Moushmi lived in her happy paradise. She had a wonderful doting husband, Praful who worked in an MNC. After three years of marriage they were blessed with a bonny boy Arjun. She had left her job as a banker to be a full time mom to Arjun. Her in-laws who lived with them were always supportive of Moushmi and loved her like their own daughter. Moushmi only had one concern in her life at the moment. Arjun who was almost three years old now….wasn’t still talking. He sang their Rabindranath Tagore songs beautifully though the wordings were not all clear. He hummed nursery rhymes all day and never responded to someone calling out his name. He preferred to play with the specific toys he had received over the years. Surprisingly he had started to identify capital and small case alphabets too without anyone having taught him.
Whenever Moushmi spoke to her in-laws about this, they brushed off her worries saying, their grandson was intelligent and she needn’t worry. His father too had spoken only at five years of age.
Today Moushmi was anxious since she had woken up. In fact she had barely slept last night and many nights before that this past month. It was 6Am and in few hours they were scheduled to meet the rehabilitation professionals for Arjun. She had been through a huge roller coaster of emotions for the past month. As she looked at Arjun’s sleeping form she went into a flashback of the events of the past month. All had begun with that visit to her sister-in-law’s place a month ago.
It was her sister-in-law’s son Ruhaan’s first birthday and they all had been to their house to celebrate. Moushmi was accompanied by her husband, parents- in- law and Arjun. In the evening there was a party thrown for their neighbours and friends. This was Arjun’s first visit to a party. The music was blaring. The party hall was filled with people. Moushmi knew her son disliked loud sounds. But that day Arjun threw the worse tantrum ever. He started running haywire holding his ears. He was crying loudly. He banged into the waiters carrying trays. At one time he lay on the floor flailing his limbs.
Moushmi was at her wits end trying to control Arjun. Her clothes and hair was out of place. She was getting looks from people almost all of whom were staring at Arjun. Some pitied her while some looked at her with contempt. Ruhaan’s parents and Grandparents and some relatives were visibly annoyed at Moushmi and Arjun. She was teary when Praful dragged Arjun who was stomping his feet, outside the venue. Moushmi too followed him.
Praful was fuming. “What the hell Moushmi…. What’s gotten into him? Why is he throwing such a tantrum?” He pointed to Arjun who was still crying but with lesser intensity. Praful had dropped him on the grass in the lawn outside. Moushmi, who was softly crying herself, wiped her tears and said…”I have no clue Praful. But Arjun hates loud sounds. Last week he did that in the park too…. “
“… What did he do in the park?” Praful asked her.
“He …um… he dropped himself on the grass and yelled and cried all of a sudden. There was a band party close by so I thought it was because of the loud noise.” Moushmi explained.
Praful was lost in thought. Suddenly he asked, “Why have you not sent him to his play school last whole week? I got a message from them yesterday.”
Moushmi sighed and looked at the now sniffling Arjun. She said, “They are having some dance practise in school these days. He gets upset with the chaos. So… his teacher last week asked me to take him back…”
“…why didn’t you tell me then? I would have spoken to them. How dare they not let him be in school? They have charged a bomb in fees.” Praful interrupted angrily.
“Let it go Praful. Our Arjun has to spend the rest of the term amidst them. Let’s not antagonise them. It’s a matter of few days. Let him be at home”.
They heard some sounds and looked towards the hall. A lady who was dressed in a pink sari with white hair came towards them. She was one of the neighbours she identified herself. She had a kind face. She said, “I saw him…” she pointed towards Arjun. “…He had a bad meltdown inside”
“What did he have? Mel… melt…what?” Praful asked.
“A meltdown. His senses were probably overwhelmed. See… he is quietened now. Does he hate loud sound?” The lady asked.
“Yes… he does…” Moushmi softly said.
The lady further asked. “Does he…I mean is he talking as yet?”
They both said simultaneously.
They explained how Arjun was good at songs and rhymes.
“…but aunty he still doesn’t call me…ma.” Moushmi sadly said.
The lady said, “I volunteer at an NGO which works for the special children. I see many children with…similar behaviours like what Arjun demonstrated today. “
Praful angrily said. “You mean to say our child is a retard?”
