When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Nothing can personify this more for me than the unflagging spirit and determination shown by two very strong women, one a 26-year-old girl and the other, a 70-year-old in the twilight of her life, whose story I have been personally connected with.
Pune girl Gauri Gadgil, is as feisty and spirited as they come. This 26-year old has risen over the challenges posed by Down’s syndrome to notch up achievement after achievement in the last few years, charming people both with her infectious enthusiasm and her bagful of talents. Gauri got herself another feather in her hat when she proudly donned the convocation gown last week for the convocation ceremony at her alma mater, SP College, from where she got her graduate degree with a Sociology major. Mother Sneha, who has been the determined woman who has pushed Gauri to discover all the talents hidden inside her, is over the moon and with good reason too.
Those who have been following her extraordinary journey know that just a couple of months ago Gauri had walked away with the Special Jury award at the National Film Awards ceremony, for her brilliant performance in Yellow, a film based on her own life and her triumph over her condition.
While most parents would have given up and collapsed under the weight of the responsibility of a special needs child – Down’s syndrome brings along very delayed mental and physical development-, Gauri’s mother rose to the occasion and made sure her daughter got every opportunity that other children her age got. And when she discovered that her daughter needed therapy and a vent for her frustration at being different from the rest, she introduced her to swimming at the age of 16. And the rest, as they say, is history. Gauri has not paused or looked back since then and has travelled all over the country and the world, bringing in medals and honour for the country including two silver medals at the Special Olympics.
The newly-minted graduate is now raring to do the other things that she has been waiting to do but has kept on the backburner because she was busy studying for her final year exams. This month she starts coaching for the selections to the National swimming competitions. Simultaneously, she will also be busy coaching aspiring swimmers at the Ghorpadi Peth Swimming tank near Swargate, where she is a much-in-demand teacher.
A passionate Bharatnatyam dancer, Gauri will also start preparing for her dance exams for the first time in the 14 years that she has been practising the dance form.
Plus, she recently took part in the Bicathalon- running-swimming-running- in Goa and is now fascinated by the idea of participating in international events in this form of sport. And yes, she is also signing up for a Master’s in Sociology, as an external student of Pune university.
And if that is a list that seems too long and heavy for someone so young, there is more to come. She is also being approached with film offers and is likely to take up something this year. “I have to sometimes curb her enthusiasm because I am unable to find time and energy to accompany her and support her with so many things,” mom Sneha said to me earlier today.
When my father passed away last year from a sudden illness compounded by horrific medical negligence (an awful story, one that had to involve the help of medical malpractice lawyer – you can find out more here), he left behind a woman who had been his partner, indeed, his shadow, for 53 years. She could have had the life of her choice but she chose to set her aspirations aside and support him as he made it his life’s mission to protect the rights of workers of the Indian railways. When he went away we saw her go from our cheerful, enthusiastic amma to a woman who retreated inward and cocooned herself in her grief.
She emerged from that one day, a few months ago, and decided she would write the story of her life with him. And, for the last six months, she wrote away like her life depended on it, obsessively, almost manically involved in the process, till we worried it would send her on a downward spiral. As it turned out, we worried without reason because last month she proudly displayed to us 5 journals full of her memories of the man who she married at sixteen and charted a memorable journey with.
There is a reason I say women should write down their stories. My mother’s book is no ordinary book. In it is a veritable account of how the historic railway strike of 1974 was planned and executed. Those who have lived in those years will remember that the strike marked the beginning of an era in India where workers exerted their collective strength to influence national policy. As one of the key leaders of the National Railway Mazdoor Union, my father, C.Radhakrishnan, was one of the key leaders of that strike, a man who the administration wanted very much to arrest so that they could squash the strike even before it began. Amma’s book has vivid accounts of his going underground so that he could steer the strike, accounts of how he roamed the city in various disguises, sometimes in a bus conductor’s uniform and sometimes that of a watchman so that he could enter railway colonies and talk to striking workers to keep their morale up. The book has all the elements of a gripping book- drama, intrigue, humour, pathos and anecdotes of midnight knocks at our door and police raids at our home, in the peak of the emergency enforced by the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, in the year following the strike.
Just two days ago, at a massive memorial service that his comrades and colleagues had organised for him at the age-old Matunga Railway Workshop, my mother unveiled the first three chapters of her book, My journey with com CR, to thunderous applause and cheers from hundreds of workmen who lives my father had transformed. She wept a bit from missing her partner but also from the joy of knowing that his life had not been in vain. Nor her sacrifices.
They had made a difference in the lives of so many lakhs of families.
Amma will launch the complete book by the end of the year and is already preparing to work with a Marathi language translator so that the book can be published in Marathi too, so that the workers for who he toiled will be able to read his story and take inspiration.
Like I said, there is nothing a woman cannot do, if she puts her mind to it.
You can reach her on firstname.lastname@example.org or her twitter handle@sudhamenon2006
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