Anita Taheer spoke to a disabled girl who is not bitter about it. Eighteen–year–old Rashmi is a shy girl. She’s plump and wears glasses. She has a problem with her eyes – she looks in one direction, talks in another.
“I’m used to the unwarranted attention I get”, she says, even before I can find a decent way to ask her. She has a soft voice, without a trace of bitterness. I struggle to focus on her face and make eye contact. I’m not sure of having succeeded, but we do eventually connect at some level.
“I don’t like the way my mum fusses over me”, says Rashmi. “She reminds me that I’m the odd one out. Even boys at school don’t make me feel like a twerp. I have a couple of friends there and we hang out during the break”.
About her father, Rashmi says: “Dad’s fine, but mum gets to him sometimes. Then, he too behaves like I’m some kind of freak or someone from Mars who’s suddenly popped into the bedroom. At such times, I feel like running away, but I’m scared. I just go to the bathroom and cry!”
I feel sorry for Rashmi and manage to conceal it as much as I can. She’s smart, bright and incredibly well read. Besides, she has a knack for detecting pity a mile away.
“The only people I hate are the neighbors”, she reveals. “If they really cared, they’d not whisper ‘Poor child’ so loudly every time I walk past them. These aunties only need somebody to tut–tut about all the time. They don’t realize that I’m still around and can hear them”.
Rashmi, however, is happy planning her future. “I hope I’ll be a doctor some day. I have been working hard to clear the CPMT exams. I know I’ll be a good doctor. All my friends are trying to clear the entrance exams too”.
I steer the conversation towards boyfriends and marriage. Rashmi is clearly not interested. She’s content with her “Single” status for now. “My parents are so worried about my marriage that I don’t even think about it for a second. Any way, my priority is to become a doctor first”.
If there’s something going on in her mind, I’m not privy to it. If she’s deeply hurt about the way she’s been made, she conceals it very well.
I marvel at her strength and admire her ability to create space for herself. In a world deluged by “Picture–perfect, chiseled beauties”, she endeavors to set her own standards and live by them.
I ask Rashmi if she thinks she’s different. She looks up and says: “Yeah, I’m different. I don’t judge people by the way they look”. I know that even as she says this, she’s looking me in the eye.
I’d love to bump into Rashmi 10 years from now. At 28 she’ll have seen more of the world. I wonder if she’ll change. Or, change the world herself.