“Maa” by Shankar Mahadevan (listen as you read)
On one of my first days at CORD, I noticed a little room called Play Therapy with moms giving physical therapy to their children. The next day, my co-intern Rhea and I learned some basic phrases in Hindi to introduce ourselves to the mothers in the room and ask to sit with them as they go about their therapy. One of the women in the room, Jyoti, stood out because she could speak English fluently and helped Rhea and I communicate with everyone else in the room. I assumed she was a therapist because she was helping all the mothers administer various exercises and stretches, laughing with us, and seemed less stressed than the other mothers handling their children. She told us how her husband was a medical doctor in another town and how she became a college professor after receiving her Master’s in Engineering. These are feats not only uncommon for women in Himachal, but for the general population that I interacted with. I was amazed by her unique passion and drive. However, a little while later, her son woke up and her demeanor completely transformed. She became tense, trying to calm her crying son, tilting him up and down until she finally carried him to quiet him down. This woman who had previously talked so effortlessly about her education and background sacrificed it all to be there for her son with mental retardation.
CORD’s disability program, Community Based Inclusion and Rehabilitation (CBIR), serves as a center for disabled persons to seek therapy and treatment. CORD serves patients with a host of disabilities. In Himachal and the surrounding state of Punjab, there are very few centers that offer comprehensive, continuous therapies for these ailments. Therefore, people travel hundreds of kilometers from various villages to seek CORD’s free services. I had the opportunity to conduct case studies on the spinal injury patients, wheelchair users, and mothers of children with special needs in the field and in the center, with the goal of evaluating the current resources available for disabled persons and recommending improvements to the CBIR team.
Jyoti’s son isn’t the only young child stricken with mental retardation. Around fifteen mothers come to CORD Monday to Saturday, most living independently from their husbands and families, seeking physical therapy, speech therapy, special education, and play therapy for their children with cerebral palsy, mental retardation, or autism. They stay in rented houses in the local town, Sidhbari, typically visiting home only once per month so their child can see their father and grandparents. During the interviews, most mothers expressed their extreme gratitude and appreciation for CORD’s unique services, as other centers do not have the dedicated staff, comprehensive programs, and familial environment that CORD fosters. Most mothers stated that they had ample support from their husbands and in-laws; however, a few stated that their in-laws “looked down upon their disabled child and did not love them as much as they loved their other grandchildren.” Although the commitment of CORD staff plays a major role in boosting confidence, it is the pure love each and every mother feels towards their child that motivates them to sacrifice their personal desires and channel their all into bettering the child. There is something so special about loving something more than you love yourself.