E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: As she ran along the pathway in the Glass House of Lalbagh, Suma was joy personified. Her eyes glistened as she chased the butterflies swirling in the morning sun. Sudhir and Sushila had taken their three-year-old daughter on a picnic before Sudhir, an officer in the merchant navy, would sail again.
That night, though, Suma fell ill. Probably the early-morning breeze, thought Sushila, but her temperature wouldn’t come down. Suma kept rubbing her eyes as she felt itchy.
The following morning they took her to the Agarwal Eye Hospital. Within an hour, the doctors diagnosed it as Retino Blastoma—cancer of the eye. Within minutes, the young couple heard the bad news: they would have to remove Suma’s left eye.
Is this really happening to us, wondered Sushila, as she saw her young daughter’s face swathed in bandage.
The doctors also suggested that if possible Suma should be taken abroad immediately for treatment so that the infection didn’t spread to the other eye. An ophthalmic research institute in Frankfurt was doing pioneering research on preventive aspects of infection. After hectic calls to Sushila’s cousin Vimala in Germany, the family boarded the flight to Frankfurt.
“Just in time,” was the reaction of doctors who made sure the infection wouldn’t spread. But a day prior to their departure to Bombay, tragedy struck again; Suma’s surviving eye became itchy and doctors asked Sudhir and Sushila to sign the papers to remove her right eye. They also removed the optical nerve to save the child’s life.
A gale had hit a small boat sailing in serene waters. In just two weeks, life had turned topsy-turvy for Sudhir and Sushila. The apple of their eye, born normal, had lost her sight in front of their eyes.
The initial years were hellish for Sushila. With Sudhir away for long periods, she had to combat the terrible fate that had befallen them on her own. A bright, chirpy Suma had turned into a lifeless object staring into dark vacant space.
Instead of indulging in self-pity, Sushila decided to face the world with all the courage she could muster. She was determined not to send Suma to a blind school. She got her admitted to a Mahila Seva Samaja. “We will bring up her up as normally as possible,” she would tell Sudhir who marveled at his wife’s fighting spirit.
Suma turned out to be a bright kid; she could grasp lessons quickly. Sushila would read her stories and made her repeat the same. Radio became her friend and later, a trusted ally. She listened avidly to the programmes on BBC for hours and learnt to differentiate the newsreaders through their voice.
It’s a nightmare for blind students taking public exams. Sushila had to go all over the town to get ‘writers’ who would write out the answer papers dictated by her visually challenged daughter. There were times when, with just couple of days to go for an exam, she was still frantically searching for writers.
Suma did her class X and got a first class in her BSc.
When she wanted to study management, Sudhir wanted her to join the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Bombay and stay at his sister’s place. But Suma had secured admission to a school in Surrey, England. “Please spend the money on my studies which you would have otherwise incurred on my marriage,” she pleaded with her tearful parents.
Finally Suma went to England. For someone who had not stepped out of her house without an escort, she changed planes and landed at her college all by herself.
Her roommate was Maria, a West Indian. During weekend breaks, she went to Frankfurt to meet her aunt, alone.
She called BBC and reminisced about their earlier newscasters and mimicked their style of reading news. They were so delighted they called her over to Bush House for tea and asked her to participate in a talk show.
Sudhir, having retired from service, often worried about Suma’s future. In three months their daughter would be back. Then what? How would she find life here after studies are over, he wondered.
One day, when their TV went blank, Suma and Maria called the TV repair service. A bright young man came and found some components had conked out. He brought the parts and repaired the set. The girls thanked him and invited him to have their afternoon tea with them. Next day he came again and serviced their radio set free of charge.
John Beachcom ran a modest business of an electronic repair service in and around Surrey.
The girls once invited him for lunch at the canteen but decided to cook in their room itself. John joined them in cooking and it turned out he was a better cook than the girls!
The girls graduated with first class and celebrated with John joining them.
When John proposed to Suma that evening, she was speechless. Maria, to whom John had earlier confided his liking for Suma, urged her to consider his proposal. Suma wanted John to talk to Sushila and Sudhir and take their approval first.
Suma bade goodbye to Maria, John and England, and returned to Bangalore alone.
The marriage took place in Jayanagar. John’s mother Michelle, his aunt Clara, and Maria came with John sporting a Mysore peta at the brief wedding ceremony.
For sometime Suma worked in a management firm in Surrey with a guide dog, a golden retriever, accompanying her. Now Suma and John have two children, both boys, Shankar and Chris. Sudhir and Sushila visited them and spent some time in their new house. John has expanded his business into computers. The family came to Mysore for a brief visit last year.
As the kids created havoc at the childrens’ corner at Cheluvamba Park, I could see their mother smile through her eyes.