Five Differently Abled Siblings Braved Chennai Rains Like No Other
Chennai rains have wreaked havoc in the lives of these four differently abled siblings who yearn for a normal life.
Holding on to the side table, Thyagarajan’s legs stagger as he tries to stand up. He reaches out for the ropes tied across the house and drags himself outside using them. He inches his way to the rusty wheelchair and sits on the worn out seat.
He looks at the road ahead yearning for some normalcy and happiness in his otherwise dry and insipid life. However, he believes that his dreams will not see light of day.
With its sudden bouts of floods and cyclones over the last two years, Chennai rains have wreaked havoc for many in the city, but for Thyagarajan and his family the repercussions brought distress like no other.
Thyagarajan and his 4 siblings, Viswanathan, Karpagam and Jayaraman have been diagnosed with spinocerebellar degeneration, a genetic disorder associated with poor coordination of eyes, hands and speech. They live with their sister Suguna in Pattinambakkam, Chennai.
Suguna who works as a sanitary worker is the only breadwinner of the family. She has dedicated her life to taking care of her siblings, whom she lovingly refers to as ‘her children.’
Sometimes we ask her for biryani, fruits or even earrings. She will scold us but at the end of the day, she will get it for us. We have nobody else, right?Karpagam
Monsoon is the most difficult time of the year.
Karpagam still recounts the traumatic tsunami of 2004 when their sister slipped and fell, suffering a critical injury, which claimed her life a few months later.
The path to their house is filled with potholes, while the adjacent area is littered with debris and garbage. They have been living under insufferable conditions over the last 60 years, and the leaks and holes in the roof and walls stand testimony to their plight.
A rope that runs along every wall in the house is what all of them depend on for their mobility. Viswanathan, who cannot stand, moves around the house by resting his palm on the floor.
If rainwater seeps through the roof, they are on alert. Even the slightest accident can prove to be fatal for a family that rarely gets any visitors.
Even when we go to bed, we go with the fear of the ceiling coming down on our heads. Once it starts raining, the water forces its way into the house from all sides. If I am not here they will all be sitting in water. They can’t lift buckets and clear the water.Suguna
In 2006, Aruldoss, a social worker got to know about their economic situation and stepped in to help. After pulling a lot of strings together, he convinced the civic body to set up a phone booth on the main road. Thyagarajan would cycle in his rusty wheelchair everyday to earn Rs 200. More than financial stability, this job gave Thyagarajan a life outside his house, and a purpose. Soon, as cellphones took over, the number of customers to the phone booth began dwindling, but even for Rs 20 he would hand-pedal his way to work everyday.
But disaster struck once again, when renovation work at the bus stand nearby razed the booth to the ground, and all that remains of his wheelchair is a crumbled piece of garbage in a neighbouring slum.
Today, the siblings have lost all hope.
If it starts raining, everyone here will run away. Nobody has given us shelter or even enquired during those times. As these people are differently abled, no one would even peek into our house; maybe they are afraid their illness will spread to them.Suguna
Their needs are few and elementary –– a safe roof over their head, a not so run-down wheelchair, and a shop or a booth so that they can earn money to support themselves. In other words, their only demand is dignity of life.
But Jayaraman is the only sibling who nurtures a desire beyond the ordinary –– to share a meal of sambar and rice with Superstar Rajinikanth.
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Cameraperson: Smitha TK
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
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