Preksha was absolutely delighted to see the tall X'mas tree, decorated with colourful lights, at the hotel lobby. Her mother Vani Rajendra was watching her daughter enjoy the lights changing a new colour, every few seconds. Soon Preksha's attention got diverted to the cake shop next to the cafeteria. “I want a chocolate cake. I want a chocolate cake,” Preksha, the 23-year-old girl, bubbling with energy said. “After eating the cake, I will go in the car,” she said, repeating the sentence again. “Preksha is a foodie and the best way to win her heart is to buy her what she wants,” says Vani, a former employee of State Bank of India. Vani has dedicated her life to Preksha, after her husband Rajendra died of a cardiac arrest in 2010.
“Soon after Preksha was born we shifted to the US. Four years later, in 1994, we came to India and it was then she was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. In the US, the doctors said that it was just a normal delay in learning and speech, but it wasn't the case. She did not have any eye contact, she was very hyper-active and her speech was delayed. She would often point at colours and shapes. I was not ready to take it then,” says Vani. However, her late husband saw God's hand in Preksha's life and counselled Vani to come out of the shock. “He told me that God had sent an angel to make us happy. That changed my thought. Even now, I just close my eyes and draw strength from him,” says Vani.
Preksha was sent to a regular school till her second grade. Unable to cope with the language, especially Kannada, she was admitted to a special school. “Till she was 20 years old, she attended the special school. Her vocabulary improved, hyper-activity reduced and she learned to sit during meetings. She was very much grounded and she learned to socialise as well. We have only worked on her strengths,” says Vani.
Vani and Preksha were in trauma for almost a year after Rajendra's demise. Thanks to her close family friends, who stood by them during their hour of crisis, the duo wriggled out of tough times. Rajendra slipped into a coma following a cardiac arrest on the same day Preksha celebrated her 20th birthday. Similar to many parents with special children, Vani too was a worried mother initially thinking of her daughter's future. “It used to haunt me until I decided to take it one day at a time. The thought of tomorrow never bothers us much these days. I am doubling up as a father for Preksha. She was more connected to her father. Even now she sleeps at the same spot on the bed where my husband used to sleep,” says Vani.
Preksha's liking for music and gadgets inspired her parents right from her childhood days. She always made attempts to sing every song she heard and her mother says that her behaviour mellowed down a lot after her musical sojourn. Maxi Priest's popular number I just wanna be close to you... is her favourite song. “She listens to Phil Collins, Abba and George Michael. She even loves the ghazals of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Ghulam Ali and Jagjit Singh. She is good at horse riding as well,” says her mother. Preksha is also good at memorising over 60-100 car numbers, their colour and make after seeing them once in a row. She can also easily connect 100-plus puzzle pieces, if given to her for the first time, in two minutes and all subsequent attempts will be done in just few seconds. Her all-time favourite pastime is playing word search games on the cell phone.
Working as a software testing specialist with SAP Labs, today Preksha is an inspiring soul to many who have tracked her life. She leaves her home by 6.45 am taking the office shuttle and comes back by 7.15 pm. Her mother's phone calls to her during office hours sometimes end with a quick, “Amma, can I speak to you later. I am busy now.”
Her ability to scan things at lightning speed fetched her a job with SAP in 2011, after a formal training session with Prayas Lab. “The job has lifted her self-confidence, self-esteem and also increased her verbal abilities. She is very much aware that she is an earning member in the family and when ever I withdraw money from an ATM, she asks me, Amma, is that my money,” says Vani.
Vani is of the opinion that parents must work on the strengths of every special child, rather than worrying about their weaknesses. “It makes life easier. If God has taken away some strengths, He has also left some qualities behind. Identify them and work on them. You should never lose hope and must always respect your special child as you would to a normal child. Give them as much exposure you can. Never go by what others say. Never get worked up, if your child embarrasses you. There's no such thing as a dark side. I have proven it. Lift your moments to light up your life,” says Vani, with a confident smile.
As we wound up the interview, Preksha was ready to get seated in her car. She reminded her mother that the chocolate cake was good. Also, the coffee and cookies. "I love chocolate cake," she said.