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Editor’s note: “Arundhati, the morning star” is a book published by Dr Shubhangi and Mr Sanjay Tambwekar, in memory of their daughter Arundhati. We lost Arundhati, who was a very good writer besides being poised to be a great Doctor, in a road accident. Read more about their other efforts through The Arundhati foundation here. This weekly series brings to you stories from her book. We hope that through this section, we can help the Tambwekars increase awareness on how lives are senselessly lost on the roads, either through road rage incidents, or bad infrastructure,¬†or bad driving and help people work towards making our country a safer place.¬†
My name is Thomas. So of course, everybody calls me Tom! I have a pet dog and his name is Jerry. Jerry is my best friends and we are inseparable. Whenever we go out on a walk together, I hear one or the other little old ladies of the neighborhood chuckle and say, “There they go! Tom and Jerry!”
I was born on 30 October 1995 at 10:30 PM and I was born blind. I don’t remember what it felt like to be blind and a baby, but my mother says I used to cry a lot!
I remember the day my mother first took me to the park. That’s where I heard someone saying “Mommy I want the blue balloons!”
And I felt for my mother and asked, “Mamma, what’s blue?”
She lifted me up then and whispered, “It’s a colour”.
“Colour? What’s that?”
She replied her voice softer now, “I’ll tell you. Let’s go to our garden. It’s quieter there”.
Our house isn’t far from the park. My mother carried me all the way there. “Tom”, she said, putting me down on the stone bench and sitting beside me, “You know things have a shape and a size, right? Remember your building blocks? Triangles and squares and rectangles and circles? There are many different shapes in the world. Besides size and shapes, almost every object has something called colour.What shape is a coin, Tom?”
“Right! But not everything which is a circle is a coin. Do you understand?”
“Yes! A plate is also a circle but it is a bigger circle than a coin”.
“Exactly! Very good! Now suppose you have two tablets. They are different tablets. One for a stomach ache and one for a headache. But they are both circular in shape and they are both of the same sizes. Okay?”
“Now if you have a¬†headache which tablet will you take?”
“The headache tablet.”
“How ill you know that it is the correct tablet? Remember they both have the same shape and size?”
“This is where colour helps us, Tom. Colour is what helps us to make out the difference between objects. Shapes and size help us too. Just as we feel shapes and size with our fingers, we see colours with our eyes.”
I must have been frowning trying to take all this in…because she suddenly lifted me up and took my hand in hers and made it finger something.
“Feel this Tom. You have touched it before. What is it?”
“Leaf?” I ventured.
“Yes, Tom. Leaf. Most leaves are green in colour.”
She started walking holding me and I realised that we were moving into the house. She gently put something into my hands.
“What’s this, Tom?”
“No. This is an orange. Smell it.” She held my thumb and pressed the nail on the thing and brought it to my nose. The tang hung in the air.
“I like the smell.” I said
“An orange is orange in colour”.
I liked the sound of that too. But something was troubling me.
“But mamma! I can’t see it. I can smell it and feel it but my eyes can’t see green and orange.”
And then with something close to fear and confusion I realised, “I can’t see you, mamma!”
“I know! she said, her voice husky. She held me tight in her lap and pressed her cheek to mine. I remember her cheek was wet.
I was around three at that time. I slowly began to realise that the world around me was seen differently by other people. In their world, there was light and colour – bright and beautiful.
There were blues (the skies, the bluebells) and yellow (the sun and butter and cheese) and greens (leaves, grapes, frogs) and reds (bricks and roses and cherries). In my world, there was no light and no colour. But, my mother would tell me what colour clothes she was putting on me and she would try to describe them to me. “White is the colour of fresh snow, Tom. It is pure and clean but the slightest bit of dirt on it shows. It is the colour of peace. White for sugar, white for salt and white for grandma’s hair!”
I couldn’t see but I could hear. With no sight to disturb me, everything I heard seemed to follow a rhythm. One night when the first rain of the season fell and the night became alive with the orchestra of cricket chirps, frog croaks, tree rustles, wind howls and pitter patter raindrops which spun out a golden symphony, I knew what I wanted.
My grandmother, my mother’s mother, was a music major. She could play the piano, the violin and the flute. She lived nearby. That day my mother drove me down to her house. I always loved visiting my grandmother and clanging the keys of her piano. But today was special and I couldn’t keep still. My mother and grandmother talked like what felt like half an hour! My mother wondered aloud if I would find it difficult and frustrating being blind and only six learning to play music.
My grandmother said one word “Nonsense!”
The piano, my favourite was the hardest to learn. But grandma would say, “It’s a challenge, Tom…It’s a challenge!”
She was a good teacher, patient and interesting and fun. When we would play music, she would put colour into it. “This song makes me feel yellow and happy” or “This one is green and fresh” or “Oh! Red! Angry!” Or “Hmm blue and relaxed” or “Grey black and white…sad, but hopeful still!”
Soon, my ears became my eyes, and music, my life.
On my seventh birthday, I thought she woudl get me a flute or some thing. But her gift to me was jerry, we actually named him together. And that gift brought us closer than ever.
Two weeks ago, my grandmother died. It is hard to get used to practicing my music without her, even though my mother is here. If my grandma hears this, I know she will say, “It’s a challenge, Tom, it’s a challenge!”
But this one is the hardest yet!
She left me her piano. It is a bitter-sweet feeling to touch those keys which her nimble fingers used to dance on before. Sometimes, when I am playing, I hear her humming softly along. Maybe, she is there in my music. Maybe that’s where she lives now. She made colour come alive in my life. The colour of music. And her magic was such that she did not take that colour with her when she went away..she left it with me to last.
Written on 7 October 2006.
Age 15 years.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Arundhati Foundation is a private, non-profit foundation started by Dr Shubhangi Sanjay Tambwekar and Mr Sanjay Achyut Tambwekar in the memory of their daughter Dr. Arundhati Sanjay Tambwekar who passed away in a gruesome road-traffic accident in Vellore on the morning of the 9th September 2014. Arundhati was on the way to CMC Vellore where she was Post Graduate Registrar pursuing her Diploma in Clinical Pathology. She was riding pillion wearing a helmet. Vellore roads are extremely bad and possibly this is the main factor which took away the life of a brilliant, talented, hard-working girl and a gem of a human being.
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