Nikhil was visiting his friend Keshav after many years, on a Sunday morning. After the preliminary enquiries, when Nikhil found Keshav looking very perturbed and downcast he asked, “what is bothering you Keshav? Are you not well?”
“I feel like a man in a rudderless ship on a turbulent sea, Nikhil !”
“What happened ? Are you in a serious financial crisis? Can I help?”
“No, it is about my son Gopi. Suddenly he has become very restless and often becomes violent. I don’t know what to do?”
“Your son must be in his early 30s. I remember he had problems with speech and you were consulting experts”
“I have done everything possible to make him self-supporting. But I seem to have failed miserably”. There were tears in Keshav’s eyes.
When Keshav’s wife Laxmi gave birth to a second child – a boy, there was much rejoicing in the family. Since the first child was a girl, every one complimented Keshav and Laxmi for having a complete family. ‘A girl for love and a boy for the assets’ as they say in Tamil.
While the child was growing physically well, there were signs of potential problems which the parents did not realize. The child Gopi never turned or crawled. He only rolled. Up to the age of 3 he could not speak. He would only utter words like Amma, Akka. Obviously worried Keshav and Laxmi started offering prayers at various temples hoping that Gopi would soon become alright and would start talking like other children. It was not to be.
A cousin of Keshav, who was an acknowledged speech therapist, after observing Gopi for sometime, declared that the child suffered from some disability, leading to a deficiency in speech. This discovery was followed by visits to all kinds of experts who proclaimed that the child was neither autistic nor dyslexic. He did not suffer from any physical or mental disorder. But they could not identify the reason why the child was suffering from speech deficiency.
On the basis of expert advice, Gopi started getting speech therapy at home. After an intensive struggle for 2 years, Gopi could express himself in a language which at least the near and dear ones could understand.
When Gopi was 7 Keshav admitted him to a nearby school, where a friendly headmaster agreed to take special care of the child.
In the class it was discovered that Gopi also had a writing problem . What he wrote nobody could read. But he had ready answers to any questions posed to him. Those who could understand him knew that he was giving the right answers.
With constant supervision and training at home by Keshav and Laxmi, and the generosity of the Head master the child progressed up to class V. When everything seemed to be cruising along well, a major problem cropped up putting Keshav in a spot.
The friendly and understanding headmaster and two other teachers who were taking special care of Gopi left the school. The new team did not take kindly to Gopi.
It was at this stage, based on advice from well wishers, that Keshav decided to admit Gopi to a normal school. In this school not only did teachers have no patience to deal with Gopi but his classmates were also not kind to him . They started making fun of his disability to speak and write leaving Gopi very frustrated. Gopi started bunking classes. He would leave home with the tiffin box packed by his mother but instead of going to school he would spend the time in a nearby park. The self confidence that the boy had developed over the period of five years in the earlier school was completely destroyed Gopi had become a nervous wreck. Soon the matter reached Keshav & Laxmi. They were totally crestfallen. In retrospect, they realized that they had made a big mistake by admitting the boy to a regular school without ensuring that the school had arrangement for teaching children needing special care. The question was -What Next?
Again based on some friends` advice they sought the help of a special tutor to teach Gopi on a one on one basis. The tutor was located in a distant suburb. Keshav would come back from office early so that he could take Gopi to special tutor’s house for training five days a week. Unmindful of the physical stress this involved Keshav relentlessly pursued his efforts to provide basic education to his son. Being in a government job with an understanding boss, helped him to have flexible timings so that he could take special care of his son. With great difficulty the boy managed to study up to class VIII. Beyond that he refused to go to any school. In the meanwhile Gopi had grown into a handsome teenager with the normal feelings of a growing adolescent. This posed new problems for the parents.
Though he could not speak clearly nor could he write, Gopi was a very intelligent boy with a phenomenal memory. Unlike mentally retarded children who often did not have any self awareness, Gopi was aware that for his age he was not doing well. All around him his friends were doing well and progressing in life. He had not progressed beyond a point. The sexual awareness and his consequent efforts to express it met with derisive laughter from his friends. This added to his discomfiture leading to an inferiority complex. He started avoiding friends. He became a recluse and could be often found sitting in a corner and brooding.
