Month: March 2005

Dressed to thrill

Dressed to thrill

Over the past few weeks we have been writing about events and episodes related to special and disabled children in Thane. The screening of the movie Black, the Triumph Foundation sports day for special children, the handicrafts of students of St. John the Baptist School for special children. Sunday, March 20, 2005 was World Disabled Day and today is the concluding day of what is observed as the world disabled week. And quite appropriately, our city once again turned its attention towards this section of our society. On the evening of March 20, the Jidd School garden was packed with over 100 special kids from four special schools of Thane: St. John the Baptist special school, Holy Cross special school, Jidd School and Sri Ma Snehadeep. Also present were parents of these kids, teachers of the school and dignitaries. The chief guest of the evening was Deputy Collector (special land acquisition officer) Sushma Satpute and the guest of honour was actress Reema Lagu. The Mayor of Thane, who is known to support initiatives for special children also attended.
 
The occasion was an inter-school fancy dress competition organised by the Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills. The competition was open only to mentally challenged kids. The participants were divided into four age groups: below 8, 9-12, 13-18 and Over 18. Although the elimination rounds had already been conducted in the respective schools, there were many requests for spot registrations and organisers obliged by holding elimination rounds then and there, and selecting the top three winners from each age group. In the final round, the participants awed the audiences and special guests with their performances. Reema Lagu, who had never seen so many special children at one place at one time, performing on stage, was so touched that she said, "Now I feel like I must do something for special children at least three to four times a year." The performance of the participants astonished even parents, who confessed that they never thought their kids could perform so well on stage.
 
In the under eight category, Ankita Pawar from St John won the first prize for dressing up as the TV character Sonpari while a Jidd school student Manish Murdeshwar, who is confined to a wheelchair won the second prize for becoming a popcorn boy. In the 9-12 years category, becoming Lord Ganpaty got Rasika Bhosle from Jidd the first prize, while Maithili Thanekar’s portrayal as Jhansi ki Rani got her the second prize. In the 13-18 years category, Vikram Desai from Jidd school acted like Salman Khan and stole the hearts of the judges and won the first prize. Pratik Gulrajani from Holy Cross became Mahatma Gandhi’s and came second. In the 18 and above category, Tanuja Tirodkar from SJBHS became Jassi. When she came on stage, her books fell from her hand and the audience, who thought it was for real, was enthralled on figuring out that she was simply acting like Jassi. Sri Ma Snehadeep’s Avinash Shinde got the second prize for becoming a panwala.
 
Cash prizes for winners, gifts for all participants and food packets were distributed at the venue. There were also dance performances from students of all the four schools. The children were thoroughly enjoyed the evening and the Jidd school garden resonated with sounds of laughter, screams and many more sounds of happiness. Faces lit up, and dressed to thrill, these kids looked like a bundle of joy that left one with a feeling that cannot be described in mere words.  

Special skills

Special skills

Since the last three weeks or so, about 30 pair of hands are keeping rather busy, making various things that will be put up for sale at the upcoming Funfair. Rug Mats, various spices, chutney masala, jeera powder, embroidered handkerchiefs, pot paintings, candles, garlands, paper bags, pre-cut vegetables and several other items feature in the list of things that are being produced by these hands. There’s nothing groovy about producing these items, you may think, until you learn that these hands belong to students of the St. John the Baptist school for children in need of special care.

These young boys and girls, aged between 18 and 25, are either autistic or mentally challenged and have little chances of finding employment. So they learn soft skills at the pre-vocational training course that the St John special school offers. At the school, they are engaged in creating things throughout the year. To ensure viability, the school helps them make things as per the demand of the season. For instance, they make til sweets during sankrant, candles around Christmas time, and kandeels and diyas around Diwali. They also make rakhees for Raksha Bandhan, friendship bands for friendship day and many such articles at different period of the year depending on its demand. The staff members of the special school are their sales representatives, who network with the teachers and students of their parent school and junior college to sell these items. Many teachers regularly order pre-cut vegetables from these children. The money earned from selling the produce is distributed among the students. "The children, who are paid a salary for their work, feel terrific when they receive their pay. It makes them feel worthy," says Marry Ann Scott, the head of the special school section of SJBHS, a woman totally dedicated to the cause of special children.
 
The St John special school, the first ever school for special children in the city, was established in November 1978, as part of SJBHS. More than 25 years later, the school now has over 100 students on roll and the staffs consist of six trained teachers, four craft teachers and one social worker, managing six classes and a pre-vocational group. The principal of SJBHS Rev. Fr. John Lopes and school manager Rev. Fr. John Rumao take an active interest in the running of the special school. In fact, the funfair mentioned above is being organised in aid of the night school (remedial school) for the intellectually poor and a special vocational school for the differently-abled that school plans to start soon.

The funfair is part of the centenary celebrations of St John the Baptist High School, and will be held on April 08, 09, and 10 between 6.30 and 10.30 pm. Like other centenary programmes, this one will also be inaugurated by an well-known ex-student of the 100-year school. The funfair will feature will amusement parks, contests, stage shows, music, DJ nights and stalls for food, games and other merchandise. Any guesses, which will be the most special stall at the funfair?

