Wednesday, February 22, 2012

English story reading - He still Lives


‘He hath not lived that lives not after death.’ (In this lesson, it is the message more than the matter that matters.) (The domestic terminal at Meenambakkam Airport in Chennai was buzzing with excitement. One could see people of different hues and moods. Mrs. Radha Kannan, a low-profile social worker and Founder-Director of a foundation for the differently abled, boards an aircraft bound for Delhi. When she settles in her seat and buckles up her seatbelt she notices a young lady sitting next to her seat sobbing. Mrs. Kannan, quite unusual of herself, gets into a conversation with her).

Mrs RK : Excuse me. What has happened? Has anything gone wrong? You almost broke down. If it’s not too personal and if it’s not too much for you to take me into confidence you can share your feelings with me. Sharing after all, lessens one’s burden.

The Lady : Thanks for your concern, Madam. I am Catherine Rudolph from Vienna. I’m reserved and slightly reticent by nature. I don’t take to strangers easily. At the same time I understand your concern. Somehow or the other I feel that I should open up to you. May I know your name, please?

Mrs RK : I’m Radha Kannan, a small-time social worker with a big vision. We run a foundation in Chennai, for the differently abled. You may call me Radha.
Cathy : Thank you, Radha. I had two children – a boy and a girl. I lost my daughter who was beautifully named Philo. She died of Cystic Fibrosis, an incurable congenital disease that affects young children, especially girls.

Mrs RK : Is it such a deadly disease?

Cathy : Yes it’s a killer disease. It affects the pancreas, and the lungs are blocked with thick mucus. My daughter was just two years when the symptoms showed and she survived another two years. Only a month ago we lost our precious child. The thought of my lost child is all over me all the time. It’s painful, Radha, very painful. Do you know what she asked us when she knew that she was going to die? (drops of tears roll down the cheeks of Catherine)

Radha : Compose yourself, Cathy.Cathy : She asked us what would happen to her after her death. We told her that she would go to heaven and become an angel. After this every morning she would ask us why she had not grown wings yet as she had read in stories that all angels had wings. We assured her that she would get her wings the moment she reached heaven, and that God would personally fix the wings on her sides. (Radha’s eyes moisten as tears well up in her eyes.)

Cathy : Why do you cry, Radha? Has my story disturbed you? Are you moved?

Radha : I stopped crying six years ago, when our only child Velan left this world. That was the last time I cried. But the fate of your child did move me to tears. I don’t cry in self-pity or for my lost child any more. I was only trying to draw a parallel between your daughter’s plight and my son’s fate.

Cathy : Tell me about Velan, Radha.

Radha : Oh, dear! Our son Velan was born in 1978. He was so dear to us and endeared himself to everyone with whom he came into contact. He just lived for 20 years and left behind his memory to be cherished forever.

Cathy : Was it a sudden end?
Radha : He was a normal child till the age of two and a half. On one fateful morning, he started crying uncontrollably. We thought it was a mere question of indigestion. But it was not to be. That was perhaps the beginning of the end. Doctors said it was a serious problem of the intestine and an emergency operation was recommended. Even as a child he showed a lot of endurance and was able to put up with all the physical pain during the post operative period. How he bore the sufferings bravely!

Cathy : How painful it must have been both for him and for you!

Radha : Yes. And as he grew up we could see that he was different from the other children. He never ran as other children did. He walked with an awkward gait. He could not climb the stairs at one stretch as other children of his age would do. By the time he was seven years old we had got almost all clinical tests done on him. And we had the shock of our life when he was diagnosed with the genetic disorder – ‘Duchenne’, - one of the two types of ‘Muscular Dystrophy’. And the doctors said that he wouldn’t live long.

Cathy : My! How did you take it?

Radha : As knowledgeable parents we had to accept it. But we had moral support and help from all quarters. His teachers in the school were very accommodative, understanding and cooperative. He came home from school one day and walked towards me complaining of pain in the calf muscles - then, my God, (with her voice broken) my son slumped in front of me like a paper doll never to walk again.Cathy : How old was he then?

Radha : Ten. From that day onwards his life was confined to a wheelchair, but to our surprise, he accepted it and moved about freely in his wheelchair as if it was the most natural thing to do!

Cathy : I thought I was the one who was most unfortunate. But you have had worse sufferings.

Radha : We gave him the best possible medical treatment. You should be knowing how expensive medical treatment is nowadays. Fortunately we could afford it. We took him to Ohio State Specialty Hospital in the USA. The tests were repeated and the diagnosis confirmed his muscular dystrophy. The doctors broke the news, in the presence of Velan. Even though Velan knew of the gravity and severity of the disease, he was composed and collected. He never showed any signs of panic. The doctors also said that he wouldn’t live long even to be twentyfive.

Cathy : May be this is what Shakespeare meant when he wrote, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, They kill us for their sport.”

