Imagine waking up to find you have lost a limb. Or that you have lost your voice. Or that you can no longer speak a single sentence without someone laughing at you.
It is not easy. It is specially difficult if you are merely 10 years old and eager to reach out to the world around you.
Somewhere around that age I started to stutter. So, because of this stutter thing, I lived a part of my young growing years “fighting” an inconsiderate world. This fight shaped me forever. That I could not care less about societal norms, that I will always fight for what I believe in, that I will be able to forgive anyone, that I will be gifted with empathy, and that I can love unconditionally are all in part born out of and/or nutured by this fight.
You have to go through fire once to know what it means to be burnt. And once you are burnt there are only two things that can happen to you. Either you will shrivel and die or you will come out brighter and purer. For reasons I do not fully understand and surely do not take credit for, I happened to emerge talking nineteen to the dozen from my state of speechlessness. I would open my mouth and incoherence would emanate. People around me would become uncomfortable. They would get embarrased as if I have dropped my pants. Some would hide their emotion and keep a straight face. Some would step away. Some would laugh. Right there. Right in my face. It is to the latter that I partly owe my triumph.
Two incidents remain etched like yesterday in my mind. No matter they happend more than 20 years ago. I was in grade six, and stood up to answer something the teacher asked. I knew the answer. I just did not know how to get it out of my lungs. But I started anyhow. And then Sunita*, a classmate, started laughing. And then another classmate laughed. And then another. It no longer mattered if I knew the answer. It no longer mattered if I did finally get it out. For all you would have heard in that classroom was laughter.
The other memory is of playtime outside my house. Probably a summer evening. My neighbours Madhu* and Nisha* and I were enagaged in small talk. Both a few years elder to me. I had this joke to tell which I thought was very funny. So I said I have a joke to tell. Nisha started laughing and said “well, we will know the end before you have finished”. I do not remember the moment exactly after she said this, but I do remember running home, burying myself in my mother’s lap, and crying my heart out. It seemed the joke was on me. I also remember Nisha running in a few moments later, filled with remorse for her words, and crying.
So, unlike most of you, I did not get my speech without a fight. And fight I did. Tooth and nail. Sweat and blood. I just did not stop talking. My teachers had only this complaint all my school life – “he is talkative”. I was obedient, polite, clean, on time, and sharp. They just did not understand why I would want to talk and sometimes get punished for it. But someone did. This half educated, barely five feet tall, and tough as a nail woman I call mother understood exactly what it was all about. No, she had no idea what was the cause of her son’s infliction. I think she did not give two hoots for the cause. But she did know something no other person knew. She never asked me to shut up. She never laughed at me. She never got embarassed if it took me ages to tell her what I wanted to tell her. She would just wait, like an angel, for me to finish. I am sure she would have waited for an eternity if I had lost my voice completely. Mothers are made entirely of the world’s most precious element. They are made purely of love.
So, riding on her love and some perseverance, I managed to come far enough to talk fluently. I still think faster than I can talk, and I can talk faster than some people can think. But once in a while I would find the disability reappear for an odd second or two and the words would jam up. People still get embarassed when that rare slip happens. And I still get “You are talkative”. But I laugh it off. For I have earned my voice.
* names changed to protect identities.