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Last Updated Thursday January 24 2019 06:53 AM IST

Book Review: Precious Souls

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Precious Souls

Precious Souls is a moving account of the life stories of children with special needs. It is penned by seasoned defense journalist Dr. Anantha Krishnan M., who is based in Bengaluru. The Kerala-born Dr. Krishnan is also the founder of Inspired Indian Foundation (IIF), a fraternity of media people whose motto is 'If India has to change, we must change first.' IIF's first project, back in 2009, was a biography of wheelchair athlete Malathi. K. Holla titled 'A Different Spirit.' Dr. Krishnan is also the brain behind Billion Beats, an e-paper, which was launched by former President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. The late visionary also wrote the foreword to the present book.

Precious Souls was originally a weekly column anchored by the author for his former employer The New Indian Express. He was largely aided in this noble venture by visits to the Spastics Society of Karnataka (SSK). The book is published by Partridge India and has 150 pages. Part of proceeds from its sale goes to IIF.

The children featured in this book are differently abled. However, they are also amazing individuals, all of whom have very supportive families. Many are exceptionally talented, an indication of which is given by chapter headings like 'Musical Miracle', 'Mighty Strokes' and 'Sporty Spirit'.

Children with special needs require sensitive handling by those around them. Also there is need for better coordination among parents who have special children, as one of the parents, a businessman, tells the author. The book has evolved from visits to the homes and schools of the children and patiently undertaken personal interviews. Many of the children are on special diet, often necessitated by their bodies' receptivity to certain foods. Invariably other members of their families also stick to diets, which are in line with these children. The first and foremost need in family members is to accept reality, a process which could take different time period in different families.

Career and professional advancement are not beyond the reach of special children as several stories prove. A 34-year-old girl, for instance, works for a top software firm in Bengaluru as a library assistant while passionately following music and painting on the side. She had done a certificate course in computers apart from intensive training in library management. A 15-year-old boy, who suffers from pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), a type of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that slows down the ability to perceive things, works wonders on the keyboard playing both Eastern and Western notes! His mother who gave up a promising fashion design career to support him calls it God's rare gift to him.

One of the stories is about a child whose illness was compounded at young age by a wrong diagnosis and medication. What is even more worrying is that the exact cause of it, referred as delayed development, is yet to be ascertained even though she is 12. Her father separated from her mother five years ago. However her brother, an engineering student is very supportive of her.

Obviously special children have limitations in traveling far for studies or work purposes and settle for vocations closer home. It is no different for the twin daughters of an air force officer who are multi-talented, but suffers from mild mental retardation. General public transport travel is not for them either. But what needs to be applauded is the effort taken by their families to give them a life free of wants and oodles of the greatest medicine that has not failed to heal yet, unconditional love.

The book in a way celebrates this love. And that is the biggest take away from it for the reader. To quote the words of a mother, 'you will have to think for two people all the time if you have a special child.' On the course of reading this book, we are also introduced to wonderful institutions like NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences), LSDSS (Lysosomal Storage Disorders Support Society), Asha School, Baldwin Opportunity School, Sophia Opportunity School, etc. Mention is made in one of the stories about the Aamir Khan movie Taare Zameen Par. It is the favorite of a special boy who identified himself with the dyslexic character in it played by Darsheel Safary. He excelled himself in music and composes tunes, which he proudly played for the benefit of Dr Krishnan. These are the kind of stories that will linger in the readers' minds for long.

The grandchild of a superstar cricketer of yesteryear had difficulty flying. His folks had to sedate him to take him in a flight from Hong Kong to India. This particular child's ability to focus, which was lacking earlier, changed after he took swimming lessons. The grandfather's opinion that media has an important role to play in spreading awareness about special children and also to dispel misconceptions surrounding their health issues is a telling vindication of the book itself.

Photojournalist Jithendra has penned a chapter reliving his experience of working for the book project. One of his subjects, a 24-year-old suffering from a rare brittle bone disease, surprised him by asking him to pose with her. He is also praise for Dr. Anantha Krishnan's ability to ask the right questions and elicit answers without offending the sentiments of the parents of the children. The book's blurb features a spontaneous photograph taken by the author while on a visit to the Indian Naval Academy in Ezhimala. It is of a student of Sneha Nilaya Special School in Kochi saluting a naval official. This rare gem of a picture that became viral in social media, sends an eloquent message out to the world about the gifted children who happen to be differently abled. They no doubt deserve inclusivity and dignity, topped with compassionate understanding from society.

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