E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Little Champa (name changed) was still sleepy when her mother Shruthi woke her up at 4.30 in the morning: “Get up. We have a train to catch.” It was a futile call because Shruthi knew that her two-year-old daughter couldn’t have heard anything as she was born with a hearing defect.
As the Thanjavur Express left Bangalore for Mysore, Shruthi fed the little girl milk and made her catch up with the rest of her sleep. They were on the way to their teacher for her lessons. At Srirangapatna, she woke up Champa for her “homework”, and asked her to repeat what the teacher had taught the previous day.
‘Aaaaaaaaa’, ‘Eeeeeeee’, ‘Oooooo.’
Since the receiver of the hearing aid had come off the child’s ears, she didn’t respond. After her father, Sridhar, put it back in her ears, she started repeating.
‘Aaaaaa,’ ‘Eeeee,’ ‘Oooo.’
When Champa didn’t respond to any sound soon after her birth, Sridhar and Shruthi’s worst fears turned true. Their daughter was born deaf and dumb. Repeated visits to temples did not help. Finally, somebody suggested a teacher, who taught hearing-impaired children from the age of 18 months.
With a hearing aid and two receivers, Champa learnt to listen to everyday sounds which are normally taken for granted. The vowel sounds Champa practised on the train were the first sounds she could reproduce.
When the teacher moved to Mysore from Bangalore, they took Champa every morning to Mysore and returned by the evening train. To and fro visits to Mysore five days a week became hectic for them and little Champa too. The family decided to move to Mysore, close to the teacher’s house.
Shruthi’s mother came to stay with her. Sridhar would come on Saturdays to take them to Bangalore.
Babbling simple words; recognising small objects; picking up an object after listening to its sound; matching the object with the sketch after naming the object. Champa was put on a drill by the teacher. Every syllable word had to be vocalized.
Much, much later the alphabets in Kannada were started. Kannada alphabets for Champa whose parents spoke Tamil!
And counting numbers—one, two, three up to hundred, each had to be pronounced loudly and then only written. Champa graduated from counting on the fingers to writing on slate and finally on paper with pencil.
‘Stay Ahead’ was the mantra of the teacher. We have to make her stay ahead of others. “Acceptance and recognition for physically challenged will only come from sheer merit. Especially when they score over in competition with normal people,” was the teacher’s philosophy.
Time flew as little Champa learnt basic maths, sentences in Kannada and could talk haltingly. Still, fluent speech was a problem.
When Sridhar and Shruthi visited various schools for admission in Bangalore, one look at the child wearing hearing aid with cord dangling from her ears was enough for rejection. Finally, one school agreed to give her an opportunity.
“Only six months,” said the head-mistress sternly, “If we find her lagging behind we will terminate any time.”
School with new clothes, a shining bag, tiffin carrier and water bottle instead of bringing joy was hell for Champa. Bullies at that age, ripped off her hearing aid, put mud on it, and threw it away. The child couldn’t learn much from her unhelpful teacher. Their class teacher often openly said: “I will recommend you to a deaf and dumb school.”
Sridha and Shruthi were at their wit’s end. Had their efforts failed? Had it all come to nothing?
Then the school had the first semester exams in Kannada and Maths.
The class teacher returned the corrected papers to all students. Champa did not get anything. Instead she was asked to bring her parents next day to meet the head mistress. Hearts palpitating, fearing the worst, they ran to school.
The head-mistress asked them to wait as she finished her other chores. Then she took them to Champa’s class. It was parents-teachers’ meeting that day. The head-mistress lifted Champa on her shoulders and announced that Champa had stood first in the class, in both Maths and Kannada.
She proudly announced that this was the first time they had decided to admit a hearing-challenged child and she had stood first in the class. The school would continue with this policy every year. The parents assembled, gave a standing ovation to Champa and her parents. Quite a few children came and stood around Champa, clapping.
There was still one unfinished task. The parents called Champa’s teacher in Mysore over the phone and choking with tears conveyed the good news: their combined efforts and faith had made the impossible, possible.