Three-year-old Tara was battling for life in a Bengaluru hospital and doctors had announced that even if she survived she would be in “a vegetative state” and bedridden all her life. Hello? Are we talking about Tara Madhur (24) the medal-winning athlete from Patna? The very same!
But don’t for a moment imagine that someone waved a magic wand to turn her into a tara (star). In her infancy Tara displayed developmental delays and was also diagnosed with 75% hearing impairment. She had to be fed through a tube since food would go down the windpipe instead of into the stomach. Then she contracted a life-threatening infection and was put on a ventilator for 16 days. She was at death’s door. When doctors took her off the ventilator, though, she gasped and started breathing! “Pulmonary specialists in the room wished they had a camera to capture the moment. They hadn’t witnessed anything like this before,” her mother Smita Mohan (53) recalls.
The next few years were hard work for Smita as well as for Tara, whose autistic characteristics became evident. Smita, an architect and interior designer by profession, took a break from her job to lead Tara from one therapy session to another. Slowly but surely, Tara began to make significant progress. The family learnt sign language to communicate with her along with the help of written words and drawing. She loved to play with her big sister, with whom she continues to share the closest of bonds. Pratika Madhur (27), who works at Udemy as a Marketing Manager, fondly describes the special bond that she and Tara share. “I feel lucky and honoured to be her sister," she says.
In 2009 Smita moved to Ahmedabad with her daughters whom she admitted in Delhi Public School. Tara was in Prerna, the school’s wing dedicated to children with special needs. She will soon register in the open school NIOS to complete her 9th and 10th standard. “She says that she wants to work like didi (big sister),” says Smita. “I told her, let’s see what happens after your 10th grade.”
The watershed moment for Tara, however, occurred when they relocated to Patna in 2021 to be with Smita’s father Krishna Mohan. Dr Uma Shanker from Aastha Foundation advised them to involve Tara in sports to boost her confidence. In October 2022, she was inducted into the Bihar Chapter of Special Olympics Bharat. Everyone was wonderstruck at how rapidly she took to sports, since just a month later in November 2022 she clinched two silver medals for Athletics at the Special Olympics, and was awarded a cash prize of ₹1.5 lakh! “Sports has given Tara a sense of purpose and community, of calmness and belonging,” says Pratika. She attributes Tara’s transformation to Sandeep Kumar, Sports Director of the State Chapter, who has trained over 1200 Special Athletes so far.
Tara is now training to play internationally. “Winning the medals has motivated her so much, because she learnt that if you work hard, you can earn for yourself,” says Smita. Tara’s body clock wakes her up (she cannot hear an alarm) at 4 a.m. and after an hour of getting ready she hustles Smita out of bed and asks her to get dressed. Then they drive 20 km to the sports academy where she exercises until 8 a.m.
When Tara is not playing sports, she loves to paint and work with ceramics and clay in the activity corner that Smita has designed. Her dexterity and keen sense of colour and pattern enable her to craft beautiful necklaces and bracelets with lettered beads. Smita says, “I pay her ₹20 for each creation, so she knows her work is valuable!” She enjoys watching TV, likes Katrina Kaif, and simply can’t stop laughing while watching ‘Taarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma’.
Pratika hopes that through dialogue and the spread of awareness, social stigma around disability will diminish. “Tara is a very perceptive and social individual,” she says. “She loves to communicate with people, and it’s great to see when they also make an effort to interact with her.” She tells us that her sister has become quite independent over the past year. “She makes her own smoothies at 5 a.m. and has also recently learnt to make her favourite snack: poori with aloo sabzi, and chai!” Smita has enrolled her in a computer class after she expressed an urge to learn computers. “She even wanted to learn music, and asked for a music teacher!”
Smita has now plunged full-time into disability inclusion and is doing a diploma in special education. “It has been my long cherished dream to work for people with special needs,” she says. “My plans now align with Tara’s needs. As a single parent, this makes me happier.” She adds, “Tara loves to dress up and do make-up – we just bought a makeup kit. It’s her birthday on October 23 and we are throwing her a party!”