“Of course not. But his behaviour is not normal. He is delayed too. I think you should seek professional help.” The lady said
Praful and Moushmi looked at each other. Arjun was sleeping on the lawn now. His was dirty throughout. His clothes were torn in some places when he had attempted to pull them off his body. Moushmi was in tears as she looked at her son’s sleeping form. She turned to the lady and said, “Do you know anyone …we can consult?”
Praful was annoyed and looked away.
The kind lady who identified herself as Mrs Patel gave her the card of the NGO. She wished her all the best and left.
The following weeks were a huge struggle for Moushmi. It was as if the entire world had conspired to come together against her. Her in-laws were strictly against any kind of doctor visit. They arranged for some poojas at home, called some of their religious gurus and also showed Arjun’s horoscopes to a few of their astrologers. Praful on their insistence had been to their hometown in Kolkata for the same. Moushmi’s parents were away on a pilgrimage and she had no support whatsoever. She didn’t take Arjun anywhere except his school and back. But a couple of times she tried taking him to the supermarket were a disaster. He had the meltdown.
One day after about two weeks of the incident at Ruhaan’s birthday party, Praful was working from home as Moushmi was sick. His parents had a family function to attend. He went to pick up Arjun from his playschool. It was the first time he had visited the school personally. The gates were shut and he was waiting. Few parents who were there were sneering at him. He didn’t follow why but chose to ignore them. Suddenly there was a commotion and Arjun rushed out and banged the gates followed by a harried aayah. He saw his father and screamed and hit the gates. The aayah tried to drag him away but couldn’t. After the children dispersed, Praful was asked to meet the head and the supervisor.
Praful had a tough time controlling Arjun . He had to leave him in the play room where the aayahs were instructed to watch over him.
“Look Mr Chaterjee, I am sorry but we can no longer keep Arjun in our school.” The head told Praful.
Praful was stunned to silence… but he said in a strangled voice, “But why ma’am? My Arjun is intelligent. He knows the complete play school syllabus. He knows the names of different car models…”
The head held her hand up to stop him and said, “…Mr Chaterjee, we aren’t suspecting anything with his intelligence. He is a smart kid. But we are not able to communicate with him. He has these temper tantrums that he keeps throwing and it has worsened. We tried telling your wife indirectly but she didn’t understand. See, for the benefit of your child as well as other children here, we will have to discontinue… um we will refund your second term fees.”
Praful was exasperated. “No… no ma’am. Please don’t do this. I had researched a lot before we chose your school. We were to continue here further as well till senior KG. “
“Mr Chaterjee, we appreciate your vote of confidence. However your child is… not normal. We can’t cater to the …um….needs of such children. I am sorry. But our decision is final.”
Praful was crest fallen as he exited with a wailing Arjun in his hands, who didn’t want to leave the playroom.
That evening he made a decision to consult a doctor for Arjun. Moushmi was relieved as well. With the help of Mrs Patel they managed to find a developmental paediatrician close to their area.
It was the first time Moushmi and Praful had heard the term AUTISM. The developmental paediatrician said that Arjun demonstrated symptoms of Autism. She gave them a few pamphlets and contacts of parent support groups. She also asked them to start his therapies with immediate effects.
As they came home that day both were quiet. Praful told his parents who were shocked to hear something like this existed and were in denial. Moushmi was stunned to silence. She blanked out totally. She only kept thinking, “why me? Why did this have to happen to my son?”
She went to meet Mrs Patel who took her to the NGO. She showed her different children on the autistic spectrum, across age groups. After speaking to some of the parents over the next couple of days, Moushmi made a resolve. Her son was not abnormal. He was differently abled. He was just wired differently. But she was Arjun’s mother and she would do everything possible within her capacity…maybe exceed her capacities, to strive and get him close to regular levels. She would now on be his voice, his communication agent, his teacher….his everything till he became independent.
The alarm for 6.45AM rang and jolted Moushmi out of her thoughts.
However instead of tears, this time she had a sense of calm. She knew she was not alone in this battle. She got out of her bed and moved towards the kitchen to start the cooking.