There was so much happening in our household. Amma came back from the hospital with a little male child – very fair and handsome, his hands and feet were soft, his ankle crinkled and his eyes almost shut. Everyone was around the bed, excited. Appa was overjoyed over a second male child after four girls and announced, “He is Boss.’ And so that name stayed with him.
Soon Amma observed Boss was lagging behind on normal developmental milestones. To clear her doubts she met a reputed child specialist to find out what made Boss different. Seeing the child’s ‘mongoloid’ features, the expert immediately declared Boss as a ‘mentally retarded’- a generic term used for people with limited mental functions.
Shattered to learn that the child will be a slow learner, have learning disabilities, communication challenges, emotional and behavioral disorders – the whole lot that she did not wish for, Amma decided to work her way up to give him a glimpse of the world cherished by all, conquered by few. Our family rallied around our youngest member with our protective hands.
Dr. Jerome Lejeune discovered that ‘Down Syndrome’, commonly referred to as ‘mongoloids’ was a result of chromosomal abnormality. His research led him to a conclusion that chromosome number 21 contained an extra partial or complete chromosome in those called ‘mongoloids’. Amma’s advanced age for child bearing [mid thirty’s] became another reason for delivering a mongoloid child.
About the time when Boss was born, ‘special education’ was introduced in schools in advanced countries to help such kids. In India it took longer to be implemented.
Boss started school at two years. When the institution found his learning capability below the classes’ standard, he was trained by Parsi teachers at home and at a special school for developing children with learning disabilities. Amma believed people with sensitiveness, understanding and patience would help her child in comprehending the world. Her efforts took direction and our character ‘Boss’ emerged, a.k.a. Srinivas Ramanujan.
From mid-70, India saw some marked changes in education for children with special needs. The early intervention programs were popularized. Specially trained teachers were employed in schools for these kids. Opportunities existed for the younger generation to benefit.
Boss was a great wanderer. At five years he ventured out alone in spite of our vigil. His return home was marked with relief – but with a large box of biscuits or chocolates that the grocer sold him with great aplomb. He had remained the store’s single high value consumer, patronizing Britannia and Cadbury products. Amma was hurt that the store keeper exploited his down-syndrome status, but swelled with pride, that Boss opened the box at the apartment complex gates and generously handed every kid who swarmed around him. He won their hearts and he never got teased for being how he was. His wandering habit took him to many a highway, on a bus ride far from home, or he cycled away at high speed. When rebuked, he would repent and repeatedly say, ‘Amma, Nahin Karega’.
As a music buff, his choice was soul searching music from Bollywood, Classical Carnatic, and also instrumental music. While listening to them his body rocked with joy and total abandonment. From an early age, his ability to select his favorites from a huge stack of LP and EP records, similar looking, and play it on a sophisticated record player, held us by awe. In later years, to give wings to his passion for music, he received training to play on the Tabla.
Boss’s love for kids was overwhelming. His young nieces and nephews took his refuge when their mothers were furious with them. He established peace making the kids happy and the mothers ashamed under his calming influence, as their wrath suddenly appeared irrelevant.
Greater awareness of the condition, improved methods in education, parents’ education made handling of children seem easier. Boss and his group – Vasudha, Vedanth, and Geeta enjoyed a good level of training, personal development and their achievement was commensurate with their level of retardation.
Who was a winner?
To these kids the word ‘winner’ had little significance. They lived in bliss with what they possessed and spread joy, no matter the consequence of a race/marathon they participated. After all even among normal human beings, only one person can top the chart.
They were better equipped to accept the verdict of a ‘loser’ than any of us, who were ‘normal’ human being.
Boss probably had an IQ of 50, when IQ for mentally retarded was below 70. Even that was of little consequence to him as he leaves behind his imprint in this world.
What makes these kids like Boss, different?
God’s precious creations, such simplicity, no show of malice, never knew jealousy and their hearts filled with pure, undiluted love. They were fortunate to live in a community that showered love, protection and received special schooling. That their birth was not in the 18th and 19th centuries when the mentally retarded were removed from families and placed in an ‘asylum’ which provided basic necessities and that, they were born when world saw a new way of treating mentally retarded. That their birth was in educated families and they did not receive ill-treatment, which many like them face even today, to the severest extent any human kind can face. Such cases are still heard of in small towns/ rural India. That they were born in financially well placed with families, who cherished them. That they lived their lives well and in death, they left behind families who will shed tears and miss their presence for many long years.
The glorious tributes that Boss received since his departure on 5th November 2011 is testimony of his greatness. Boss had every relative, cousin, friend mourning for him, wishing his soul every peace. Without vocalization of his thoughts, merely through subtle movements, Boss had touched people, some of whom he has not met for over 30 years.
With loving memories:
Padma Raghunathan, Prema Raghavan, Kausalya Srinivasan, Rajalakshmi Raghavan and Vasundhara Raghavan, their spouses, and all the children