We were promoted to the seventh standard. The biggest gossip in the class was not a new boy or girl but an older student, a senior. Everyone was discussing how Shambhu Lal Swami (name changed) had flunked, although in a hushed manner.
Suddenly the class was full of jokes about him. The boys began to place bets on his academic prowess etc.
One such bet was whether Shambhu could recite the alphabets from A to Z in one go. Quite an arduous task for Shambhu, for he could barely recite the alphabets in sequence. The entire class wondered how he could pass even the first standard without having even the basic understanding of A,B, C...
On the other hand, one could not conclude that the chap was an utter failure or lacked intelligence. He knew how to ride his father’s scooter and was very good with non-academic stuff.
Years later when Aamir Khan made ‘Taare Zameen Par’, I called some of my old friends. Dyslexia! Was Shambhu dyslexic? Many questions plagued my mind. Did he also need help? Layer by layer, the activities of Shambhu (although my memory is not a very sharp repository of the past) started getting clearer and more understandable. The fact that some one from amongst us, whom we laughed at, was probably dyslexic bewildered me.
Could someone really have helped him had they known that he may be suffering from a disability? It was saddening, now that I recollect it all.
At least now it won’t be difficult identifying someone with similar symptoms. The movie has certainly helped us come a long way in understanding those with different needs (case in point: my cognition of knowing something). Who knows how many Shambhu Lal Swamis might have been studying with me in school or college. What one lacked perhaps was identification of such Shambhus which in itself is the first step towards their treatment and acceptance in society.
Lately, the entertainment industry has begun portraying disabilities which were hitherto unknown. All of a sudden, a new trend of exploring such ailments has become a filmi favourite. This is something very rare, peculiar and astounding in an industry that still likes ‘Munni Badnaam Hui’ over any logical song or script.
Karan Johar’s ‘My name is Khan’ was a different venture too. Johar knitted his signature love story over the backdrop of a rather serious issue. The audience comes to know that the protagonist (Shah Rukh Khan) is suffering from Asperser’s Syndrome, a kind of autism disorder that is characterised by difficulty in interacting with people. Many NGOs and social workers hailed the movie, believing that it would spread awareness and sensitivity among those who were otherwise ignorant of such diseases.
Then there was R Balki’s ‘Paa’, in which the theme was progeria- a rare genetic condition in which patients age rapidly. The Progeria Research Foundation in the US too showed keen interest in ‘Paa’. Auro’s progeria highlighted the case of so many other Auros in the country with news channels and newspapers carrying stories on Rajasthan’s Auro, UP’s Auro and so on.
Ikramul Khan and Ali Hussain, hailing from Bihar, came to be known as the state’s Auros. Nitish Kumar was so moved by their heart-rending story that he went on to announce financial aid for the two Bihari Progeric brothers!
Many other directors have been experimenting with similar movies. Be it the Ajay Devgn and Kajol starrer ‘You Me Aur Hum’ (Alzheimer’s) or Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming ‘Ghuzarish’ (Hrithik Roshan plays a quadriplegic person), each movie tries to tell us something about disabilities and deformities, albeit via the medium of entertainment.
What are movies meant for? Are they just for entertainment, education or both? Sometimes entertainment can give you a lifetime of lessons. Introspection becomes easier and cognitive interpretations of things around you begin having a newer, deeper meaning.
For me the process of learning has acquired a new definition and I must thank Bollywood for that.