[AI] When grit and determination overcame adversity
rambabu_arb at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 9 10:46:13 EDT 2008
The Hindu: Tamil Nadu/Chennai News:
Online edition of India's National Newspaper Saturday, May 31, 2008
When grit and determination overcame adversity
In just over a year, Kaisar picked up Tamil, learnt Braille and topped the class
A decade ago, Kaisar and her mother Meenabhai were on the streets of Chennai
A volunteer realised Meenabhai was mentally ill and ensured they reached The Banyan
Photo: S. S. Kumar
Kaisar Jahan (right), who scored 392 marks in SSLC examination with her friend Kalpana.
CHENNAI: When a smiling Kaisar Jahan, 16, held in her hands the printout of her SSLC examination marks at around 9-30 a.m. on Friday, it marked the
culmination of a long struggle that began over a decade ago.
She passed the State board Class 10 examination with 392 marks and stood
sixth in her class at the Little Flower Convent.
Overcoming a handicap to score high marks is fairly routine at the Convent – the school is meant for them – but the case of Kaisar, a juvenile
cataract patient, was vastly different. She remembers that she belongs to Benaras, but spent at least a year on the Chennai streets and did not
understand any language expect Hindi when forced into school. In what now seems like a distant past -- more than a decade ago -- Kaisar
and her mother Meenabhai were on the streets of Chennai, living on food sympathetic pedestrians gave them. "We never begged. Whatever people gave
us, we ate," Kaisar recalls.
The life on the streets ended on September 30, 1996, when a conscientious citizen, Porkodi, saw them. Ms. Porkodi, then a volunteer with The Banyan,
a home for mentally ill destitute women, realised that Meenabhai could be mentally ill. Though the mother-daughter duo resisted being forced into a
vehicle, she ensured – with help from the police – that they reached The Banyan.
The initial days at Adaikalam, The Banyan’s shelter in Mogappair, was traumatic, recalls Kaisar. The duo refused to be separated. "After a few
days both madams [Vandana Gopikumar and Vaishnavi Jayakumar, founder trustees] took me to their office and I slowly began feeling comfortable."
Later, when The Banyan suggested that she join school, Kaisar resisted. She eventually gave in under pressure. She was eight and was enrolled in
Class 2 in 1997.
Kaisar struggled to cope and hated school. She spoke Hindi, a language not many in the school understood, and was deeply suspicious of people around.
The Convent offered school education in English and Tamil, not Hindi. "Tamil and Maths, I just could not figure out," Kaiser recalls. "It was
Why did she stay on? Teachers and Sister Gemma, she says. Sister A. Gemma, now a veteran with 37 years of teaching experience, had just begun dealing
with blind children then. She recalls that Kaisar was bright and hence, the school waived all fees.
"Gemma Sister kept on telling me I should not give up. She always was there when I needed her," says Kaisar.
In just over a year, Kaisar picked up Tamil, learnt Braille and topped the class. Till she completed Class 10, she stayed within the first three
ranks. Meanwhile, Sister Gemma rose to head the school and routinely pointed to Kaisar as an example of grit and determination overcoming
Kaisar, who partially got back her sight after a surgery at the Sankara Netralaya, wants to study but thinks her sight may be a problem. No way
she is giving up though, says Vanitha, Director, Adaikalam. "I want to do computers…I want to do it in English," Kaisar says, looking
to the future with hope and anticipation.
For Sr. Gemma, it was the end of a long journey. "I am happy," she says. The head mistress of Little Flower Convent was in her office on Friday,
for one last time. She retired on Friday.
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