They deserve what you deserve if not more

one of the last pictures with Manu
I was extremely saddened but hardly surprised when I saw the news coverage of the way differently abled athletes were treated in the recently so-called National Paralympic. Yet no matter how jaded I have become over the years, my blood could not help from boiling when I heard the insensitive explanations given by thick-skinned officials. Abled or not, the people in question are citizens of India and worthy citizens who represent their country in International meets where when they win our Flag is hosted and our Anthem played. But above all they are human beings just like you and me. They had come to Matiala village in Ghaziabad (a few kilometres from the capital city) to compete for the honour of representing their country. The vent was organised by Paralympic Association. One would have expected them to be well treated, fed and looked after. What happened was that they had to crawl, defecate in the open as the toilets were filthy, sleep on tables as there were no beds and eat the same poorly cooked at every meal. The lame excuse given brazenly on National TV was that they had expected a certain number and more came. This in my humble opinion does not explain the unfinished building, the lack of beds, ramps, water and the poor quality of food and the filth! The only explanation that hold is that no one cared as they were JUST differently abled athletes. Try to do that to your cricket team and see what happens! Let us not even go there.

I have been blessed to have know and love many differently abled souls. I call them special children. I must admit that it took me almost half a century to meet the first one. He was no athlete and did not hail from a privileged home. He was what is called a 'beggar'! His name was Manu. He was and still is my guardian Angel.

The picture above was taken a few months before he left us but it is the same trusting eyes filled with immense love that met mine on a scorching summer in 2000. The only difference was that at that time he barely looked human, with his long dishevelled and matted hair, his half clad body and the years of dirt and filth that caked is rarely washed limbs. It would take us month of tender scrubbing to get rid of the dirt and maggots. He had waited patiently for I guess a quarter century treading  the same stretch of road waiting for us to meet and walk into my heart. He had a mission to fulfil and he did. There would have been no project why, if not for Manu.

I remember the first meal we 'shared'. At that time we had no resources to give a home to this saintly soul so we use to be a hot meal and he would eat it sitting on a blur chair with a red stool that held his plate. He use to pick his plate up with his unsteady hands and ask me to sit on the stool and then break a piece of roti and dip in in the dal and hand it over to me. Believe me that was manna from the Gods and a very special and blessed moment for me. I did give Manu a home, albeit a temporary one as he left before I could build Planet Why for him. I guess he knew that he had accomplished his mission and that I would carry it on.

Even today, in my moments of doubt and insecurity, when things look dark, I can feel his gentle hand on my shoulder and the warmth of his smile in my heart. I never feel alone. But this post is not to retell once again Manu's story. This post is about the way we treat differently abled people in a land that heralds its traditions and values but has lost its heart. To me the officials of the Paralympic association are no different from Manu's wily and crafty sister-in-law who use to send him to beg and promptly take the few coins that had been thrown at him to treat herself leaving him to rummage the garbage bins for food.

Special children are God's own children. It is for us to reach out to them and embrace them. They give you much more than you can ever give them as they give you their unadulterated love and trust. When my spirits are low and I need a feel good shot, all I have to do is spend some time with the wonderful children of our special section. You are welcome to come and meet them anytime.