Soar confidently in her own sky, whatever that may be.

She was born on October 1st, 1981! From the instant I held her in my arms and looked at a puckered face, I knew she was special. It was visceral and instinctive. I did not know what life had in store for us, but I knew that she was a soul sent to this world to change my life. Shamika was your happy go lucky child that would walk into any heart. She was full of fun and giggles and delighted us at every moment. Her smiles, her one liners that would surprise anyone, her hugs and kisses and her huge fan club  which was headed by her Tatu (my dad) and had members of all ages.The two of them were parthers in crime and shared many things in common, the first and foremost one being their love for food. On the way back from school there had to be a stopover at the bakery where she gorged herself and made me wonder why she was not eating her lunch. Both she and her Tatu had to fight a battle of the bulge! When he left us, she was 11 and took a long time to get over her loss.

There was also an elderly colleague from my Asian Games days who drove many miles to reach our house at the dot of 8 am with a bunch of bananas and then take her for a scooter ride where she sat backwards and buy her anything she wanted from the local grocery store. She just had to point and it was hers. It could be a treat, a shampoo bottle or some other irrelevant thing, but that did not matter to Dear Mr Parwana who loved this child in a way I have never experienced. He called her Choottu Ram and she did the same.

Shamika was bright and spunky child and we all thought she would sail trough school and university and walk the easy road.

But I told you that I had an intuitive flash when I first saw her and knew she was not the one to walk the trodden path.  Shamika had to take the road less travelled very early in life. School was not meant for her as she was all heart, and maths and logic had no place in her mind. But as a parent I had to push her from class to class not hearing her many cries for help. I stand guilty of having not heard for 15 long years. She bravely did her best, but her best was not enough for the systems that exist in our world. Somewhere along the way she had to bear a pain that cannot be healed, a pain that shattered the very foundations of her life. What followed were some terrible years when her life was thrown out of gear and she lived in a shadowy world that the young girl had built to protect herself. It would take many years for her to come out into the light again. She eventually did but left me wondering if I could have done more to protect her. I still live with this guilt and will probably carry it to my grave.

School was never meant for this child who only knew how to look at the world with her heart. When she 'failed' an examination by a single mark something happened in me and as I took her in my arms wiping her tears the mother's instinct made me say the following words: You do not have to school again! Her whole body language changed and I could feel her gratitude in every cell of my being. The ball was in my court. But I stood firm and parried all the silly inanities family and others flung at me. I had my priorities right: first and foremost was my child's happiness!

Shamika had always told me she wanted to work with special children. So I needed to find in this world where success is measured in certificates and degrees and not in compassion and empathy, a place where my child could reclaim her life. It was not easy as I trudged from NGO to NGO. But ultimately I found what I was seeking. Shamika was 15 when she began to 'train' at Action for Autism. I can never repay Merry for accepting her, as she gave my child a second chance in life. Shamika worked for 7 long years with autistic children and in Merry's words she was like a fish in water. From an unpaid volunteer she became a paid staff! Then one fine day she decided to join me at project why where she looks after our special children with an rare passion and compassion ! The children love her and so does her team.

It is sad that in a country like ours hands down work does not count and though Shamika has spent 17 years working 6 days a week, she cannot sit for a special educator test as she does not have a class XII certificate. I must admit that if Shamika had walked the travelled road I would not have set up project why as in many ways she was my inspiration. I feel humbled and grateful as she is the one who opened my eyes to a whole new world I never knew existed and fell in love with.

Today Shamika is a stunning young woman who has dreams of her own, exceptional talents and a quiet strength that is often not revealed or accepted. My hope is that she finds her way to happiness and will stand by her till my last breath.

I will end with a quote that sums it all: What I want most for my daughter is that she be able to soar confidently in her own sky, whatever that may be.

Happy birthday dear child and thank you for having come into my life.