I will never forget that name or that face. I was 6 years old, in a school I had adjusted to though I had few friends (story of my life!). I do not remember any of the faces of the other students or the teachers. All I remember are the unpainted brick walls, a very interesting maths lesson in the other class and Ramulamma. There she was, inordinately tall in the eyes of a six year old, two plaits neatly folded in half and tied with ribbons adorning her face, her long legs struggling to fit under the desks and benches made for the bodies of small children and a smile. She always smiled, whatever happened. And she was different. My 6 year old self was fascinated by her – someone as tall as my grandmother but a student like me? That piqued my curiosity alright. My attempts to talk to her were short lived as I could not understand her slurred speech. Someone told me a scary story about her and I never attempted to talk to her again! But I never stopped observing her. Someone would come help her with her lunch once in a while, there were days when she wouldn’t show up and she always needed help to walk outside the class room. And she smiled all through. I remember the day the teachers took us out and helped us climb the half-finished steps so we could look at a rainbow. I don’t remember what the rainbow looked like but I remember the glee on Ramulamma’s face. She was elated for some reason I didn’t understand. And I remember the day I was angry at her. It was the last day of school and there was a mic in the school (it was the late 80’s fellas, so it was a thing-a-ding for a small school). Students took turns singing and the whole school would clap for you – neat ain’t it? Well it wasn’t all that neat for me that day. As nobody wanted to go with Ramulamma, the teacher made me go with her and insisted that I sing “Twinkle, Twinkle” as that was the only song she knew. I’d had grand dreams of singing “Sing a song of six pence”, something even the teacher didn’t know about (I know, pride falls and all that). But all those dreams came crashing down as the whole school sniggered after a rendition of the timeless ode to those hot balls of fire in the sky. Though I didn’t tell anybody, I was mad at her. I refused to see the smile on her face that day and went home in tears.
When the school reopened, I had all but reconciled myself, as mom had told me there will be a next time. But I never saw Ramulamma again. She never came back to school. I vaguely remember someone telling me that there were complaints from the parents about such a child being a bad influence and the school had leaned towards the ones who filled its coffers. I never understood why but I felt bad that day and I still do. Ramulamma, it is highly improbable that you will read this, but I am truly sorry. I sure hope you found a better place filled with people who were more humane. Children who were kinder and more compassionate unlike my 6 year old self and not as afraid as I was. And that some of them became your friends. Someone like Cade. The cynic in me mocks at this, but I sincerely hope you beat the odds.
I do not know why I remember this, but I do, more so this month, the month for autism acceptance. I do not know if Ramulamma was autistic – I have absolutely no idea of her diagnosis. But I dedicate this post to her. Because I realise that children who don’t fit the cookie mould are still looked at askance. They are still considered a bad influence on the “normal” children, are rarely looked at as a friend. But I know otherwise – Ramulamma taught me in her own way, unbeknownst to her. People like Ramulamma and Cade make this world a better place to live in – and I hope we not only accept them for who they are but also learn from them. Let us be the change we want to see. (Cliched I know, but I really mean this)