A Living Example of Horrifying History

Posted on March 18, 2010


I saw 4-year old Aditya dangling from his mother’s arms. I wondered why she would ‘handle’ a child that way. And I soon found out why. I edged closer to see that the boy was unkempt. Dirty clothes, saliva drooping, eyes crisscrossed…the works. He was mumbling to himself and walking, rather stumbling at every step. But what struck me was this abnormally huge bump on his unusually small head. In short, being blunt and absolutely politically incorrect, the child was clearly mentally deficient.

The mother looked tired. She had sad eyes. We began a conversation by default, being the only 2 people who could speak Hindi on the CESCI campus. She asked me my name and if I was from the North. I said, “Yes, I am from Gujarat.” She said, “I am from Madhya Pradesh.” She looked at me with frank curiosity, while dragging Aditya along. I said in Hindi, “Aap chhodo. Chalne do usse.” Let him be, let him walk. She said, “Yes, yes. He will walk. But if he will get tired, he will just sleep on the floor.” But she let him go, as if it were easier to demonstrate rather than explain. And yes, within a few seconds, our dude, lay down in the mud, not a care in the world. She said, “I’d like to leave him alone more. But you see, I have to wash his clothes. He dirties at least 10 – 15 pairs of clothes daily.” I was chastized immediately. What did I know about caring for a child full time! Leave alone a mentally deficient child! True, I had cared for my mother with AD, but that was several years ago and at that point even I’d have resented any advice. I decided to make small talk. I said, “Does Adi go to school?” She said, “Nahi, I haven’t decided whether to put him in a regular school or a normal school. I have heard that now it is compulsory for normal schools to take such kids. Who knows he may become normal if he is with those kids.”

At this moment, my heart sank. I couldn’t understand why this young mother was in such gross denial. Her child would never ever be like other kids. He’d never play with them. But I said nothing. I observed Adi. He was a curious child. He’d go close to objects, so close that he could lick them, which he would. But mostly he would knock to see what it was like. I saw him knock on brick walls, PVC pipes, window glasses, a car’s outer body and even a tree! It was somehow calming.

After a brief silence, she said, “Can you wait here with him? I will go see what my elder son is upto.” I nodded. So Adi and I began our walk. I let him walk, but was careful to not let him sit on the floor. I tried to get him to look at me, but no use. Frustrated, I stopped trying to grab his attention. May be it was important for him to be in his own world and connect with my world at his convenience. He seemed happy, smiling…his saliva trickled from his chin right down to his neck and unto his t-shirt. I took out a tissue from my purse and tried to wipe it off, but he got annoyed and started beating his fragile body. I said sorry. Of course, he didn’t understand me. So I just ignored him. He stopped beating himself. I was relieved.

Soon she came back and revealed that her elder son was fine, he was having tea. She told me to go have mine as Gandhian centres like CESCI are particular about meal timings, etc. As we were walking towards the cafeteria, I saw a tall-ish boy wearing  yellow t-shirt, sitting on a chair drinking tea. I knew this had to be Adi’s brother. So I began to hurry. I wanted to make friends with Akshay, the elder one, so that I could ask him all these questions about the games he played with his younger brother. But as I got close, I was horrified.

I saw a boy nearing puberty, wearing a dirty yellow t-shirt torn in several places, saliva streaming out of his mouth, teeth all spread out and haphazard, mouth wide open, small head and on the forehead – the familiar protruding bump – the biggest bump I have ever seen on anyone! Akshay, Adi’s elder brother, was also retarded. Before I could approach him, I suddenly saw him throw the glass full of tea and then flung himself on the floor, and just lay there.

In those few seconds, I could completely understand the mother’s denial about Adi’s condition, her tired eyes and her insistence that he not sit on the ground and dirty his clothes. I made a feeble excuse and escaped to my group. I asked around if they knew this lady. Thilagam, my host, said, “Aiyo, I’ve heard she was a little girl when the Bhopal Gas Tragedy happened. She escaped with minor physical injuries, but her reproductive system got damaged and this is the result of it.”

I don’t know if this family was given any compensation. I don’t know if any compensation will ever be enough. What’s more, the contamination of the water has led to chemicals percolating into the soil, causing more and more people to be exposed to these chemicals, even today, 25 years since the first incident took place. Who is responsible? Who will make this stop?