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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 29, Dated 23 July 2011
    Sneha Krishnan

    A series on true experiences


    ‘She used crutches and was slow on her feet. I learnt to wait for her’

    Illustration: Samia Singh

    WHEN I WAS three, my best friend at kindergarten was a girl called Grace. My earliest memory of Grace was that of a slender, wispy kid standing at the top of the stairs, terrified at the prospect of coming down to the classroom. Reason? She was bullied ruthlessly by most of her classmates. Her face was a bit “squashed in”, she was skinny and knobbly, but even then looked beautiful. I often wondered why would she be bullied by her classmates. And then one day I got my answer. She had cerebral palsy!

    Though I didn’t know what to make of these things then, I knew Grace and I were “different”: not just because she had a serious problem and I didn’t, but more fundamentally because I was conscious that she was a Christian and I wasn’t. She was one of those kids whom the nuns saw as “one of them”.

    We became friends under the most unusual circumstances. Grace and I had a deep-rooted fear of our teacher and often wet our pants when she scolded us with her trademark threat: “I’ll lock you in a room with wolves!” Wetting pants at the same time — like saving people from trolls, as Harry Potter usefully taught us later — is an automatic friend-making mechanism. We began to hang out. I found it difficult to understand her — she could barely pronounce words. I had started talking at eight months and was stringing full sentences in three languages by this time. I was also an impatient child, being second-born and a bit pampered at home on this account, and didn’t really have the patience for those who were less capable — physically, mentally or emotionally.


    ‘She left me rotting there in denial as I battled my repressed thoughts’
    ‘They took away the children’s drawings only to destroy them’
    ‘His curiosity lit up the classroom and set our spirits soaring’

    Initially, I could predict everything that Grace would say, sometimes even voicing it for her. But there was something deeply disconcerting about the exercise, even to a three-year-old. In time, I learned to wait while Grace finished what she needed to tell me. She used crutches and was pretty slow on her feet. I didn’t like it, but still waited for her to wrap up when we were assigned classwork together — didn’t pick other activity partners so she wouldn’t be bullied and somehow oddly learned to make this work.

    She had a sister in the third standard who brought her biscuits every day. I did too. She had a mother who laughed and cuddled her as she picked her up every day. So did I. My impression of Grace’s parents was that they were amazingly loving. They clearly had less money than my parents — they didn’t come to pick her up by car. Her mother wore different kinds of clothes than mine. And Grace couldn’t run up to her mum and climb into her arms every day, like other three-year-olds. But her mother waited patiently as her daughter climbed down the stairs. And slowly I learned to wait too. I began to run down the stairs and then wait for her to take one tiny step after the other and walk down. I guess that’s the kind of thing best friends do for each other.

    At a rather young age, Grace not only taught me to be patient, but also made me realise that fun could be had in a variety of ways — that happiness was not one narrow ideal defined by getting what I wanted. It was more than that: it meant learning to adjust to a variety of needs, learning to live with pain and discomfort. I didn’t realise a lot of this back then, but over a period of time, I found myself thinking of Grace, and how we connected with each other

    I lost touch with her when I went into my second year of kindergarten. She wasn’t promoted. I saw her a few more times over the years, and each reunion was joyous. We remembered each other well. Short as our acquaintance was, Grace and I were truly best friends.

    Sneha Krishnan is 23. She is a student at Oxford University, UK

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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 29, Dated 23 July 2011



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