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Respect the Different

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Aurobindo, my dear darling Auru. He is six years old, the apple of my eyes and pride of our Chatterjee family. He is extremely special and no amount of words can express, how I feel being his mother.

 

But giving birth to Auru, having him, his growing up years and his acceptance in the family. Nothing has been a cakewalk. It’s like my hubby Mohit and I have been walking on eggshells, since our son Aurobindo came into this world.

 

My Auru has mild autism. Borderline. We found out when he was one and a half years old. His developments were laid back and there were many things, he simply couldn’t do. Nevertheless, we’ve come a long way. Today he bubbles with enthusiasm and though the difficult journey continues, now it’s a joy to see him.

 

“Maa! 2 apples, gapes…and…banana! Ha ha ha.”

He’s excited about the mud balls he’s made and drops them in the basket. I ruffle his hair and gently squeeze his shoulder, before praising him.

“Wow Auru! Your fruit basket is full and it’s looking great. Let’s click a picture of it so we can show it to your papa.”

His eyes flutter and he claps his hands as a gurgling laughter erupts from his throat.

 

It’s our regular park time in the evening, and we are crouched near the sandpit area, enjoying our favourite activity. Just as I finish taking the picture, I feel a tap on my back and I look up to see who it is. It’s Mrs. Batra, from the neighbouring complex. I scowl inwardly as I stand up straight to address her. We’ve only exchanged a hi, hello so far and I don’t like the lady, simply because till now she’s only been giving nasty looks to my Aurobindo

“Hello Mrs. Batra.”

She screws up her nose at Auru and then throws me an ugly smile.

“Mrs. Chatterjee! I have been wanting to talk to you for sometime now.”

I become alert.

“Yes, what is it?”

“I’m a little inquisitive and I truly feel sorry for you.”

 

It is quite obvious where this conversation is going. Her statement doesn’t leave any scope for doubt.

“Why, what happened? What do you want to know and why are you feeling sorry for me?”

She points a finger at Auru.

“How old is your son?”

“Six years.”

She raises her eyebrows in surprise.

“Oooh?? He looks much younger. Is something wrong with him?”

I don’t like the way she puts it across. I try to be as polite as possible.

“Aurobindo has mild autism.”

“You mean he is mental.

Giving her a dirty look, I say sternly,

“He is not mental. I said he has autism.”

 

She gasps a little and keeps a finger on her chin.

“Oh yeah! I had read on Facebook. Just a couple of days back was Autism Day, right?”

When I don’t respond, she babbles further.

“He is clumsy and the way he was talking, I really pity you. Life must be so difficult with a child like him. Did you show him to a doctor?”

I am losing my patience, but for Auru’s sake, I maintain my cool.

“Mrs. Batra, it’s not a disease, he needs different therapies and we are doing everything that is best for him. In fact he has improved dramatically in the last couple of years.”

There is pride in my voice, when I say the last part as I recollect his progressive sessions.

 

But more than anything else, Mrs. Batra  is here to irritate and humiliate us. At least that’s what I conclude. She leans in to whisper, as if she’s sharing a secret with me.

“Mrs. Chatterjee, you shouldn’t be bringing him out in the open like this. First of all, it might be contagious and secondly many may not like to see him or they may also laugh at him. He needs to be indoors.”

 

Now all hell broke loose. She has crossed her limits and I have heard enough insults to bear anymore. I glance around and find a few eyes on us. But they are only curious, others are busy with there own activities. I turn to face this disgusting woman and stretch up taller to look her straight in the eyes before replying.

“Mrs. Batra. I really pity you and your thinking. Autism is not a disease and so it is not contagious. What my son needs is respect and acceptance. And what YOU need is to upgrade yourself and be a little more sympathetic.”

 

I am purposely being loud for others around to hear me. I definitely don’t want another Mrs. Batra coming up to me tomorrow with similar horrible remarks. She glares at me and I glare right back. My son is my world and I won’t take any nonsense about him from anyone.

“Your son is a social stigma and I’m sure many will agree with me. Thank God you don’t live in my building.”

She is relentless and it shocks me that in today’s modern times, we have such educated ignorant people amongst us.

 

I don’t bother to explain to her what autism exactly is. Nonetheless, she has no right to disrespect my son.

“Mrs. Batra, I don’t care if you are not aware of autism. But you can’t insult us. My child is my pride and he has equal right to respect and acceptance like any other kid. If you don’t want to be around us, stop coming to the park. We are not going anywhere. I hope that’s loud and clear.”

 

Without waiting for her reaction, I crouch down and continue to play with Auru.

 

Shamim Merchant

 

 

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