Destiny's Child - An Inspiring Insight On Jaskaran Singh (IIM Bangalore) By Dr. Divya Parashar
Dr. Divya Parashar was awarded her PhD in Rehabilitation Psychology, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. Her area of interest has been in positive psychology and she is presently heading the Dept. of Rehabilitation Psychology, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, New Delhi. In this article she shares the inspiring story of differently-abled Jaskaran Singh who scored 99%ile in CAT, and secured admission at IIM Bangalore.
“Who is that boy, Jaskaran, with you in so many of your Facebook posts?” I have often been asked.
I smile, with a far-away look in my eyes, “Ah, Jassi.”
“Do you believe in destiny?” I respond.
If you want to know why I ask that question, read on :)
It’s funny that a connection that is now this deep started off so clinically, sometime back in September, 2012.
Jaskaran Singh, 23/M, C5-C6, AIS B with quadriparesis. That was the description on the case file I encountered during one of our grand rounds at ISIC, where the spine consultant and the entire rehabilitation team would see each patient in the ward and have a discussion on progress and obstacles. In other words, Jaskaran had a spinal cord injury at the cervical level that had left him paralyzed neck down.
I tried to peep through the attendant medical staff crowded around the bed to see who was being discussed. And I saw this reticent, composed boy, sitting on the bed, working on his laptop, quietly answering questions that were shot at him. I noticed his smile, and the seemingly silent confidence he exuded. Over the next few days and weeks, we would often exchange a polite hello as I would pass him by in the rehabilitation department while he was engaged in his physical and occupational therapy. I occasionally wondered if I would get a referral to see him, but I didn’t. He would hang out with his college friends in the evenings, worked with his therapists during the day. In short, nothing really seemed out of the ordinary. Nothing, it appeared, to warrant his seeing a psychologist at least.
One morning I reached out to him to see if he would participate in a research study I was conducting on the importance of hope in the rehabilitation journey. He told me he was heading back to his hometown Amritsar the same day. But he promised to stay in touch; we exchanged numbers and agreed to connect again when he had settled down back home.
The next day, a few co-workers and I were heading for rounds when the social worker on the team remarked, “It’s so sad what happened to Jaskaran.”
I was jolted out of my momentary reverie.
“What do you mean?” I asked her, the hope that he had reached home safely tinged with an unformed apprehension.
“His entire family passed away in the accident. He didn’t tell anyone about it here, except for the resident doctor.”
You know how sometimes it feels like time comes to a jarring halt and then it moves on like a dense fog that makes everything around you hazy? I remember the entire day being a blur as I wondered just how Jaskaran was coping. Who was he with? How was he doing?
Jassi had left ISIC but he lingered on in my mind. I had no idea about the kid, but something drew me to him. And just like that Jaskaran became Jassi, at least to me. Isn’t it funny how losing a few letters from a name can make someone feel closer to you?
I reached out to him on text to see if he had reached OK.
The little I knew of Jassi then was that he was reserved, very private, and would only connect on his own in infrequent pockets of time. (Side note: He still is.)
He didn’t became a part of my research study, but we connected over mundane things. Never about his injury, never about his family. But I knew I couldn’t progress without getting to know him better.
“I want to go to Amritsar,” I told my husband a few weeks later.
Jassi had continued to cross my mind now and then and I knew I needed to do something about it.
“I’ll take the overnight train, meet Jaskaran, and return the next day.”
It sounded pretty impulsive to me as it must have to him too, but I know I would have been restless if I did not go. A strong believer of instinct, I could hear my gut scream louder every day: “Just go and see him.”
And so I texted him, “Jaskaran, I’d like to come see you. I’ll be in Amritsar anyway (not really “anyway”) and thought I’d drop by.”
Soon enough, I was on the train to Amritsar. I had no idea what I would say to him when we met, because well, we’d never really spoken. What if he found it an intrusion that I suddenly walked in like this, and barged into his life? What if I say something that upsets him, and I can’t fix it? I would be there for only a few hours, after all. I was walking into uncharted territory, and this could blow up in my face. So of course I went ahead.
What the heck, my heart said, it’s worth a shot.
I reached his grandparents’ home where he was staying, and saw him lying on his bed watching TV. The spasticity in his legs was so severe that his legs needed to be bound by gaiters to avoid having them be unmanageable. His personal care attendant had left three weeks ago, not to return, which meant him being restricted in more ways than one, even for basic grooming needs.
That didn’t hold him back but making sure I was comfortable, that I had tea and something to eat.
“How come you’re in Amritsar?” he asked.
“I’ve come to see you.” I said.
