Battling Blows And Wounded Memories
The blows of life hit you the hardest when you are at your weakest. The tough ones are those who manage to survive those blows and remain standing. Heroes are sometimes made not by individual acts of bravery but by the mere act of surviving. And that's what Albert is, a survivor.
Albert is a little man about three feet tall. He moves around with the help of crutches and has a four-wheeled scooter to get him to and back from work. His income comes from teaching candle making to the students at C H Muhammed Koya Memorial State Institute for the Mentally Retarded, a job for which he gets paid Rs. 300 everyday. An average job with an average salary, but it is not the present, but rather the past, which makes Albert a survivor and a hero.
Albert was one among the ten children of a fisher couple. Of the ten only six - three girls and three boys – managed to survive. The three sisters are married and live with their families. Among the boys only one was born without a physical disability. Albert has a brother who is blind and cannot walk, and is being looked after by his parents. Albert lives with his wife and two children in a rented shack at Poonthura.
“I was born without any defects. Relatives tell me that I used to be a very healthy child. But then, my bones began to grow weak and impeded my movements. My parents did all they could for me; they spent virtually everything they had earned for my treatment.”
The 'everything' that the poor fishing couple could put together for their son's sake amounted to a 'specialised' treatment with a doctor.
“I had my entire body, from the neck down till my ankles, plastered, with openings to attend nature's calls. I had to stay that way for three months, without moving an inch. I made it up to one month, and then I couldn’t tolerate it anymore and started to scream. Eventually I was taken off the treatment.”
The next attempt was with a 'vaidyar', who promised Albert's parents that he would make him walk in three months.
“I was made to lie down in a 'pala' filled with oil. He did various kinds of massages and things of that sort,” recollects Albert.
The 'vaidyar' kept his promise and Albert did walk on the said day. It wasn't a smooth, normal walk as difficulties still persisted, but Albert was on his two legs; but not for long...
“I used to go roaming around with my friends. We used cycles and I always rode on the carrier seat. One day, the cycle I was riding on lost its balance and fell. It was just a small fall, but I fell on my back and was left paralyzed below my waist.”
It was again back to the 'vaidyar'. This time he didn't made any promises or assurances. However, he did manage to bring life back to Albert's legs, although only a bit. Albert could feel his legs, even put some weight on them; but he couldn't walk, or even stand on his own any more.
“I used to get around by crawling. My parents were poor and they had almost given up all hope for me by now. But then I was adopted by some nuns and they looked after me since then and taught me how to make candles.”
It was the nuns who recommended him to the institute to teach the children how to make candles. Joining the institute brought in a ray of hope for the first time in Albert's life.
“When they saw my condition, I was given training to improve the strength of my muscles. I was asked to walk balancing on two bars and do a lot other things. When I did make some progress, I was given crutches to help me move around.”
After a few years of staying and teaching at the institute, Albert was found a soul mate by the same nuns who had taken care of him.
“She was an orphan who can't talk or hear as well. But still she was special and I liked her.”
Getting married meant that Albert couldn't stay at the institute hostel anymore. A home, more of a shack, was rented in his native Poonthura, where the couple has been living ever since. For commuting the forty odd kilometres to his job, Albert bought a scooter, with two extra wheels on the side. His daily commute costs him Rs.100 out of the three hundred he earns.
Albert is now 38, married for five years and the father of two children - a four year old daughter and an eighteen month old son. And the blows of life continue to land hard on him.
“It was my son. He had barely started to walk when one day he just collapsed on the floor. I took him to the hospital where has was kept under observation for days. During those long days and nights I learnt how much my parents had to go through with their children. The doctors prescribed medicines and said that my son would be fine, but he is yet to get back on his two legs.”
A few months ago, Albert had met with another accident; he was walking by the road outside Technopark when an out of control motor bike hit him.
“My leg was broken and I had to spend a few days at the hospital and some time off from work. The costs went a bit too high and we had to move from the rented home to that of my sister.”
Right now, the sister and her family, Albert's family, their mother and their handicapped brother, all live in the same home, sleeping on the floor, barely a foot away from each other. To have a home of his own had always been, like it is with anyone, Albert's dream. Just one cent of land and an amount of one lakh rupees is all he wants.
“There was this person I met in church, who was ready to pay for the land. I tried my best to get someone to spare me one cent of land for a price. But no one was ready. The person who had offered the support had to return back to the Gulf.”
However, that does not mean that Albert is devoid of help, the offer still stands valid and a few others have agreed to add their bits to it as well. But the one cent of land that Albert yearns so much for, still eludes him.
“After a day of work and all the travel, all I want is to lie down and close my eyes for a while in solitude and I need a home of my own to do that.”
Albert nurtures one other wish as well, which sounds more as a pledge.
“I will give the best education possible to my children. I had to stop my learning after fifth standard due to my health issues and I know firsthand how much being educated can help a person get further in life. I want my children to have a better life than me.”
Albert has seen a lot and survived them all and so the obstacles in his way no longer worry him; in fact they barely bother him. All they evoke is contemplation on how to get over them. When the going gets tough, only the tough get going and by reaching this far, Albert has proved beyond doubt how much of a 'man of steel' he is and why he truly deserves to be tagged as a hero.
Albert is Yentha's Unsung Hero of the Week!
By Mukesh Venu