Persisting Thoughts of a Thappad

The Hindi movie ‘Thappad’ meaning Slap, was so influential that it made me scroll back to my memory. It made me realise, how many times have we taken such ‘thappads’ which are not just physical, but also in words and deeds. And without making it an issue, we have moved on and on in life. Many times, we would not realise that our words and actions would have led to such slaps, specially to the close ones.

In the journey of my career as a special educator, I have met thousands of people, who have shared their buried sorrows and piercing torments. The effect of these conversations remains behind, not only as memory traces but as hard pebbles in one’s mind. The movie ‘Thappad’, made me realise how we cry silently for ourselves in isolation and suppress our emotions, just to maintain the harmony of the family. I remember having counselled my clients, and shown them ways to ignore, and overcome such Slaps, prompting to indulge themselves in positive things. I have given therapies to help them discard their Slaps from their minds and move on in life. I would like to share a few instances.

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Manjula was a happy mother when Ajay was born.  Within a few days her Doctor pronounced the term Cerebral Palsy with his name. She was unaware of the term and the Doctor continued to explain, that Ajay’s condition may not help him to be able to sit, stand, walk, or do any of his work. She had to take care of him for his lifetime. Her husband insisted her to abandon the child. He felt it was a huge burden for the family. When she refused to do as he said, he refused to support her in bringing up the child. Her father helped financially to get therapies and training for her son. She tried her best to facilitate his improvement. He responded to the therapies and showed a lot of improvement. Manjula was happy and began to dream about his future. Her husband was irritated and felt Manju was overindulgent about the child, neglecting everything else in the family.

 One day he asked her, “How many more days will this cripple child live?” It was such a shock! She silently cried to herself behind the closed doors. She had to move on because she could not leave the family and go away. After many years, she had shared it with me with tears in her eyes. What a harsh slap it was!

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Zubaida Begum was in tears when she was narrating an incident. She belonged to a middle-class family. She managed the expenses very tactfully with the limited earnings of her husband. She had to manage medical and other unexpected expenses of her special child who suffered epilepsy. Her husband Salim had invited his friends for lunch on Bakrid festival. Zubaida had prepared Biriyani with great enthusiasm and passion. The guests enjoyed the delicacy, thanked and appreciated her before leaving. That day, her estimation had gone wrong, and a lot of Biriyani was left behind. She planned not to prepare dinner, so that they could finish the Biriyani. Salim was served. Refusing to eat, Salim turned furious and started abusing her. She could tolerate most of it but one sentence of his was a big blow to her. He said, “I am forced to eat leftover stale food only in your Mother’s house, don’t you know I always eat freshly cooked food?” She was trying to control her welled up tears from rolling down. Her voice reflected anger and helplessness. She said, “My Ammi would never serve leftovers to any guest, even if she has to starve. My husband rarely visits my mother’s place. He is always treated like a King. See mam, what he says! He doesn’t know to value food or the person who prepares it.” I could sense the depth of her wound and of the Slap.

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Rohini was a little girl, aged six. She had asked her mother “Why you and Sathya uncle act like movie hero and heroine?” Her mother, who was cooking, got up from her place, furious, held Rohini’s hair and slapped her several times. She told in a low grumpy voice, grinding her teeth, “Who taught you to say such things? Idiot! Never ever utter such things in front of others. If you talk like this again, I will not spare you. Mind your tongue.” After that incident Rohini was targeted for any mischief that occurred at home along with her two younger siblings. Her mother always justified the harsh punishments to Rohini. Even her siblings believed she deserved the punishment. She could not trust or share her feelings with anyone. She could share this with me only when she was fifteen. She was brought to me because she could not cope up in studies. If she didn’t show improvement in studies, the school would not allow her to attend the board exams. I asked her, “Why did you say that to your mother?” She said “I felt so, and I asked. I asked my mother not someone else. She could have convinced me. Why slap me like that? I never felt it could be such a wrong thing to ask. I remember after that incident my mother always kept an eye on me, and I started feeling insecure about her. But now a days I retaliate and fight back. We often fight. Now my studies are another reason to torture me more.” The little girl has been carrying the burden of the slap for years together. The slap here was real and painful both physically and mentally.

