Athul Mohan T M
The importance of inclusion and individual healing is mandatory for every person. It will create calamities otherwise. I shall share a small incident. During the first few weeks of university life in that big city, I met Sujith- a young and ambitious student, poet and orator with locomotor disability, who is tackling life and academics sitting in a wheel chair. I was introduced to him via one of my seniors, Jaffery. I was happy to attend him during the initial days and push his wheel chair to the bathroom, canteen, classes and for movie screenings. I felt I was helping to make someone's life better. He was doing his master's program back then. The routine was this; I get a call every morning from Sujith, I go downstairs to his room, help him into his wheelchair and take him to the bathroom. Meanwhile I wait in his room watching some programs on his computer. I didn't have a laptop then. It normally took 30 -40 minutes for him to finish the morning tasks and he would call me from the bathroom. I go and lift him again from the toilet seat and place him back on his chair. Some days, after leaving him in the bathroom I go back to my room which was on the third floor, quickly finish all my morning chores and get ready for the classes. After that I return to pick him from the bathroom, help him get dressed, get him ready for the class, take his breakfast money from the pocket of his shirt, lock his room, keep the key in the back pocket of his wheelchair and then push the wheelchair to the canteen. I help to cut his egg Dosa into small pieces using spoon, get him tea from the chaiwaala near the canteen and then accompany him to the class, which normally happened on the third floor. I was happy doing all these including the untimely calls I got from him in-between attending classes, movies and during my occasional library visits.
Later, I sensed that he was depending on me a lot. He was not making new friends from his class and he demanded too much attention from me. I understood he was waiting for me even during emergencies and I used to get calls frequently even at odd times.
However, at times, I felt like I had my own life to live well. I had meetings with people and I was coordinating various programs at the university. I also enjoyed spending my time at movie screenings and at the library. It began to mildly annoy me that Sujith's calls would pop up on almost all the time. One day while attending a movie screening I got a call from him "Could you please come to the room? I think I should go to the bathroom", he asked me. At that point I was disturbed by certain personal dilemmas as well and I was involuntarily annoyed by his call. I remembered that on the same morning he took extra time in the bathroom, made me wait way too long but came out saying that his metabolism is not so good and that he is constipated. I was exasperated not just because I had to leave in the middle of the movie, but also because I felt like he was growing to depend solely on me. I felt like the burden of his dependence was too much for me to handle alone. This was the last time I extended my help to Sujith.
Gradually, I started avoiding his calls. The phone would ring for long periods of time but I never responded. I just wanted him to start relying on someone else as well. From that day, I turned a deaf ear to his pleas while also being consumed with grief and inexpressible guilt. I started avoiding him in public as well, for fear of having to give him an explanation. He too had changed. He began to connect with new people and began socializing more with many of his classmates and juniors.
However, I was still getting his calls in the morning and I still continued to avoid them. I felt remorse upon seeing the list of repeated missed calls, but I wasn’t ready to mend the relationship or even for a confrontation. I met him with new people, mostly his classmates. He was always calm and used to joke about how he had phoned me multiple times but I was such a sleepy head and never picked up. Each time I replied merely with a smile. It was nice to see him meeting new people and getting help and I was sure he understood the change.
A couple of months ago I received a text from Sujith inquiring after my health and whereabouts. I was overwhelmed to hear from him after such a long time .He had even tagged me in some of his Instagram posts, where he fondly recalls his University days. I was overcome with happiness and guilt as I now believe that his life would have been much better and less stressful if I had helped him back then.
This is nothing short of a curse upon my lack of empathy, awareness and resistance to change. I still have a long way to go in understanding and celebrating disability, and through this note of confession, I hope to raise awareness about how disabled people should be included and taken care of by their abled peers.