Another birthday for Raju. He completes 35 years today. My brave little soldier battles on.
So, what do I get him for his big day? Another blanket? Bedsheets? Sweaters? Pyjamas? These are the usual purchases at this time of the year.
But this year I have another idea. We are going to get him shoes. Which means he has to be taken out in the car to the nearest shoe shop, the car will probably have to be parked on the roadside closest to the store, and then I will go in, scout around for the most appropriate pair of shoes and bring it out of the shop for him to try on.
Or, if no parking is available on the roadside, another way of doing it would be to park in the parking lot, take him in his wheelchair to the store and get him to try on a pair.
A lot of planning is involved and it is clearly a major event because the last time he got a new pair of shoes was more than thirty years ago. Jokes apart, I ain't kidding. Thirty years, if I remember correctly.
What's that you say? Wretched mother, how does she bring up her child? does she keep him nanga-pair? Barefoot? Aw, poor baby!
Raju does not walk. He has never walked, and once we realized this we did not buy him shoes. Only socks. Socks of all shades and types. Thin ones or thick ones, depending on the weather. Raju remains in bed, he has no need for shoes.
When he was three I did buy him his last pair of shoes -- mustard sneakers with laces. He wore them for sometime whenever we took him out in his pram. And then he grew too big for the pram and his foot grew too big for the shoes, so I put them away along with his outgrown clothes in one corner of the cupboard. Every year, with the change of seasons, they would be aired and placed right back.
Anyway, the long and short of the story is that he did not seem to need another pair of shoes so we never got him one. And of course, he did not ask. He could not.
But, over the last year or so, there is (ahem!) a change in his lifestyle. Since I got him his new buggy (the wheelchair) Raju has been periodically taken out of his bed for a bit of fresh air. And Shashikant, his new attendant, has been given specific instructions to walk him up and down the driveway at least an hour in the morning and evening.
The driveway is uneven, with jagged bricks and broken concrete. the wheelchair trundles along noisily, jumping and jolting. Raju seems to like it and invariably goes off to sleep as he is being walked.
The wheelchair has footrests but sometimes Raju slumps in his seat, his feet dangle uncontrolled and drag against the cobbled path. So the socks rub against the ground and wear out, the toenails become rough and jagged. From time to time Raju's feet have to be picked up and placed back on the footrest.
So, it was evident that Raju needs a new pair of shoes! Wow, such excitement! Such planning!
A plan of action is needed. A time has to be fixed. The rush hour will have to be avoided. Three in the afternoon should be a good bet. Although it is festival time, the afternoons are still not too bad and one can drive into the market, find a parking and attend to the usual shopping chores without going crazy. As the day wears on, the crowds increase and so does the insanity on the roads. That is when all the wise guys stay home.
3PM is not too bad. Raju is made to wear another layer of clothes lest he should catch a chill. He is then placed on the wheelchair to be transferred into the rear seat of the car. But he refuses to get off the chair. He does not want to be put in the car. Krishna, his nurse, coaxes and cajoles. finally she succeeds in getting him inside the car. The wheelchair is placed in the boot, Krish props him up with pillows, sits next to him, then I drive out. Slowly on the beds and curves, so that Raju does not get agitated.
Sector 15 market is our destination. The parking lot has some vacant spots and I park the car, bring out the wheel chair for Raju, but he does not wish to come out of the car now. Evidently, he has enjoyed the ride.
Krish and I try and coax him but to no avail. finally we use a bit of force and manage to get him in the wheelchair and we trundle down towards Bata. We come to a halt on the pavement outside the shop, I go in and pick out a pair. The salesman follows me out and stands watching. Evidently he is not used to a customer like Raju.
And Raju is not used to wearing a shoe, so as soon as we put the shoe on his foot, he shakes his foot vigorously and throws it off. We put the shoe right back on his foot but he takes it off again. This happens several times. By the end of it I am wiping the sweat of my brow with my sari pallu and Krish is holding on to a painful back, with all the bending forward and back picking up the flung shoes. All the while Raju has a playful smile on his face. There is by now a crowd of inquisitive passersby who have gathered to see the show.
Finally, we have decided on a pair of soft moccasins and we turn back towards the car.
But now Raju does not wish to get back into the car. He struggles to remain in his wheelchair and we struggle to put him in the car.
Finally we succeed and drive home.
Once in our driveway, the wheelchair is brought out of the boot again but now Raju does not wish to get out of the car. Krish tries but he pushes her hand away everytime. In fact he seems to pull her in, moves further inside the car, shifting as though to make place for her.
Raju does not talk but he has his own way of communicating what he wants to Krishna.
We leave him in the car for a while. A bit later perhaps he will agree to come out of the vehicle.
Today, on his birthday, he is wearing his new pair of shoes and a new sweater. He does not kick of his shoes, He seems to be happy with his new sweater.
We walk him up and down the drive, click photographs of him, and fuss over him.
There is no cake. He cannot eat it. There is no party but he does not complain.
I spend a few quiet hours by his bedside. Ensure that there are fresh flowers by his side. Perhaps he will get the fragrance of the tube-roses and the chrysanthemums. But perhaps he won't.
He does not complain. He does not make any demands.
Achha ladka hai!