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Johnson was feeling guilty on what he had uttered. He had lost his wife a year ago. It was still difficult for him to adapt himself to the life without his wife. He had realised how much he was dependent on her. She suddenly disappeared from his life in a ghastly accident. Her memories haunted him. Presently he was dependent on Jessy, his only daughter. After his wife’s demise, he began to converse with Jessy more, not only about his daily needs, but shared his feelings too. Jessy also shared the same rapport with her dad. She was close to her mom. The void was filled by her Dad now. Their bond grew stronger as days passed. She started sharing everything with him, even about her boyfriend. He gave his consent and had encouraged her about her relationship. He had narrated his love story which he realised was one sided. He had also cautioned her, not to get upset if it did not work out. She should cherish it as ‘sweet memories’ of her first love. After a year, Jessy was heartbroken to face the three-year-old bond which had broken apart. She had trusted him and believed he would convince his parents to get married. He had failed and announced his wedding date with a girl who was chosen by his parents.  Jessy was terribly upset about it. When she confessed about the breakup, to her Dad, he was cool about it. He never enquired how it happened or what she felt, instead he just waited for a few minutes and asked her, “How much more time do you need to overcome this, so that we can look for a good groom.”

Jessy just ran away from that place and locked herself in her room. She was upset and did not speak to her Dad. She did not do her daily chores. She cried and cried the whole day and night. Johnson tried to bring her out of her room, but she never yielded. He was scared. Initially he did not realise what damage he had done to his daughter. He begged her to open the door. She could calm herself by the next morning. She came out of her room. Her Dad prepared coffee for the first time and served her. He asked her innocently, “why are you angry with me? What did I do?” She was controlling her tears and said “Dad, I thought you would understand my feelings, I have lost my dream, my whole self is hit by Tsunami. I thought you would lend me your shoulder to shed my tears, but you gave me such an unconcerned Slap.” He realised his blunder and went into depression, thinking about his insensitivity. He begged her to forgive him a thousand times. Jessy had to bring him for counselling.

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Jothi and Pradeep were professors. They worked for three different colleges on a part time basis. They often travelled together to different colleges. They fell in love and got married. After a year, they started a tuition centre for students who took board exams. Pradeep was an excellent Maths teacher. Jothi was best at Science.  Their combination worked well, and they had good number of students. After two years Pranathi a pretty daughter was born. Life was like a dream come true.

When Pranathi was four-years-old, Pradeep suddenly had problem in his heart. He had to undergo heart surgery. Jothi consulted the best Doctors, took second opinion, consulted his parents and her parents before surgery and finally agreed for surgery. She had to run around for money as the hospital bills were huge. After the surgery Pradeep developed epilepsy and other health complications. The strong man had turned bed ridden and had restricted mobility.

Expenses were piling up and to meet the ends Jothi had to attend her job. It became difficult for her to run the tuition centre alone. The newly appointed maths teacher could not match Pradeep’s talent. Student’s count went down.

Jothi had to manage Pradeep’s frequent hospital visits. Heavy doses of medication were damaging him more than curing him. Some medicines countered the functioning of another organ. He was suffering both physically and mentally.  He started developing depression, inferiority complex and a sense of worthlessness. He was deteriorating day by day. He started blaming Jothi for his condition because she was the only person available. It was difficult for him to participate in sexual activities with her. This kills a man’s ego terribly. He started blaming Jothi for his non-performance. He began to suspect his wife if she returned home late. Jothi had to take Slap after Slap every day. She strongly believed that he would be fine one day. She tolerated him and continued to endure those slaps because she genuinely loved him.

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Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone realised and accepted their mistakes, and express apologies for what they have done, just like in the movie ‘Thappad’?

Champa Jaiprakash is the founder of Saadhya School for Special Children. Her experience in special education spans over 40 years, primarily in South India. Her book- 21ne Chromosome Mattu Ethare Kathanagalu (21st Chromosome and Other Narratives) is based on her experiences. The book won the prestigious Karnataka Sahitya Academy Madhurachenna Dattinidhi Award in the author’s first independent book category in 2015.

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