I think he thought I was joking. I imagine the conversation in his head would have been something like this: “C’mon. We’ve never really spoken, and you’d take a train just to see me?”
In reality “Really?” is all he said.
He told me about his academic stint at IIT BHU, being ranked 7th nationally in the GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering), the job offer he’d got after he graduated, or the offers to join the masters programs at IIT Delhi or IISC Bangalore, which he could never join, his love for cricket, and his college friends who had been (and continued to be) his pillar of strength. This is one bright kid, I thought.
As the evening went on, I mustered up the courage to ask him the question.
“Why didn’t you tell any of us, Jaskaran?”
He knew what the question was about.
I’ve seen Jaskaran shed tears only once, briefly, very silently, and that was the day. He looked away momentarily to regain his composure.
“What could I say?” he said.
The silence that followed filled the space between us with a connection that words would have broken.
I could see how difficult it was for him to talk about it. I let him tell me what he wanted to, about the accident. The surest way to get him to clam up was to probe further. So I did not ask any questions around it, until he felt comfortable enough to share on his own terms.
The thing with sorrow is that it finds its expression on its own, without the need to nudge, poke and prod. The heart knows its way, in love and in grief. My eyes meanwhile took in the restrictions that bound Jassi at home. There was nothing much he was engaged in since his return from Delhi besides lying in bed. And he needed active assistance for most daily activities.
He has so much potential, this is talent lying wasted, I thought to myself.
“Jassi, come to Delhi. Get rehabilitation again in the real sense of the word. Let’s get you up and about.”
That was not on the plan when I had started this journey to see him, but it was getting clearer now. And the words came out on their own.
Gut feeling, I have trusted you, please be right this time too!
He looked at me tentatively.
“What will I do? How will I manage? How much will it cost?”
I told him not to worry about anything.
“We will figure it all out,” said my confident heart.
The plan that emerged was to make him stay independently and engage in a structured rehabilitation program. No more hospitals. He needed to learn to manage on his own.
It was December, and he was concerned about the Delhi winters, and about the logistics of it, but he promised to give it a thought and let me know. As I said bye to him, I thought to myself: Maybe, just maybe, it’ll all work. What I didn’t know yet was how and when.
Sometime towards the end of January 2013, I got a text from him that he was ready to come to Delhi.
Post-haste, I drove (for the one and only time, Narayan’s SUV) to Amritsar along with a physiotherapist friend of mine, to bring Jaskaran back with us in early February. We took up a one bedroom furnished unit for him close to ISIC, my workplace.
Initially, I had to supervise his stay and rehab: a physiotherapist to teach him Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), help him transfer from the bed to the wheelchair and vice versa; a maid to help cook for him and to clean his apartment.
We consulted his spine surgeon for his spasticity to see if that could be managed better with additional medications. I would come by every evening to see how things were going and how we could move forward.
If you have never tried this before, let me tell you that the three secret ingredients to getting to know someone better are endless cups of chai, Nice biscuits, and samosas. Each day, we spent an hour together catching up on our lives. My visits were fast becoming the most eagerly awaited part of my day.
In the initial days after his arrival in Delhi, Jaskaran took the time to get used to having a structure again: sleeping on time and getting physiotherapy done regularly. He was apprehensive about what lay ahead of him but seemed willing and determined to engage in whichever activity would help him.
Within three weeks of his being in Delhi, I felt Jaskaran was ready to take on more responsibility for himself and his life. I told him to take charge of the household: what groceries & supplies were needed, what food needed to be cooked, and he took to it with relish. He was very motivated in his therapy so that he could gain independence in transferring himself. He was innovative in discovering techniques and maneuvers that would work for him and started going out of the house to meet friends who would come by and pick him up.
Within the second month he was ready to start training for the Paralympics and went to Bangalore for the trials. He was off to a good start. (His penchant for understatement is rubbing off on me.)
By the third month, Jaskaran was ready to start looking for jobs. He was nervous at the prospect, after having been at home for close to two years since his injury, and his confidence was low in terms of how he would manage overall, in terms of managing his disability in a demanding environment. But he was willing to give it a shot.
He applied to a real estate company where his civil engineering degree could come in handy. I wanted Jaskaran to know that he did have a good chance of reconnecting with work and life and this was a first step.
He was called in for an interview which I made sure he went for on his own, so that he could feel the confidence of now traveling by himself. I remember going to his flat, seeing him in formal attire, and adjusting his tie, with a prayer in my heart that he would get the job. And get the job he did.
He was winning small victories everyday.
We had two weeks before Jaskaran would start his job and the next task was to get him prepped up for it. He started waking up and getting ready on time (it takes two hours for this everyday), sitting in his new wheelchair for longer hours to make it through an 8-hour day, and using an adapted laptop and a device to start writing and eating by himself.
