No disability can keep these two sisters apart
Rajeshwari still remembers the day when she returned with her parents after a surgery in Chennai and found her usually chatty elder sister totally withdrawn. The family had left Muthu Meenakshi in their relative’s house as Rajeshwari, then 12, had to undergo a heart operation.
The trip trapped the family in sorrows. Meenakshi’s childhood innocence was abused by the relative her parents trusted. Dead from inside at 14, she dropped out in class XII. The parents struggled to find a diagnosis and treatment for the daughter.
Growing up with a mentally ill sibling induced behavioural problems and academic difficulty in Rajeshwari too by the time she came to class X. With both the girls showing psychotic symptoms, their banker father was referred to Madurai-based M.S.Chellamuthu Trust & Research Foundation (MSCTRF). The founder Dr.C Ramasubramanian took charge of their medication for schizophrenia.
Rajeshwari responded better. But Meenakshi’s ailment kept manifesting through hallucinations, delusions and social withdrawal. When their mother fell to cancer Rajeshwari gave in to her parents’ wish and at the age of 32 got married. The bliss did not last three months. She was thrown out once her in-laws found out her health condition. It was left to her retired father to take care of his two mentally challenged daughters. Their life was never perfect but there was an overarching love in whatever little they did for each other.
When their father passed away in November 2011, it yet again exposed the vulnerability of mentally challenged persons -- who takes care of them when their parents die? In this case, the sisters were evicted by the landlord from the rented house. Their paternal uncle shifted them to a hostel in Chennai where, claims Rajeshwari, they were humiliated and ill-treated.
More than anything else, Rajeshwari constantly feared for her 10-year-old daughter Parvathavardhini’s safety. After repeated requests, they were shifted to Pudukkottai for home-stay with a native family. The torture they underwent is beyond description and within 48 hours the three of them escaped from there.
It was around 10 p.m. on 21st June last year that Dr.C.Ramasubramanian received a call from his office informing him about the two women and a child asking for him. The moment he saw severely depressed Rajeshwari and Meenakshi’s chronic condition, he knew they needed individualised care. Both were instantly admitted.
Parvathavarthini, a normal child, had spent her pre-teen years in an abnormal environment and had to be separated from her mother and aunt. Luckily the management of Peniel School in Natham offered a free residential seat to the child.
Points out Mr.K.S.P.Janardhan Director (Projects), the most crucial point in the line of events is that Rajeshwari thought it best to return to us.
A year on, Rajeshwari with her limitations and her daughter have proved themselves to every bit as capable as any other individual.
In fact, the little girl fondly called Varsha is the cynosure of all at the Home for the Mentally Ill at Aruldosspuram which she visits every weekend to meet her mother and chitti. Her cheerful disposition shines through and she showers affection on all the other residents too, chatting them up, helping them with their medicines or bringing them to the dining hall. A brilliant kid she has silently fashioned ways to cope with her grief of years.
Rajeshwari wants her daughter to have the most normal life possible. She admits there were so many moments when she wanted to end her life but only Varsha’s thoughts prevented her. “Today, she has got the best chance to grow,” she smiles. She wants her daughter to become a scientist.
Meenakshi, now 48, suffers pathological shyness. But the mention of her niece brings a smile, “Friday evenings we wait for her to come. She makes us laugh.”
Everybody carries grief and sometimes for some it becomes too heavy to share or put it in words. The protection which the two sisters have got from the Trust is now helping them to strike a balance between independence and togetherness. Rajeshwari is slowly becoming confident and a functional individual. Given her skills in drawing and tailoring, the Trust is engaging her in small jobs. With a small measure of independence, she is hopeful that her akka too will regain her confidence. “She is a good writer, she wrote so many women oriented short stories in school,” says Rajeshwari of her sister. The warmth of depth and emotion between them is visible. Meenakshi likes to wash her sister’s clothes and Rajeshwari wants to live her sister’s dream by empowering her daughter.
“All our relatives who abandoned us,” says Rajeshwari, “I want to show them that I did not give up. I lived.”
(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to tell her about someone you know who is making a difference)