Down's Syndrome has not deterred Anitha from being a fashion model and artist. "The extra chromosome makes me extra cute," she said at a fashion show in Dubai.
But her story begins not in Dubai, but in distant Kerala, where a mother's determination to help her daughter stand on her feet met with success. The child's father and other family members also supported them.
A mother's struggle
Anitha was born as the second daughter of chartered accountant Ramdas, a native of Kozhikode, and Usha, belonging to Pattambi. Their first daughter Anjaly had no health issues. Moreover, no other member of the family had a similar condition. So when Ramdas and Usha learnt about their younger daughter's congenital problem, they were devastated.
Usha recalls those days saying, "Anitha was conceived when my husband was working in Saudi Arabia. A war was going on there at that time and I later felt that some type of radiation might have been the cause of Anitha's condition."
"However, tests carried out during pregnancy did not reveal any abnormality," adds Usha.
For her delivery, Usha went to Bhopal, where her parents were staying at that time. A few days after birth, the newborn began to look blue in colour. "It was then that the doctor told me that Anitha had Down's Syndrome. He said that her growth would be slower than normal children. I was shocked over those words and wept a lot over my daughter's fate," says Usha.
Ramdas quit his job in Saudi Arabia on hearing about his daughter's condition and came to India. They started living in Kozhikode and received good support from the relatives of Ramdas as well as Usha.
"Anitha was always sick at that time. Visits to hospitals became almost a daily affair. We learnt that apart from Down's Syndrome, Anitha had a congenital abnormality in the heart. Some doctors even suggested that she may not live beyond her third birthday," remembers Usha.
But she and Ramdas were firm on arranging the best treatment they could for Anitha.
When Anitha's third birthday was fast approaching, she suddenly became sick and a blue tinge began to spread all over her body. Anitha's condition became worse soon. "Dr Shaji Thomas, who was treating her, said that only an emergency operation to correct the abnormality in the heart could save her life," says Usha.
This surgery had a success rate of only 40%. But there was no other option to save Anitha. "The procedure was conducted at Sri Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) in Thiruvananthapuram. We prayed to all the gods we knew for the success of the surgery," reveals Usha.
Their prayers were heard and the surgery was a success. "Anitha overcame a very big hurdle in her life," says her mother.
They were then living as a joint family in Kozhikode and Anitha grew up among several of her closest relatives. Nobody in the house gave Anitha the feeling that she had a special health condition.
"Apart from a slight delay in developmental milestones, Anitha was no different from the other children in the house," remembers Usha.
Soon, Ramdas secured a new appointment in Dubai and took his family with him to the UAE city.
The magic of Dubai
Usha's decision to accompany her husband with their kids to Dubai turned out to be good decision. The conditions there, including high level of awareness and the opportunities offered, had a beneficial impact on Anitha. "It was the educational system in Dubai that helped Anitha develop a positive personality as well as the ability to face the challenges in life," affirms Usha.
A daycare was started by Usha in their house and Anitha got a chance to interact with kids of her age. This had a good impact on Anitha's development. "The truth is that Anitha received no special attention in our Dubai house; she grew up just like our elder child, Anjali," says the mother.
After one year, Usha enrolled her daughter at a special school in Dubai. Anitha also underwent speech therapy. "The education system in Dubai focuses on making students self-sufficient in carrying out some essential tasks in life. Anitha also learnt to handle English language very well and use the computer and calculator," explains Usha.
When the school authorities told Usha that in order to make Anitha self-sufficient she had to be away from her daughter and preferably go to work, she agreed.
Anitha soon reached the higher classes where she received special training. As part of the curriculum, students were posted at several offices where they were given coaching in jobs like office receptionist. "Working in four-five Dubai offices was a great learning experience," says Usha.
Fashion dreams take wings
During a trip to India, Anitha saw a portfolio done by her cousin. "My daughter also wanted to create something along similar lines. Some fashion photos were clicked in Dubai; she also modelled for the Friday magazine of the 'Gulf News' newspaper," says Usha.
The ramp walk for the calendar girl event of 'Women to Women' company took place in Dubai. Anitha received many opportunities and encouragement for modelling, reveals her mother.
The family shifted to Pune in 2016, but Anitha continued to pursue her modelling career there. She also developed an artistic streak. "Anitha dabbled in painting Deepavali lamps (diyas), acrylic paintings etc," says Usha.
With the support of some non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Anitha also teaches craft work to children of some special schools in Pune.
Usha had to face many difficult situations in Kerala when Anitha was a kid. "Special children are segregated as 'mentally retarded' in our state," rues Usha. Even doctors are not free from this malady, she adds.
"I hated sympathy and pitiful looks. But nobody gave us the right advice or proper guidance," explains Usha.
However, the situation in Kerala is changing now, she adds. "People are more aware. Moreover, everything about special conditions is available on the internet. There are also platforms for special children to come together and share their experiences. All these are helping the youngsters to be part of the mainstream," reveals Usha.
But it was Dubai that made all the difference in Anitha's life. "The place is very stimulating. When Anitha's talents in art and craft were discovered, the education system there gave all encouragement and facilities to develop them. The society there whole-heartedly supports the desire of individuals to overcome their limitations, express their inborn talents and earn recognition," points out Usha.
Now Anitha is aged 25 years and sometimes her mother gets a little anxious. "All her cousins have entered matrimony. Even our elder daughter is married and is also a mother. On some occasions I feel that if Anitha did not have this condition, she too would have enjoyed wedded bliss," opens up Usha.
Anitha can now perform all the tasks as any other youngster of her age can do. But when she wanted to apply for the driving licence, Usha had to dissuade her. "There is a small problem which prevents you from driving a vehicle. So you won't be issued a licence. But that doesn't matter; you have so many other talents," Usha told her and Anitha was convinced.