Prarthana R Chandra will turn 17 on June 13, this year. She is keenly awaiting the day hoping that her toy collection would go up. At her home in Basavanagudi, the first floor resembles a toy shop with near-life-size dolls and toys stacked up neatly. Prarthana is autistic and is a fourth standard student of Baldwin Opportunity School.
Her father N Ramesh Chandra, Superintendent of Police in Lokayukta, is currently posted in Tumkur. He comes to Bangalore during every week-ends to be with his family, especially Prarthana, who shares a very special bonding with him.
“It was a caesarean delivery and she was weighing normal. She was a very pretty baby. At the time of her birth, her elder sister was just one year old. She was fine till the age of two and later, we noticed that she was not sleeping during normal time, which prompted us to take her to a doctor. I was with the CID then,” says Ramesh Chandra.
For the next three months Prarthana was under medication to get proper sleep. However, the baby always had a drowsy look, prompting her parents to seek another medical opinion.
“For the next seven years, she was on medicines. I remember she stopped walking completely after undergoing medication as prescribed by the first doctor. As a kid, she always played on a carpet and never came out of it. She often dozed off for a fraction of second and I knew there was something amiss. It was tough for me to know that my daughter is autistic. I hoped that she will become normal. But she didn’t,” says Ramesh Chandra.
The turning point in Prarthana’s life was when her father’s close friend Sathyanarayana, now a retired DySP, suggested to admit the girl to Baldwin Opportunity School.
“It was a bit awkward on first day. She was a big zero when I put her there in 2004. But in the last 10 years, life has changed for her. She has learnt so many new aspects in the school. You should have tonnes of patience if you have a special child.
The changes will come gradually and you cannot expect any miracles. In Prarthana’s case, she did not know how to ask for food when she was hungry and it took us some time to understand her needs. We watched her closely and patiently,” he says.
Ramesh Chandra says it is important that the parents with special children pick up the right kind of school.
“The awareness of autism is still low in India. There are many schools that claim expertise in autism, but we should ensure that our kids get on to the right one. For me. it was difficult initially when Prarthana was not eating and sleeping properly. But, life has become a touch easier now,” says the senior police officer. It was evident from the interaction that the father-daughter pair shared a very special bonding.
Prarthana’s mother Geetha, a housewife, is suffering from acute diabetes. Geetha says her daughter helps her with daily house chores like cutting vegetables, drying clothes and even vacuuming the house.
“She can’t manage the kitchen alone, but she is ever willing to help me. She dances very well and performs according to the songs. Prarthana has some talent in painting as well. She loves running and has picked up many medals during Special Olympics in Category-2,” says Geetha. She bursts into laughter while explaining her daughter’s very unique style of dancing.
Hemalatha Muralidhar, Prarthana’s aunt and a retired employee from BMS College of Engineering, hopes that the pretty girl would be okay one day. She recalls an incident to share Prarthana’s caring nature. “One of the drivers who was serving us fell sick and Prarthana insisted that we visited him. On the way, we stopped over at a temple as well. On reaching the driver’s house, Prarthana was quick to tell him that she prayed for him and he would recover soon,” says Hemalatha. Interestingly, even now the driver visits Prarthana once in a while.
Moni, a Persian parrot, gives Prarthana good company. The five-year-old yellow parrot would break all hell loose if proper attention is not given when the family does its usual chit chats. Prarthana’s list of toys are endless with Pappu, a chimp being her favourite. A violet doll Parli, a teddy bear Pinky and a tiger named Huli are her close companions.
“Pappu is always with Prarthana, except while she takes bath. She sleeps with Pappu and we sometimes feel whether the chimp will get back to life seeing Prarthana’s affection,” says Keerthana, her elder sister, a first year BCA student at Vijaya College, Jayanagar.
Prarthana even made several attempts to carry some of her toys to school only to be convinced by her parents not to. Most of Keerthana’s’ classmates are very friendly with Prarthana as well. “She sometimes hurts me, but starts crying immediately knowing that she did a mistake. She is extremely sweet and I never felt that she is a special child,” says Keerthana. Finally, it was Prarthana’s turn to speak. “My best friend is Shafaq and she is in Kashmir. Shafaq my best friend. Shafaq my best friend,” she repeats.
The family is confident of making Prarthana self-sufficient in future. “I don’t want my daughter to be a burden to anyone. I am hoping that she will get some job in future,” says Ramesh Chandra. The family assembles next to an aquarium that’s maintained in the house for the photo shoot. Prarthana ensures that she is seated next to her parents. Unaware of the developments outside, the golden fish did a quiet lap across the tank. Prarthana was readily smiling even after the shoot was over.