Not all Black

Not all Black

A few days ago, the principal of Jidd School for special children, Shyamashree Bhonsle, called this writer to relate her experience of watching the movie Black. So moved was she by the film’s depiction of a deaf-blind girl and her struggles that she fell short of words when praising the film. She said that as the principal and teacher of a school for special children, she found the movie particularly relevant. She also said that if she ever got an opportunity, she would strongly recommend the movie to parents of every physically or mentally challenged child because the film has many lessons for them. This discussion became the impetus of the free special screening of the movie at Cinewonder last Saturday.

Aastha Charitable Trust, Inner wheel club of Thane Hills and a few socially conscious residents got together and approached the management of Cinewonder Multiplex at Godbunder road requesting them to make available one of the enclosures for a free screening of the film. Cinewonder graciously agreed and last Saturday, about 250 parents of children suffering from mental or physical disabilities, and their teachers attended the special screening.

The film, which has beautifully portrayed the life of someone who lives in the world of silence and darkness, stirred most viewers into tears. Almost all parents who attended the screening felt that their, and the lives of their children, was reflected in the movie and admitted that the film touched a chord in their hearts. Many said that they were so caught up coping with the present that they had not considered many issues which may arise in time, which the film aptly illustrated. Some confessed at being harsh at times with their special children and vowed to be more considerate from now on. Judging by the reactions of viewers, Bhonsle’s objective was more than met.

Prior to the show was a small function, where Mayor Rajan Vichare presided as the chief guest. Also present at the show were N U Nayak, General Manager at the Helen Keller Institution for Deaf and Deaf Blind at New Mumbai and a few students including Zameer, the young man who was among those who taught Rani Mukherjee and Amitabh Bachchan the nuances of communicating using the sign language. When Vichare asked Zameer what his contribution to the film Black was, the latter, being deaf and blind, replied in sign language (translated by a teacher), "I taught Rani to speak in sign language. I taught her to type on a Braille typewriter. I also taught her to use the white cane that blind persons use."

Thanks to the show, our city might soon get a school for blind and deaf-blind because mayor Vichare, noting that our city lacked such a school, announced that he will set one up, with the help of the teachers and other residents. Hiral Kanakia from Cinewonder too pledged her support for any cause relating to the special children. The special screening was thus special in more way than one.

The Women Tribe

The Women Tribe

On March 07, about 40 tribal women from Yeoor and their children thoroughly enjoyed their evening playing games and having fun. They were participating in the programme specially organised for them by city-based NGO Sevadham on the eve of International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrated on March 08. The special guest of the evening was Suhasini Joshi, the famous film and TV actress who lives in Thane. Joshi was an apt choice for the programme celebrating women’s day because she is easily one of the more recognisable women achievers from the city. So much so that even the tribal women and their children instantly recognised "that famous face" they have seen on TV so many times, and were rather excited to have her among them.

Most tribal women are uneducated and would hardly understand the significance of women’s day. The fact that they played games with each other was also a rare phenomenon, because the tribal women normally do not mix with each other socially. The idea behind the programme was to bring together these tribal women and help them understand their role in their community. Sensing that this happy interaction between the women might not last after the programme, Joshi said, "You look so happy today. So why stop at this one day? Even after we leave, you must come together once in a while and organise such programmes." She asked the women how many were educated among them and told those who raised their hands to spread the knowledge by teaching others in their community.

The tribal women didn’t just play – they played to win. Prizes were given away to the top three winners in every game played. Besides, Sevadham’s partner in this effort, the Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills, distributed useful items to the women and children. Bananas, Chikoos, Biscuits, Blouse pieces, and notebooks for children were among the things provided.

Savitri, one of the rare among the tribal women because of her education, came forward to thank the organisers on behalf of the entire community. She said in her tribal dialect, "We are obliged to have your patronage and support, year after year and we sincerely thank you for the same." The response of the tribeswomen to the programme shows that IWD’s ultimate objective of promoting equality and empowering women will be achieved only when women from the secluded communities begin to understand their role in the society – not by paying mere lip-service to women’s rights at seminar and functions.

A Dance Dessert
On Sunday morning, at 10 am, 300 people sat enthralled at Vasantrao Naik Hall as the trio of Mother, son and daughter-in-law, all accomplished performers, got together with a few other experts and presented an unforgettable show. The occasion was the annual day show of the Brahaman Vidyalaya branch of the reputed Shree Ganesh Nritya Kala Mandir.

First, sixty students of Kathak, aged four to thirty, presented their shows on the different aspects of Kathak. Then came the power packed performance of Manali Deo, who is the chief coordinator of the academy’s Thane branch. Manali was supported by her husband Pandit Mukund Raj Deo on tabla, and her mom-in-law and guru, Manjiri Deo who accompanied her on padhant. Vocals were by Padmakar Despande, while Atul Phadke played the harmonium. Those present described Manali’s performance as breathtaking. With Shivratri around the corner, she started with Shiv Vandana, a devotional song, in honour of Lord Shiva. Later she performed pure Katkak, which, in the dance parlance, is known as "taal-teel-taal". She concluded her performance with a thumri, a special dance form that conveys various emotions uses expressions and gestures.