It was time for a transition again as he moved from Delhi to Gurgaon. The day the move happened, he supervised the packing of his belongings and set off on his own. He obviously was a bit unhappy that I was letting him go alone without helping him, but I told him I would see him at his new place within the next few days. I just wanted to see if he could now manage on his own, with minimal supervision from me. And he did. Jaskaran was now fully rehabilitated in the complete sense of the term.
I would continue to meet Jaskaran occasionally in Gurgaon to see how he was living and commuting to work. The sense of fierce independence he now showed was encouraging, to say the least. I lived 50 kms from Jaskaran and soon after he moved, I invited him to my home for lunch. Would he offer to come by on his own or would I need to go pick him up? I waited to see what he would do, and unsurprisingly and much to my joy, he took a cab and came by himself. From somewhere my maternal instincts kicked in and I offered to pay for the cab ride but he said he would manage it. He appeared so confident that day over lunch, sitting in the wheelchair without getting fatigued, eating on his own, chatting with my family. This is exactly what I had hoped to see him doing.
As the days went by, he steadily started enjoying his work more. Up until then, his going out only involved his commute between home and work. The next thing he wanted to do was start going out socially and recreationally.
We had gotten so used to meeting every day when he was in Delhi, that we decided we would go out on monthly meals to new places. So, very often he would come by and pick me up from work and we would go for dinner to a restaurant of his choice. I beamed with pride each time he would come by to pick me up, thinking this was the same kid who used to be so nervous going anyplace by himself, and here he was, picking me up for our get-togethers.
It was around the time I met Jaskaran for the first time that Narayan and I had closed doors on the possibility of ever having kids, having exhausted all possibilities. I was given “advice” from well-wishers, on trying surrogacy, donors, adoption, and I kept turning them down. As the year rolled by, I often heard myself tell close friends, “I have Jassi. He made me realize what it feels like to be a mother.” To which my boss once said, “Then why not adopt him?”
I was going to meet Jassi for one of our regular monthly dinners later that week, and I messaged him something to the effect of, “You need to adopt me. I am sick of people asking me questions on why I am not a mother.”
“OK,” he replied, “Let’s cut a cake when we meet, and you can tell people you just adopted me.” Just like that, he won my heart over once again, if it was possible to, in the first place.
And so, later that week, sitting in Cyber Hub, we cut a pastry, celebrating a significant turning point in our relationship. I finally had a son.
I became his point of first contact, for emergencies or for advice or counsel or just being together as a family.
He continued to take charge of life, and casually informed me one day that he was going to take the CAT exam to pursue an MBA.
When it came to selecting which IIM he would go to, we told him we would support him in whichever one he chose (boasting to ourselves like proud parents, that he got selected to all the IIMS—ABC, and some more).
Before his transition to Bangalore Jassi and I discussed legal adoption, and I was ecstatic at the possibility. But the law, as we all know, can be an ass sometimes. It requires an 18 year age difference between parent and child. We had less than that between us. But it is more than enough for us that, even if not in the eyes of the law or the world, I am his mom and he is my son.
I found out then that the overdoing part of the maternal instinct came with this package deal when I was with him for a week to settle him in IIM Bangalore. And he was a typical son going off to college.
“You’re buying too much stuff,” he lamented.
In my defense, I did not, even if evidence may point to alternative facts.
I have visited him monthly since his move in June of last year, inspite of his initial reaction of “You are not going to visit every month!” But I would like to believe he was kidding ;)
Over these past five years, we have been through hospital visits, admissions, crises, significant moments, milestones, celebrations, anniversaries and more together. He is my rock of Gibraltar, my always-rising Phoenix, the one I turn to when I am feeling low. Because in his silent presence, and his “there, there,” life’s aches find their salve. His friends have become mine, and yes, they are phenomenal. If ever I want to epitomize what friendship means, this bunch of “nincompoops” (the name of their band of boys, not my creation) of his fit the bill perfectly. Which brings me back to the point about destiny.
Have you ever wondered why things turn out the way they do? However much I try, I can never understand or make sense of why this indescribable loss happened in Jaskaran’s life. The suffering he has been through silently, only he has known; the answers he must have sought may never have found a way to him. Yet he perseveres. In his silence, there is a deep wisdom—that perhaps not all questions need be asked for life to find a purpose. I know this much for sure.
The winds of destiny took two strangers in their embrace. And as much as these winds are not to be trifled with, they are shaping a future that promises to be wondrous. It has brought together two people—one who had lost family and one who was looking to build family. And they brought us together as Family.
I’ll leave it to you to figure out who is Destiny’s Child.