another room on the first floor. Satvik likes sitting on the stairs and is able to climb them by holding on to the iron banister. He likes to help his mother with small tasks in the kitchen like filling water in jugs and bottles. Bindiya remembers how, when he was four years old, he decided to wash a hanky by himself when she was away. He filled a tub with water and poured half a kilo of washing powder into it! He was scared that she would scold him when she returned but she was so overwhelmed by his heroic effort that she hugged him and cried with joy.
Satvik has many favourites in his life: Shahrukh Khan, the cartoon show Nobita, the comedy series Tarak Mehta ka Ulta Chashma, and tucking into momos, burgers, pasta and aloo paranthas. When playing on his own he likes to toss a ball around, or pretend to be a driver like his uncle, or pretend to work in an office by sitting in the middle of pillows stacked all around him. He likes to dance, and you can often hear him sing a Pahari song, “mele jaana kalka de”. Recently CORD gifted him a dholak which he loves playing; earlier he used to drum on anything he could lay his hands on: bucket, tub, or large utensil.
The couple has faced the brunt of society’s stigma, pity and ridicule. People ‘advised’ them to have another child but they decided to give their all to Satvik. Bindiya’s only wish is for him to become independent. “They don’t need pity,” she said, about children with disabilities. “They just need love and support.”