When a 12-year-old tells you that his favourite subjects are Mathematics, English and Hindi, you can sort of guess that he is the studious type. Shubham Kumar Gautam, who lives in Gangtok, Sikkim with his parents and seven-year-old sister Shreya Kumari, says he loves going to school. But health drawbacks have been a recurring concern for this visually-impaired boy all through his young life.
Shubham was born in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh where his father Rameshwar Kumar, a Pharmacy graduate, worked for a pharmaceutical company. His mother Sushila Kumari, a Psychology graduate, chose to be a homemaker. The firstborn was welcomed into the world through a normal delivery and there was much rejoicing in the family. One month later, however, the baby kept throwing up whatever he was fed. He was taken to hospital where they discovered an obstruction in his intestine. When surgery failed, his parents feared for his life. Two other surgeries were consecutively performed and the third one was successful.
A couple of years later, Sun Pharma transferred Rameshwar to Gangtok, which is where Shreya was born and where they’ve been living since. When Shubham started walking, his parents noticed that he never looked straight ahead; he would view objects sideways from the corner of his eye. They took him to a hospital in Benaras and were shocked to hear doctors say that a cancerous growth in his eye had to be removed. Their well-wishers suggested they take a second opinion at one of the two leading eye care hospitals in the country: L.V Prasad Eye Hospital, Hyderabad or Sankar Netralaya, Chennai.
The couple travelled all the way south to Chennai where the doctors told them that Shubham had no vision in one eye and low vision in the other. They were told to care for the second eye to prevent it from totally losing vision. Doctors asked them to come to the hospital for annual checkups, and ever since, they have been bringing Shubham to Chennai every year without fail.
Meanwhile, the botched surgeries in his infanthood apparently affected his gait. His parents say that they have to watch over him when he is on uneven terrain since his left foot does not fully rest on the ground. Towards end 2021, his vomiting problem recurred; he would throw up even after brushing his teeth in the morning. He suffered from what Sushila calls “ghabrahat”, which we have interpreted as anxiety. He was taken to various doctors in Benares, Patna and Delhi who came up with different diagnoses and recommended tests to be done but nothing helped. Finally they were told to approach the National Institute for Mental Health and Neurological Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru for a consultation. At NIMHANS, Shubham was tested, counselled, and given medications. He lost nearly an entire academic year and Rameshwar also had to take leave for three four months from his work.
Shubham is in Grade 6 in Indrakil Saraswati Vidyalaya while Shreya is in Grade 1 in Holy Cross School. He last attended school in March 2022 and has been taking private tuitions. A self-motivated and disciplined boy, he says he prepares so well for exams that he faces no stress while writing them. His daily routine: after breakfast, study from 10 a.m. to noon, rest awhile after lunch, go for tuitions, take a short break, finish assignments given during tuitions, have dinner and sleep. “I help my sister with her studies when she has doubts,” he says. “I like playing carom with her.” He doesn’t watch a lot of TV but enjoys animation series such as Doraemon and Motu-Patlu.
Some of Shubham’s favourites are paneer curry, fish, and the colours pink and yellow. Of late he has taken a shine to music and wants to go for singing lessons. “I want to be a singer when I grow up,” he says.