She’ll always be their jewel juvenile. No less dainty than a light winged fairy or a silver finned mermaid, Vini Mehta at 40 retains the innocence and social application skills of a 2- to 5-year-old.
It was as though God had parcelled the much-in-love couple, the Mehtas of Uttarakhand their ornate Valentine gift by a month’s delay in the arrival of their hazel eyed, amber skinned daughter Vini on 17th March 1977. Could God’s postal registry possibly go wrong? It took a while for the doting parents to read the P.S. (post script) on the label of this precious life, stamped by the Heavenly Maker ‘Fragile! Handle with care!’
Early on in infancy Vini had meningitis with a fever spiking to 106 degrees, damaging the brain cells permanently and causing rapid convulsions to last for years. Visits to AIIMS, Polyclinics, Cheshire Home (Dehradun) and other opinion centres all broke the same news- ‘Delayed Milestones! Assisted Living! Acceptance! Special Needs Caregiving!’ The couple had to take hard decisions.
Maya, an MSc in Zoology gave up her dreams of doing PhD. She started providing home health care with the stout support of her husband Dr RCS Mehta, then an Assistant Professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar. In Vini they experienced the struggle of staggered movements, gurgling speech, incomprehensible garbled whooshing sounds, attempted whistle like whispers, chuckles, eyes masking fear sometimes and breaking the glazed expression in seconds into a friendly smile.
They became communicators to the world that lay within her, tending to her feeding, washroom handling, bathing and resting.
Learning was self appropriated both ways. Vini never went to a day boarding. She walked at 5 years. She fought the windmills till she could communicate her needs with actions. Her elder sister Aishwarya and younger brother Harsh knew instinctively when to give her tea in a feeder, turn on the music and air conditioner, serve her eggs, Maggi noodles and cookies, massage her hair and body and set off a balloon trail by her bedside window.
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Vini’s bouts of vomiting and sleepless hours could go on well over three days. Maya did the soiled laundry, started special dietary food service in the absence of a washing machine and gas connection. ‘Do as Demanded’ was the mantra followed by the husband wife duo. They didn’t cut the essentials, and never certainly their smiles.
They were perfect hosts to family and friends. Maya would buy groceries in the evening, while Dr Mehta would indulge the girl. The family’s only longing was to see Vini healthy and smiling.
The years rolled on like a train leaving for brighter destinations. Dr Mehta, with his wife’s support, completed his MTech and PhD. He became a Professor, HOD, Registrar, Director of Uttaranchal State Engineering College and even held a foreign appointment. The Mehtas returned to India and turned down other overseas offers. Home was the best place for Vini to be.
Today they have become bolder in living for the day. Both her siblings are now married. Vini is not treated like a plant in a glasshouse. She is allowed expression and mobility. She’s taken out for social functions. She has supplied the foundation for a strong and fulfilling relationship between the husband and wife. Maya never misses her table tennis sessions with her partners in the evenings. They are a pleasant encouragement to all in daily life and at social ceremonies, well turned out, with the brightest smiles.
Nowadays, Dr Mehta encourages Maya to cross the limiting boundaries and taste the freshness of the splashing seas under open blue sky in different continents. He sends her on foreign tours each year, while lovingly taking on her role of being Vini’s constant companion.