ecently during a video interaction of PM Narendra Modi with a B-Tech student from Uttarakhand, the student started to explain about her project related to people with Dyslexia, a learning disability; but, before she could complete her sentence, the PM interrupted her to say: Could this idea help any 40 or 50-year-old child? He was taunting Rahul Gandhi by making a cheap joke without understanding what Dyslexia is all about. He broke into a chuckle; many in the audience laughed and clapped before the student replied: “Yes, sir, it will.” PM Modi then said: “The mother of such children would become very happy.” This joke by our Prime Minister took me to my childhood. Parenting a child with learning difficulties is probably one of life’s greatest challenges and my father and grandmother really suffered to make people understand about my Dyslexia, because my many other family members and friends used to call me ‘Mandh Buddhi’, ‘Dha’ (Dha in Marathi means lack of brains), mentally challenged, and some used to go to an extent of calling me ‘Useless’ or ‘Pagal’ (mentally retard).
A child with Dyslexia has many social as well as personal challenges. Here I am talking about a 30-year-old story; imagine how difficult it must have been for my parents to explain to the world that “our child is equally brilliant as your child but her learning abilities are different”. Imagine how isolated I was from everyone because I was different. My parents found many creative ways to deal with the deviations in rearing me as a child with learning disabilities, but on the emotional front, I had no friends because I was too scared to be bullied by them. As a teenager with Dyslexia, every class was a struggle because they all involve some aspect of reading and spelling into it. To hide my inabilities, I had some social, emotional, and behavioural issues which affected my daily life. My teachers, the friends of my father and even our family members used to suggest my admission to some music class, dance or drawing class, where I can avoid schooling. They all used to suggest him, ‘teach her some art form and get her married or give her training as a beautician’ (in those days, the beauty parlour business was booming).
While growing in this normal world, I took on many guises, labels, and stigmas. I was just trying to face it all and by then I lost my father too. For my family, I was a total waste and life was not very kind to me with all such challenges. It certainly produced a “reluctance” to be put in a position that would expose the problem and as a consequence, my ‘avoidant behaviours’ were often misinterpreted. Frequently the literacy component is not identified and, in my case, attending secondary school certainly compounded the problem. I had many snags in reading with accuracy and also had comprehension problems, spelling and written expression hitches and like many others before me, I managed to struggle my way through tertiary education. This was enabled by adopting and by developing many learning strategies, along the way, which sparked the beginning of my quest to find the logical intrusion into Dyslexia.
Here comes in the role of my friends, well-wishers, and my grandmother as they decided to make learning easy for me. My grandfather wanted me to be a lawyer because when it comes to verbal arguments or narrations, I was super awesome; I use to be very good in interacting, storytelling, mimicking people, learning through audios and videos but when it comes to writing and putting it on paper, I use to lose it all. However, in those days, I got help from good doctors, counselors, physiatrists, and friends. I am thankful to my educated parents and matured friends who never mocked me but always made myself believe that I am special and can do extraordinary things. My friend Vikas Gunjan, who is a senior to me and treats me like a child, used to call me Sugga (Parrot) as I was good at recitation; whatever used to be taught to me, I used to narrate it word by word and in my schooling years, I excelled with oral exams. Slowly I started falling in love with letters, words, and spellings, if they are written straight, not running or cursive. Then came numbers, shapes, and colours, one by one I started encountering my weaknesses and when I grown up, I took up a job as a Translator and then a Journalist and now an Editor. Gradually spellings became my friend and writing became my way of life. However, the journey did not stop there — the public appearances were another challenge; while I am comfortable in my cocoon with the typical friend circle and always used to avoid the public. Even today, I don’t go out much or socialise. I have some fear factors and some reservations too and here comes the role of my friend who has nurtured me like my elder sister and mother. She used to take every pain to understand me and put it right across me. She used to work on every weakness of mine. I remember it was my first public exposure and I was supposed to speak on a podium and someone clicked a photo and with that flashlight, I forget all that I wanted to speak and took a long pause. The organisers were very surprised. I came back to my chair and another speaker started speaking. In the meanwhile, my friend asked someone to give me water and shooed all camera people away; from the audience on the front row, she smiled and asked me to calm down. The last speaker completed his speech and I was given a chance to give the Vote of Thanks and during that moment, I spoke on the core issues as I never spoke before, the entire hall was clapping, all were cheering me up, students came forward with their cell phone for selfies. She just whispered to me “Babu, Tu Cha Gaya Tha”. Trust me that gave me the utmost confidence. Maybe since then, I had no stage fear; I spoke without a script and all extempore. Reading a script and following flow chart of a programme is still a challenge for me, but I am learning to manage.
It’s not that I don’t have any issues today; at this age, my friend and colleague Akshay Redij, who is younger to me but teaches how to book tickets, manage apps and my friends just guard me smartly whenever I get stuck in understanding something. At this age, I learned to withdraw money from the bank and do online transactions.
On the other hand, I successfully completed 10 years being the Editor of Afternoon Voice. I have many supportive people on my desk. Every day I give them ideas to write lead stories and sometimes they share brilliant topics. I monitor and execute my newspaper singlehandedly just because I have their strong support. Even though at times, I forget to mention core points while writing the Editorial, I simply call our Desk Chief Moumita and ask her to type what I want to add. She is one more person who has accepted me with my weakness as the Boss. I have grown alone with very supportive friends and people around. Even today, with my mood swings and temperaments, sometimes Dyslexia knocks me; but I have become smart enough to say shuuuuuuu…. I can deal with you!
We need sensitive societies who can deal with individuals like me. We are surely not any laughing stuff. Ask my mother and father that what was their journey to see me as a growing student, ask my friends that what their journey is to see me as an Editor. Ask my mentor Vedant who has nurtured me since my childhood like a father and made such genuine efforts to understand Dyslexia and my learning challenges. Throughout my schooling days, he worked around alternative solutions for teaching methods and patiently guided me through the educational maze so that I can excel with flying colours. He protected and guided me with utmost faith, care, respect, and by focusing on my capabilities — all these have brought the best in me that reflects in every aspect of my life and existence. Ask all those parents and the children, what are they living with every moment; ask the people how tolerant they are towards these kids. Less we talk, less the agony; but now, I see a lot of awareness and today, people are taking initiatives and there is an unconditional support from the corners of the world.
Recently, when PM Modi mocked Dyslexic people, he sounded the same to me as the mockers of my childhood who used to make fun of my challenges. I am equally pained with the attitude of those students who laughed on such cheap talks; the youth of my country has lost their spine by not telling the PM that it was a bad joke. I wish our PM too understands the seriousness of the syndrome and announces some special schemes and schools to help the kids. If adequate support is given, these extraordinary citizens can really contribute to the extraordinary development of my nation.