At this stage his only friend was his elder sister who was a very understanding person on whom Gopi started leaning heavily for emotional support. Soon even this support was to move away from him.
Gopi’s elder sister Nalini was a bright girl. After sailing through school and college with honors she did an MBA in a well known institute, which helped her get a good job in a different city. Gopi, who was very attached to his sister, was completely shaken up when Nalini left home in pursuit of a dream career. In spite of all the love and affection that both his parents were showering upon him, his bond with his sister was special. An already frustrated Gopi became even more despondent and insecure when Nalini left home.
He started developing the feeling that the whole world was turning against him. Nalini’s efforts to pacify him by talking to him every day on phone did not help. When in course of time Nalini decided to go abroad, Gopi was shattered.
He would not talk to any one nor go out any where or meet any body. Though he was physically capable he refused to do any work. He became suspicious of everyone, including his parents. He refused to meet any doctor who could help him get over his depression. He even attempted to commit suicide.
With the help of a friend, Keshav took Gopi to meet a psychologist informally without telling Gopi the purpose of the visit. When Gopi found out the truth he became so violent that he tore up all the case papers infront of the doctor and stormed out of the place.
Keshav felt totally helpless and was at his wits end , not knowing what he should do next.
It was at this stage that Nikhil had visited Keshav in his home. Listening to Gopi`s story, Nikhil could only sympathise but had no suggestions or advice to give his friend to get out of his predicament.
However a window of hope opened for Keshav in the form of a Guruji whom he met seeking advice & solace.
After a couple of years Nikhil bumped into Keshav at a function and was surprised to find him cheerful and happy. The conversation naturally lead to enquiries about Keshav’s son Gopi.
“So Keshav, you seem to be relaxed. Is your son alright? What is he doing now?”
“He is alright for the present Nikhil. But he continues to do nothing”
“Do you still worry about his future?”
“That is what all the parents with special children do. Worry what will happen to their special kids after them. Who will look after them after they leave this world. I was also in the same boat for all these years. Thanks to the advice I got from a Guruji I have come to the realization that by worrying I am not achieving anything.
Since our last meeting, we managed to put Gopi on medication with the help of another friendly doctor. He started responding and stopped being violent. After retirement I have taken to spiritualism. I am also spending a lot of time with my son. I have become his best friend. I take him wherever I go and Involve him in whatever I am doing.”
At this point a tall, good looking youngman walked towards them. Keshav introduced him to Nikhil as his son Gopi. Without saying a word the boy mechanically shook Nikhil`s extended hand and started moving away.
Keshav continued, “I will do my best to keep him happy and engaged as long I am alive. After me, I am sure the Lord above will have some plans for him. My daughter who is married and settled in this city has promised to look after him”
Nikhil was happy to see the transformation in Keshav. But was a little intrigued that a normal looking boy with intelligence and self awareness with some deficiency in speaking could not be trained to look after himself. Surely there are institutions which take special care of such children, many of whom develope into successful individuals leading normal lives.
He got an answer to his question when he met Nandan, his friend who was a well known special educator. Having heard the story of Keshav & Gopi , Nandan said,`”While the parents realized early that their son had a problem and were doing whatever they could to the best of their knowledge and information, they must have failed to protect the son from close relatives who were tactless & indifferent in dealing with the boy. Special children are always a challenge to the whole family. Everyone must be understanding and supportive of such children to help them face the world with confidence. Even if one family member is impatient and rude in dealing with such children, it can impede the development of the child. Fortunately today there are many schools which take special care of such children and help them grow into normal human beings in a friendly atmosphere with a lot of understanding. May be Keshav did not find such a school for his son at a time when the boy was growing up. But now it is too late for him to do anything as the boy has become a frustrated individual with a mindset which refuses to accept any new ideas. I have my sympathies for Keshav`s family. I am sure God will give them the strength to live with the problem during their lifetime.”