Last month I posted a story about a girl named Gia. This one is about her little brother, Kartik.
Gia's persistent questions about Moy Moy's inability to speak turned out to be because her own brother had the same problem. When I visited her in her home, I learned that this little boy, aged 2, was left alone for most of the day.
His mother worked as a domestic servant in a house in our neighborhood. Her employers gave her a squalid, cramped room in the back of their compound to live in and told her that her son was not allowed to play in the garden or come into the house where she was working. She had no choice but to leave him on his own for hours each day.
When I met him, I was struck by his intelligence and sense of humor. He watched me carefully and warily, then smiled in a shy, startled way when I made a funny noise. This, I thought as I left, is a job for Karuna Vihar.
I love KV. All I need to do is tell the story and instantly a galaxy of skill and compassion swings into action. Sebastian, Pushpa, Manju - everyone was waiting.
Me, I waited two weeks for Nisha, Kartik's Mom, to bring him in to meet the Trinity. Then I said "To hell with the professional approach. I'm going to bring that boy in myself."
The problem was the people she worked for. I realized that the moment I met them at the gate and asked if Nisha was at home. They looked at me as if I had asked if I could borrow their car for the week.
"Nisha?" I repeated. "I think she works here?"
Nisha wasn't at home, I was told, even as I saw her appear at the end of the driveway, then disappear back into the house. Typical "owner" behaviour. I was not daunted in the least.
Ten minutes later, Nisha and Kartik were in my car, speeding off to Karuna Vihar. The team there received us, took Kartik off to play and sent me on my way. They had it all under control.
A few days later I learned that Kartik had also been assessed by Anne Bruce, our volunteer speech therapist and that she had concurred with the initial assessment: Kartik's problem was simply a lack of human contact, too few opportunities to play, to communicate, to be. Prescription? Latika Vihar. 2 hours a day, 5 days a week.
This evening I met Nisha and Gia on the road to LV. Kartik had been there since 3:30, but Gia had tuitions - as we closed at 5:30, her time was limited.
With only half an hour left, she was desperate to get there herself. She jumped off the blue bicycle, handed her bag to her Mom and ran.
We watched her take off together, then I followed to see what she was so eager about.
It was pretty simple, and her desperation to be there almost broke my heart. It was everything: the dance, the music, the pottery, the art and craft, the books, the toys . . . all the things she had never had as a child which, suddenly, were available. She couldn't believe her luck. But she also couldn't neglect her responsibility to Kartik. "He doesn't want to come with me," she said, looking longingly at the pottery class. "Just go," I told her. "we'll take care of him.
Puja, our brilliant special educator, made sure he had a friend, even if she had her own agenda and the long, slow process of including Kartik began.
Ultimately, whatever happens for Kartik must happen for Gia as well. No child can be "rehabilitated" in isolation. Each one is part of a family, part of a community, part of this world.
The wonder and excitement Gia feels at Latika Vihar is the way forward for Kartik. As she experiences the joy of discovery, he will feel safe enough to trust it himself.
Her voyage will take her in one direction; his may be in another. We aren't here to say one is better than another. We just want to see them unfurl their sails and embark: engaged, confident, free.