Nine year old Syed Hyder Ali is waiting for the Precious Souls team along with his father Rizwan Ali next to their apartment in Richmond Town. Sporting a red-striped T-shirt, Syed is humming bits and pieces of a song, while his father guides us to the right parking slot. The moment he spots the camera in the hands of my colleague Jithendra, Hyder grabs it and starts shooting at will. His happiness knows no bounds every time he senses the flash jetting out to capture images of his father and mother.
As we settle down for the interview, Hyder shifts his focus to yet another world of joy — a laptop loaded with religious songs. His love for his maternal grandfather, former Indian wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani, is visible with a photo of the latter being used as a screensaver. Hyder’s mother Nishath Kirmani Ali, a special educator, begins to recapture her son’s story. “Hyder was born on August 30, 2004 and it was a normal delivery. He was born on Imam Ali’s (the Prophet Muhammed’s son-in-law) birthday and we Shia Muslims believe it to be a very auspicious date. His speech was delayed by three years,” says Nishath.
The family was settled in California and when Hyder was around four-years-old, Nishath lost her husband Syed Faaqer Ali, a software professional and son of former Indian cricketer Syed Abid Ali. “He had a massive heart attack while playing cricket. He was only 34 years old. Soon after his death I came back to India in 2008 but fate offered another blow to me when Hyder was diagnosed with PDDNOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), which falls under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder. I was really disturbed.. I was only 25 years old then,” says Nishath.
Hyder’s illness forced Nishath to get back to the US in search of better medical treatment. “I didn’t know anything about autism and got him the best medical help available in the US. In 2010, I came back to India on a vacation and it was during this time that Hyder developed the phobia of flying. We were to leave for the US via Hong Kong. Hyder refused to board the flight from Hong Kong to California and we were off-loaded thrice from the aircraft. It was a long wait at the airport for over 12 hours. We had sedated him but he woke up just before the take-off. The flight was on the runway and it was brought back after Hyder created a chaos,” describes Nishath about her airport ordeal.
At Hong Kong, Nishat was joined by her father (Kirmani) and brother (Sadiq Kirmani), who sought the help of a pediatrician. He was administered sedation drops generally given to children before surgeries. “It worked and instead of US we flew back to India and Hyder woke up only after reaching the Bangalore Airport. He was happy to be back in Bangalore. Our next mission was to find a school for him, which was tough. We found a centre for therapy sessions and assessments in Indiranagar and later shifted him to Kara 4 Kids in the same locality. It was tough for me to gauge his focus. He did better when he was put in a group,” she says.
In 2011, Nishath enrolled herself with the Spastics Society of Karnataka for the special educator course in autism and completed it in 2013. During this period, she also met her current husband Rizwan, a fitness trainer and swimming coach, at the Hockey Club. “Rizwan had a good rapport with Hyder and it was amazing to see right from the first day how they jelled. We both clicked well,” she says. She was keen on Hyder not being deprived of a father’s love, which made her consider Rizwan’s proposal seriously.
Rizwan says that he was impressed with Hyder’s ability to stay under water for longer periods. “He is a very good swimmer and initially he was unwilling to be trained. He used to jump and run here and there even while swimming and it was enough for me to know that he loved water.
Hyder always used to sing religious songs with great intensity and there was an immediate connect I had with him. Later I came to know more about the family and decided to marry Nishath,” says Rizwan.
According to Rizwan, Hyder’s ability to focus increased after his sustained swimming sessions and today he obeys whatever he is asked to do. “He gets me water and joins me for friendly archery sessions at home. I expose Hyder to all activities. You should never keep a special child at home. Do not isolate these children fearing that they would embarrass you. Don’t mind even if these kids surprise you with their tantrums. They are just like us and even we throw tantrums once in a while. Remember that autism is not a disease,” says Rizwan.
Within a short time, Rizwan gauged all the abilities of Hyder, which helped him in shaping his son’s future. “Hyder sings well, he is obedient, he has good geographical sense and he is gifted with a super memory. He knows all the 99 names of Allah and he can also read a bit of the Arabic script. He loves the Kaaba and we have taught him to offer namaaz,” says Rizwan.
Joining the interview in the last lap was Syed Kirmani, who took off in his inimitable style. “Media should play a big role in spreading awareness about special children. Unless the media focuses on these children and their families, the myths surrounding these health issues will continue to thrive. When I discovered that my grandson was autistic, I was emotionally shaken. I wasn’t expecting it. I used to sulk and thought that the Almighty was testing me. Then my social engagements exposed me to children who are suffering from worse situations than my grandson. I consoled myself. Never get stumped by the crises in life. Overcome them with a smile,” says Kirmani, who was adjudged the best wicket keeper during the 1983 Cricket World Cup.
Nishath rejoins the interview and emphasises on the support she received from her parents. “My trust in the Almighty never faded while I faced many a challenge. My father and mother and the entire family unit stood behind me. My dad has been my mentor and he always reminded me that I need to keep going on. There were times I played the dual role for Hyder. Everyone was showing love and sympathy towards the kid but I had to strike a balance between love, discipline and principle. I am glad, I did it,” says Nishath, while showing us some of her priceless possessions, including Hyder’s first fallen tooth and a lock of hair from his first hair cut.
Kirmani asks Nishath to serve green tea. Hyder runs to his grandfather and sits on his lap ahead of the photo session. “My daughter got this green tea from Iran. You must have it without sugar. Bahut acha hai,” adds Kirmani.
m akm@newindian express.com