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  • Completely confined to a wheelchair and constrained to crawl on the ground without it, Aswatha describes herself as the third of eight children, “born into a loving but ignorant family”. She was 11 months old when she lost the use of her legs to polio. Her mother, barely 18 herself and already a mother for the third time, let Aswatha be cared for by her maternal grandmother in Bangalore, where she received a lot of love but little education since no school would take her. When she was 9 years old her parents took her back, and she became her mother’s favourite because of her disability. The local school in this small town in Andhra Pradesh was happy to enrol her and she remained there until she was 13 and passed Class 6. At that time, a cousin and his friend who had known her at Bangalore suggested that she might have a better chance for personal development and independent living if she came to the Cheshire Home. She came in June 1968 and fell in love with the place. “My life changed at that moment”, she says, thinking back to more than 40 years ago. She learnt to use a wheelchair and could finally go to a proper toilet without getting into a mess. She learnt tailoring and life skills and dreamed of building a disabled-friendly house where she could live independently, hire a staff or two, and start a training facility for physically disabled girls herself.
    After 8 years in the Cheshire Home and despite requests from the staff not to leave, she went back home to pursue her dreams. But then followed a period of various travails leading to deep depression. The only good memory from that time is that she was able to devotedly be by her mother’s side as she became ill and eventually died. Her siblings married and drifted away to tend to their own lives. She was allotted a house site by the Government of Andhra Pradesh under the ‘disability’ quota; this site remains with her but she has not been able to build on it. However, when her father – a Government Town Planning Overseer – passed away, his pension was assigned to her as she was unmarried, female and disabled. This gave her a good measure of financial independence.
    For a while she was buffeted around between the homes of her various siblings, but she feels that her own state of stress, anger and depression probably came in the way of her forging strong bonds with them. Eventually, 20 years after leaving the Cheshire Home, in 1997 she decided to ask if she could return to the Home, and believes that it reflects the nobility of the management that she was happily welcomed back.
    Now, 13 years later, Aswatha is giving her dream of independent living another shot. She has just taken a house on lease, modified it to accommodate her disability, and plans to move into it with another Cheshire Home resident, Yashoda, who has had both legs amputated and is a trained tailor. “I need to do this to show to other physically disabled people that it is possible to make a life”, she says. “It will also free some space in the Home to take new residents. Yashoda and I are friends and we are both trained tailors. We can make a living by tailoring. Living alone will probably be more challenging and hence, we have decided to stay together. Hopefully, it will work out well for us. Yashoda’s college going daughter – this child was still a baby when Yashoda lost her legs and needed the support of the Cheshire Home to rebuild her life – will also be moving in with us”.  

    She has since moved out of the Home and is now leading an independent life. 

    Aswatha’s message: The Cheshire Home is heaven for disabled people but this wheelchair is of no use the minute you leave these gates and get on to the potholed pavements outside.  However, my message is not to the Government but to the public, to individual families.  If you spare a thought to understand the difficulties of the physically-disabled – at least a ramp or a handrail that can enable us to enter your house, a door that can let a wheel chair in, a toilet that is disabled-friendly – it will make a huge difference to us.  Now, if you invite me for a meal and serve me the best dishes but do not have a toilet that I can use, I have to rush back to my own without even tasting the meal. Even a small effort from your side will make a big difference to people like me”.