Saturday, August 12, 2017

I Can Flyy

If I can see it, then I can do it
If I just believe it, there's nothing to it
I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky!
By Esha Meher

It's a Monday afternoon, and the humidity in the air makes me want to crib perpetually. I dig into my bag for my notebook, finding an old scrunchie that I use without thinking to tie my hair back. The air smells of the sultry moisture, of rain that is tempting us but isn't coming down in torrents. After battling terrible traffic and a slight headache, I step out of my ride, cursing my luck. Except, in a few minutes, I’m about to have the best day of my life. With that, I make my way into this pretty blue building, called I Can Flyy, or ICF, as we like to call it.  ICF works with a range of children who face a spectrum of diagnoses with respect to alignments.

Today, I'm scheduled to converse with a few of these young adults, on the eve of the launch of a café, slated to be run by them. I often get asked, as to what is so special about the kids of ICF. Special? Did I say? Well, yes, in the mainstream language, these children are special, differently-abled or a hundred different medical terms that are thrown in the air - a melange of letters that rigidly sit into labels. But those rigid labels fly in the air, as they meander into a rhythm: one where the lyric is dictated by one child, to be echoed by the other. Unplanned, magical and charming.

I enter the pink room and sit down on the wooden floor, slightly nervous. Armed with an awkward smile, my notebook and the questions I have in tow, I look up at the beaming faces: fifteen of them sit looking up at me, smiles locked in their faces.

I had questions. They had answers: monosyllablic ones, ones that imitated what the first person said, simple smiles, and lots of unspoken words through their eyes.

"What do you do when you go back home?" I ask. "Kapde badalte hain, khaate hain, aur sote hain!" they chimed, each in turn, telling me in Hindi that they change, eat and sleep. Except for little Khushboo. Her bright eyes and her musical voice have a lyrical verse to offer. "Kapde badalte hain, khaate hain, aur sote hain, phir padosi ke ghar jaate hain!" She said the same thing, except adding that she visits her neighbour. I'm amused. She visits her neighbour's house? I look around me, to see just as many puzzled faces. "Kyun?" I ask her. Why? "Kyunki padosi ke ghar mein babu hai, na?" Turns out, that her neighbour has a baby. In that precious moment, I learned that we are coded to give love.

From another corner, I see Shreya. A feisty young woman who can't grip anything - so writing, painting or using her hands comes with a challenge. I ask Shreya who her friend is. She smiles at me, a beautiful, benevolent charm settling on her face. From the corner of my eyes, I see Vidushi, sitting next to Shreya, looking at Shreya and pointing at herself. In that precious moment, I learned that we mustn't be inhibited to ask for love.

I ask them then, what they like to do after school. The first answer I get from a young lad is "Dance achcha lagta hai!" And as if it was a domino I had knocked that pushed into the remaining in line, I hear the same words echoing - all until one young man tells me that he hates math. In that precious moment, I learned that love can be shared.

Every student can learn, just not on the same day or the same way.

Irina sits in a corner, sulking. I am told, she doesn’t respond to questions unless she is an extremely happy frame of mind. This day, wasn’t one of them. “Irina, ki bhalo lage tor?” (Irina, what do you like?) I ask her in Bengali. She looks down, focusing on the invisible patterns on the tiled floor. I shoot a second, asking if she liked movies. And there, she was. With a slight smile on her face, she looked up for a fraction of a second and almost whispered, “Shahrukh Khan bhalo lage,” before going back to her scrutiny of the floor. I learnt, love and happiness comes in various faces and forms, we don’t necessarily have to be acquainted to one, to love one.

Saloni sits quietly, watching all of this. Medically, they say that she can't differentiate between emotions. If you say Vidushi, she'd say Vidushi was her best friend. If you name Khushboo to her, she'd say Khushboo was her best friend. If you showed her Shreya, she'd say Shreya was her best friend. Saloni smiles gently at me, and we hold the gaze. In that precious moment, I learned that love is an unspoken bond and no medical scale can measure matters of the heart.

They say, happiness is often found in the most unexpected of places. And today, I found it, in the unassuming and oblivious faces of the kids who sat before me. Nothing in this world ailed them. They hadn’t read books or appreciated critiques of pieces, but they understood and toyed with something we often dread to touch ------ unconditional love.

My stint at ICF had been a decision on a whim. Little did I know, that the lessons I’d take back from these individuals would be the ones beyond the walls of transcription and mechanical understanding of what they were saying. It’s an emotion and a feeling, which made me outlive my initial plan of working there for just 30 days. For an hour at ICF taught me compassion, empathy, love, warmth and acceptance, it was this hour that transcended time, place, routines and timelines. 30 or 300, as they say, certain moments outlive years of living. And we live in quest of only these.

About I Can Flyy:
I Can Flyy is a vocational training institute for Special Needs Individuals situated in the city of Joy- Kolkata. The individuals therein are trained in Life Skills, Data Entry, Art and Craft and Bakery Preparations and Packaging. The vision of this institute was to empower these special needs young adults with independence and a sense of self worth, both in terms of finances and skills. An immediate product of this vocational training was seen through the conception of Café I Can Flyy, which is a sheltered workplace utilising the training the young adults received at the institute.
Address: 4B Valmikee Street, Kolkata 700026. (Near Maddox Square)
Contact: 08017067567