For Kathak lovers, the performance of the students followed by their teacher’s show was like a full course royal meal, which ended with a scrumptious dessert. But then Sunday meals are never ordinary affairs.

Winning in the race of life

Winning in the race of life

On Sunday morning, 210 special children, from 15 schools in and around Thane, showed why they are called special. In spite of being disadvantaged in one form or the other, these children participated in a fifth annual "Triumph Run", a race event that was held at the Arya Kriya Mandal Playground near Police Commissioner’s Office. Triumph Run is an annual affair organised by the Triumph Foundation, a social service group committed to the cause of children with physical and/or mental disabilities, founded by Rotary Club of Thane Hills.

The Chief Guest at the prize distribution ceremony was Rajan Vichare, Mayor of Thane. Among those who attended the event were local corporators, principals and teachers of the participating schools and parents of the children. The event began at 9 am and went on till about 1.30 pm. To ensure that participants do not feel drained out, the organisers had made arrangements for breakfast and lunch.

Based on the intensity of their mental and physical handicaps, the participants were categorised as into 13 different categories. So there were different races for the visually impaired, hearing impaired, Ortho (on wheels), spastics without crutches and many others. There were children participating in a race with callipers and wheelchairs and running a distance of 50, 100 to 200 metres. To take care of any eventuality, there were doctors present on site. That’s not all, for there were races organised for parents and teachers too. Our new mayor, who is rather soft-spoken, congratulated the organisers for their noble efforts in creating awareness about the special needs of the special children. "You’re doing a fantastic job. In fact you’ve hardly left anything for us to do. Keep it up and do let me know if I can be of any help," he told the Triumph members after the prize distribution.

When special children perform sporting feats, they not only overcome specific physical and mental handicaps they suffer from but also transcend the psychological barriers. Regardless of the actual winners, who received cash prizes at the hands of the mayor, every participant was a winner. And so was the every teacher, ad every parent. Only, they won in a different race – the race of life.

A Therapeutic Event

A Therapeutic Event

Like happiness, sanity is a state of mind. What else explains the phenomenon of people labelled as insane acting perfectly sane at times? Last week, when the inmates of Thane Mental Hospital (TMH) performed on stage at the annual celebrations of the institution, their performances were so good that it was difficult to believe they were under treatment for any sort of mental illness.

On February 23, 2005, at 7 pm, the inmates of TMH stunned the audience, including the chief guest Sharada Raut, by performing like pros. The programme started with Omkar Swaroopa (welcome number) performed by three inmates and was followed by dance numbers presented by the inmates and staff members. Mentally challenged students from a Mulund School, who had been invited to participate, sang Adnan Sani’s Lift Kara De, while an inmate from TMH called Anand left the spectators in awe with this voice. He displayed tremendous stage confidence which was evident when he resumed singing the popular Hindi number "Jadu Teri Nazar", after being interrupted by power failure. Although the sudden, unexpected break did not faze him, it did leave the audience wondering. Later, several people unofficially declared him the "star of the evening".

While the audience gasped in surprise at the performances, one peek behind the scenes, and we realise that the programme and the performances were the result of extensive hard work involving hospital and the 1500-odd inmates. "The task was not an easy one but the inmates were enthusiastic and cooperative and therefore we could manage it well," said Dr Sheetal Kasat from TMH.

The next day, on 24 February, TMH organised a prize distribution ceremony for winners of the two-week-long sports event that took place in the previous month. This time the chief guest was Mayor Rajan Vichare. Film personality Ajinkya Ramesh Deo was the guest of honour. Other guests included film artist Junior Mehmood and Dr Subhas Chandra Jain, Deputy Director of Health at TMC Thane. The programme once again began with a welcome song, which was followed by a dance performance by the inmates. The guests were then taken around and shown craft items, sketches, paintings, greeting cards and other items created made by the inmates. So impressed was Ajinkya Deo with the performances and creativity aptitude of the inmates that he called them his "heroes". Both he and Junior Mehmood were moved by the respect, admiration and love that the inmates showered on them.

During the prize-distribution ceremony, when a bouquet made by inmates was presented to him, the mayor was visibly touched. He said, "As a mayor, this is my first public appearance for an event of this kind, and I will never forget these moments. TMH can always expect my support in their initiatives".

40 winners from different wards were given away prizes. 10 performers from the previous day’s cultural programme were also felicitated. 10 inmates were special recognised for the active assistance they offer to OT section and wards of TMH during their stay there. According to a hospital staff, the annual function and other programmes that TMH organises, including Ganesh Chathurti, Navratri and, Christmas celebrations, have been noticed and appreciated by the Human Rights Commission of India.

The 104-year old TMH has been celebrating the annual day for more than two decades now, a part of its therapeutic initiative, where the inmates are treated like normal people. And judging by the performances, the therapy seems effective.