Bijay Upadhyay

Everyone is happy at the academy today. Almost everyone.

It so happened that today morning when Abhimanyu’s mother dropped him to the academy and said goodbye to him, he replied back. “Bye.” He said too. And that is how and why the pervasion of happiness started.

Abhimanyu is a special child and he doesn’t speak. (Well that might have changed a little bit now). No one knows why and a variety of theories have been proposed. But for me, it is just his style. ‘Not speaking’ is his style as much as ‘speaking’ is mine. But you will not see it that way, will you?

So, when a child who hasn’t spoken a single word for four years suddenly utters one, that too in a meaningful context, the whole world is bound to erupt in joy. And for people like me, who have worked with these kids and and helped them grow, it is a matter of great and profound happiness.

But I will be honest and tell the truth. I am not sure if I am happy. Now please don’t doubt my basic empathy skills. I have got my own reasons. Valid ones. There are other things happening too. You know, other than Abhi speaking a word. And the cumulative effect of all these things happening together hasn’t been that of happiness.

I wish it was but no, it isn’t.

I look at Biswanath’s mother and she looks sombre. Biswa has recently joined us. He is of same age as Abhi and he doesn’t speak too. His mother is in a perpetually distressed mood much like how  Abhi’s mother used to be a day ago. But now that has changed. The speech therapist has just said that Abhi’s sudden speaking paves new avenues  for his intellectual growth. That it implies that the child has the potential to speak more. More words. Complex words. And who knows, one day may be indulge in a conversation. In a place like where I work, smallest things like a child lifting his head up or speaking one primal word fetch the greatest interest.

Biswa’s mother wants that too. And today Abhi speaking a word has reminded her that Biswa hasn’t spoken one.  The place where I work is a universe in itself. And like with any other universe, this one too  operates in mysterious ways to preserve balance.  So when an incident makes a mother happy here, it may inadvertently make  another unhappy.

I ask her if her husband is helping her with the home exercises. I am least concerned about her husband or the exercises. I want to somehow break her stream of thoughts which I am sure are self deprecatory. I am sure the next thing she will do is to go to the speech therapist and ask him if there is any new thing she can do for her son because the old ones are clearly not working . I also know what the speech therapist will say next, ‘’ Let’s give him some time, shall we?” But the time you give to the child is also the time you ask the mother to wait. The child might not mind not-speaking-a-single-word in that time but what about the mother?

I even don’t know her name. I have always called her Biswa’s amma creating an inflection of sorts, Biswamma. I wonder if anyone at the academy knows her name.


“He does Sir,” she says.

“It’s good that Mister Radhakrishnan helps you. Most of the fathers don’t.” I say hoping this will cheer her up. Complimenting women by saying how great their husbands are is a very efficient way to lift their spirits up. Also, funnily enough I seem to remember the father’s name whom I have met just a couple of times. This is a universe as funny as it is mysterious.

I teach her a couple of new stretching techniques. She tries hard to focus on my instructions but I know her mind has already drifted away from my exposition of a stretching drill to something more poignant. Like the fact that her son hasn’t spoken a single word and he is already four.  I call it a day. For some reason I feel awful.

It is lunch time and as always a kind of carnival sets in in the academy. Children rush from their classes and try to beat their friends in reaching the mess hall first. Children who are bound to wheelchairs wait for their mothers or some staff member to take them to the hall. Many times, I have seen mothers jockeying to reach the hall and reserve best seats. It’s a valid competition I would say. It is taxing to feed your child in a short or a wobbling chair and we have got few good chairs here.  I can see Mehtab hurrying towards the mess.  He can fall anytime. I see his mother running towards him. She looks at me and smiles apologetically. I had asked her to never let Mehtab walk alone.

“ Your son has just started walking. His balance is still poor.” I had said.

“ Jii sir .”

But of course I have never inquired about what stops her from accompanying her son all the time. There must be something. May be a chore. May be she wants some time for herself.  Maybe she wants to watch a video on YouTube. You know one of those videos which teach you how to cook biryani at home, Hyderabadi style. Or a tutorial for learning French.

I watch all of this from across a window. The children have huddled inside the mess hall now.  The bigger ones say a prayer before starting to eat. The younger ones like Abhimanyu and Biswanath are allowed the liberty to jump at the food immediately after it is served. Their mothers feed them fondly. I will join them in a while.

I have to work for three more hours but I already feel resigned. I thought I had already got hardnosed about my work.  I thought I was able to put my emotions at bay and not let them distract me away from my work. But here I am, brooding over  a child’s feat and the kind of emotional repercussions it has created on another woman who is not his mother. But clearly I haven’t.  I don’t know, yet again if I should feel happy about this or not. I should go have some food now.

I don’t see Biswnath and his mother inside the hall. The duo are never late at lunch usually. Biswa takes his time to eat. And his mother makes it a point to save some time so that he can sleep after lunch. She is so careful and meticulous, I am telling you. But where are they now? I feel a little concerned. I should go and check maybe.

I look for them at the main corridor. They aren’t there. I check a few empty classrooms. No. I go to the side balcony which overlooks the park and look there. No. I return back to the corridor and head towards the amphitheatre. On the way I see them. Biswa is perched on the edge of a stone, his mother crouched in front him. Her hands are placed over his mouth. She is not feeding him anything, that I am sure. Clearly something spooky is going on here. I move closer.

She is moving his lips and speaking in a voice that is not hers, “Yes mommy. I love you too.”

Now she stops moving his lips and speaks in her own voice. “Biswa my son, are you hungry?”

The lip moving resumes. So does speaking in a different voice.

“Yes mommy. I am.”

And it goes on. You know, the regular banter we have with friends and family. Except that only one person is speaking here.

“Biswa shall we go to the mess now?”

“Ok mummy. ”

I don’t know why but I feel like I have violated them by being there. I want to retract back but something holds me off. This woman. Biswamaa as I call her. Has she been anything besides a mother? Have we allowed her to be anything other than that? Isn’t it normal for her to expect some reciprocity in a relationship where she has given so much? The sentiments are overwhelming, I am telling you.

But as it always happens, an avalanche of emotions gives you nothing more than a lump in the throat. You want to say something but you cannot because of the damn lump. The rational part of your brain, the frontal cortex somehow shuts off and it is just the emotional part running the show. I am wary about not appearing too mawkish. But the lump has done something to my eyes too and they are welling up. And she, this woman, Biswamma whose real name I don’t know looks at me. I just stare.

She smiles at me apologetically. As if I had caught her in some  sordid act. This smile. Just like how Mehtab’s mother had smiled a while ago. I am too familiar with this smile. I have seen it a hundred times. I feel like I have to say something. But what?

“ Madam what is your name?” I ask.

“ Bidhya, sir.”

 I smile. Apologetically this time.