As a rare chance I was allotted the 6th standard for just one month as a substitute teacher. This was a sheer pleasure for me. No burden of heavy portion and sweet young children longingly looking at my face. I enjoyed teaching simple basic science to this class with stories and funny anecdotes and the class was bursting with happiness. On the third day I noticed there was one exception. Sonal Shah sitting near the window hardly noticed what went on in the class and blankly stared out of the window most of the time. But she dutifully took down the notes. A real challenge to me!. Some student not enjoying the stories is something I had never seen in my life so far!
On the week end I was in the garden with my children when I noticed Sonal and frail a bit old looking lady walked in the garden. There was help lady who was holding the lady. As they sat on a bench Sonal noticed me and said “ Mom that is my teacher there” I was a bit surprised “Mom of Sonal … this old?” With curiosity getting the better of me I walked to them. Sonal’s mother smiled at me and said “ Good evening Madam. Sonal told me that a new teacher has come to her class and the teacher is very good” Sonal now stood up and said in a soft whisper “ Madam I like your classes”. I heard the murmur of a sibiling quibble between my own kids and I took leave unwillingly, and walked back to my children.
Next day I noticed that Sonal’s mother came alone with her help and sat on the bench. I used the opportunity and went and sat near her and opened up a conversation. Sonal’s mother was just waiting to talk. She said that Sonal was born very late and there was a ten years gap between she and her three siblings. Sonal’s mother became very sick after the delivery and was almost in bed. Hence Sonal spend most of her time with her father and he pampered her like anything. Just before the school reopened her father went to US for a short trip. He had talked to Sonal just after reaching the airport. But unfortunately he had massive heart attack and he died. Though everyone in the house knew that he had already suffered two previous attacks this news came as a real shock. But Sonal totally unaware of his illness, was totally shattered. She refused to believe that her father is no more. She refused to eat or play and got up from sleep with nightmares. She concluded by saying “ Teacher though all of us love her and try our best to reach out to her she is keeping herself shut. What will we do teacher”( Those days the psychiatric counselling was unheard of.)
So I told her Mom try to engage her in some activities she likes the most like singing, dancing, painting etc which will keep her mentally happy and she will come out of her sorrow. I am using the word sorrow because the word Depression in children was not known. Her mother said “ Yes, Sonal likes baking. I will ask her to make some cakes every day”
Next day I was pleasantly surprised to see Sonal standing at my door with a chocolate cake. My children grabbed it immediately and started eating it. As Sonal stood smiling, I told her “Sonal,I have recently brought an oven. But my efforts turn out horrible. Can you come and help me tomorrow to make a cake?” Thus began a series of cake baking evenings. I saw her discover her laugh, at my inability to break even a egg properly. Days passed and I thought she had changed.
On the eve of Diwali, I as just lighting the Diyas when Sonal hesitantly came at the door. She did not wish me but avoided my eyes and then said “Madam please can you lend me RS 20?” Shocked is too small word to explain my state. A rich business man’s daughter dressed in her best on Diwali dress asking me twenty rupees was strange enough. but there was a distinct pain in her eyes, something had shattered her. I managed to smile and trying to buy time said “ Of course Sonal please come in and see what all sweets I had made” I thought once she steps in some how I can engage in some conversation and find our what is wrong. But suddenly she turned and darted out. I was stunned for one moment. Then I ran behind her screaming ‘ Sonal, sonal come back” But by the time I turned the the passage she was no where to be seen. I went up to the gate and looked around .The road was all empty. How could have she ran so fast and where? My whole body was shivering with panic, helpless anger that I was not able to hold her back. I picked up the land line and dialled there house. As it was festival it rang for some time and then Sonal’s brother picked up. I screamed “This is Sonal’s teacher. She came her and ran out. Something seems to be wrong. Is she at home.? Find our and call me back” I started praying . After five minutes, the call came and his sister was crying,“Madam she is nowhere to be find in the house. Actually she wanted to light the fire crackers. Since there were so many guests I told her that we would do it after one hour and I did not notice her leaving the house” I told her “ Please all of you go out and search everywhere..I am sure she will be there around.”
Though I couldn’t do anything, I just stood at the gate hoping by chance she would come back. The phone rang again and her brother spoke “Madam ,we found her here near the ice cream parlour. But madam you please come immediately here” I requested the neighbour to look after my children and ran all the way. The ice cream parlour was just at the end of the road. When I reached there a small crowd had gathered there. My heart drumming madly I pushed the people and reached the spot where Sonal’s two brothers were kneeling on the ground trying to hold Sonal. She was crouching near the dustbin and screaming her head out “All of you go away, I don’t want to see your face. I just want to die. Nobody remembers Baba. None of you have time. Baba loved Diwali and crackers” “If I had found the money I would have got poison. I don’t want to be here. Go away”
She had wanted the twenty rupees from me to buy poison!!! My stomach was in a knot..I moved nearer and said “Sonal, please get up dear. See I have come to take you to my house” She pushed me so violently that I stumbled and fell near her and involuntarily screamed. That scream got her attention and immediately she got up and bending over me said “I am so sorry Madm, Are you hurt? I did not see you Madam” Holding her hand I got up and hugged her and said “ Sonal you know how much we all love you. How can you think like this and ask me such a thing!” She wept quietly. Her brothers physically lifted her and put her in car. We carried her home and the doctor who was already called attended on her. He gave an injection and she calmed down and went to sleep. The mother and sisters every one was weeping? The doctor said ‘For one week we will keep her in medication. Mean while I will consult one of my psychologists friend” I came back home.
For one week her sisters and brothers sat near her showering her with gifts playing with her and doing everything to make her happy. Luckily it was Diwali break in school. At the end of the week when Sonal became strong enough to walk around, on the advice of a psychologists, her family got her a lovely puppy .The pet dog changed Sonal’s life. All her time she spent in feeding and playing with the dog. Now everyday she came to the garden with Fluffy to play with my children. With time, Sonal and Fluffy’s deep bond helped her deal with the grief of losing her father. I can only thank my stars that she, in all her innocence had chosen to ask me the Rs 20 that fateful day.
Losing a loved one is too much of a shock for the young children. While the surviving parent is usually the main person who must provide the help a child needs in coming to terms with the death of the other parent. When the death is sudden, the whole family is is incapacitated by their own grief. As time passes, and adults come to grips with the realities of life , a child may not still be able to..especially when it is the first encounter with death. A child’s grief may seem to come and go. Just like us, the grief often comes back on special occasions or favourite places.On occasions when you miss the loved one the most, it is possible the child needs you to talk about it. Whether with a pet as in Sonal’s case, or by enrolling the help of child’s friends and teachers, do create an emotional support structure for the child. Seek all the help you need. You will be glad you did.