Radha : No, Cathy. I would take it this way - ‘Those whom the gods love, die young.’ On our return to India, Velan went about his studies with his usual enthusiasm, why, with even renewed vigour. He cleared the school final examination with first grade. His ambition was to become a doctor - must havebeen inspired by his grandfather’s reputation in the field of medicine. By sheer dint of his merit, he could secure a seat in Medicine, but as ill luck would have it, he couldn’t be admitted because of his physical disability. This did not deter him from joining B.Sc. His academic performance in the first year of his course was flattering. When he was in his second year, he had fluctuations in his health. Suddenly, he developed breathing problems.

Cathy : When did he develop this problem?

Radha : To be exact, that was on the 15th of December 1997. We rushed him to hospital. There he was put on ventilator. From that day till he breathed his last on the 21st of May ’98 he had to be in hospital. 21st May 1998 was the ‘most cruellest’ day for us. The icy cold hands of fate snatched away from us, our only child during the prime of his youth. What would have been a very exciting life was extinguished prematurely. (Radha pauses for a moment)

Cathy : How could life be the same for you, after this tragedy?

Radha : Tragedies offer us a challenge to rebuild our lives. Man must choose and not accept his fate. Even when Velan was alive, we had established a foundation whose aim is to make the world ‘disabled-friendly’. Velan used to take a very keen interest in the activities of this foundation. His words of encouragement are still ringing in my ears, ‘Your mission impossible today will become mission possible tomorrow’. How prophetic his words are! His words have come true.

Cathy : How do you go about with your social work in this foundation?

Radha : We do a lot of work. Our major venture ‘Project Ramp’ is a big success - success in terms of value and quality. The disabled should be given their due in the society. We should not stop with just paying lip service to their needs and demands. So we want every public building to be ‘disabled-friendly.’ The airport, railway stations and all government buildings are going to have ramps. We are also into ‘rural medicare’ in a big way. The government both at the Centre and the State are sympathetic and helpful to our cause. We have made a humble beginning. Cathy : How do you manage to raise funds for running the foundation?
Radha : There is no question of raising funds at all. It’s the moral support of a number of celebrities – musicians, sports persons and others who have made a name in their respective fields, and the innumerable well wishers with some social commitment, that sustains the foundation.

Cathy : So Velan lives through your noble work.

Radha : Yes, you’re right Cathy. Velan used to say, “I believe life is short, so play / work hard.” I believe in that.He is not dead. ‘It is Death is dead and not he’, in his case. But in a moment of motherly weakness, I ask myself this question, “Why is it, that it has to be ‘me’?” But inscrutable are the ways of God and for Him it has to be somebody, and God thought that that ‘somebody’ had to be me. Probably I was the ‘chosen one’ to take on this stoically and philosophically.
Cathy : Is it only because of Velan that you started this foundation?

Radha : Maybe Velan is the immediate cause. But even otherwise, we would have taken up this cause as part of our social commitment towards the physically less privileged sections of the society. We see Velan in all those we work for.
Cathy : How supportive is your husband to your cause?

Radha : We are one in this cause. And how blessed I am to have such a husband! After all Velan was our son.
Cathy : You said it’s six years since Velan passed away. Isn’t time the best healer?
Radha : No, Cathy the wound will never heal. I have to live with the pain however much I try to control my feelings. If there is a re-birth, I wish I were again Velan’s mother.
(The plane touches down, taxies along the runway and comes to a halt. All the passengers disembark. Cathy takes leave promising to keep in touch.)
[Note: This is a true-life story of Velan. (The other names have been changed for obvious reasons.) We always look up to the alien stock, distant past and remote history for inspiration and citingexamples for accomplishments and achievements, forgetting that nearer home well within our midst there are Stephen Hawkings, Helen Kellers and Wilma Rudolphs who have gone unsung, unhonoured and unwept. It’s high time that we became real natives in our thoughts, ideas and spirit to learn a lesson or two on chivalry, endurance, valour and grit.]

incurable /In'kjU@r@bl / - that which cannot be cured
congenital /k@n'dZenIt@l / - at or from birth
pancreas /'p{NkrI@s / - glands that produce insulin
mucus /'mju:k@z / - a thick liquid produced inside the nose and other parts of the body
compose /k@m'p@Uz / - steady oneself
disabled /dIs'eIbld / - (here) physically challenged
awkward /'O:kw@d / - unsteady
gait /geIt / - stride, the way one walks
genetic /dZe'netIk /
disorder /dIs'O:d@/ - improper combination of genes
Dystrophy /'dIstr@fI/ - bodily disorder owing to the wasting of tissues
slumped /slVmpt / - fell suddenly because of weakness
diagnose /'daI@gn@Uz / - find out the disease
wanton boys /wQnt@n  bOIz / - boys who deliberately do things
exude /Ig'zju:d / - radiate
ventilator /'ventIleIt@ / - a machine which makes persons breathe
ramp /r{mp / - a slope to move wheelchairs or wheeled stretchers

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