Visiting Shaila in Bangalore was, as my father would put it:
"Basic and fundamental and a little bit of heaven." This is the view from her verandah where I sat one morning all by myself, working on the talk I was giving later that afternoon and occasionally glancing up to admire the baskets and the trees and the fine, soft feel of the air.
But it wasn't the climate, or the incredible comforts of her beautiful home or the amazing food or the fact that she was willing to do anything for me.
Nope. It was Shaila herself.
There are some people who are simply a joy to be around. Shaila is one of them. She has this quality of rapt attention for her friends which makes each one feel they are the wittiest, most important and bewitching person there is.
This is great for grownups, but just imagine how wonderful it must be to be her child. So many of us seem to forget a good bit of the time how fascinating our children are, how complex their minds, how mysterious their inner lives. We get caught up in the tedium of getting them fed and bathed and off to school each day and neglect their hectic, vivid imaginations. Not Shaila.
Raoul, her adorable and yes - bewitching - son is the perfect advertisement for her skills as a mother. He is calm, curious, self-contained and a quirky little bundle of energy, observation and insight. And because his mother is so interested in him, he, in turn, is interested in everyone and everything around him.
Shaila was our first special educator at Karuna Vihar. She says that's where she learned how to be a good mother. She was just a kid when we hired her, but even then, she had the wisdom of the ages. We quoted her on our very first calendar: "At first," she said, "you see only the disability. But in an amazingly short time, you stop seeing the disability and see only the child."
As my surrogate daughter and a young special educator, she made me very proud then. But seeing her now as such a remarkable and radiant young mother - well, she makes me feel like dancing.