This is a story I heard from my father. This is the story of a brave man. This is the story of how life played cruel pranks on him. This is the story of how he survives, despite all odds. This is the story of Georlin.
He had a terrible childhood. His mother passed away when he was quite young leaving him to look after his little sister. His father was a cruel man who thought nothing of beating his children to pulp if they did anything that displeased him. He whipped his children, beat them with wooden planks, made them stand on their knees out in the gravelly courtyard during hot, sunny afternoons and threw rocks at them. Georlin’s father married again, inappropriately soon after his wife’s untimely death. Some said that the man had killed his wife because she was out in the fields and served him a late dinner when he returned home at dusk. Some said he had killed her because he had quite simply grown tired of her. His second wife’s temperament matched his own. She was a cruel stepmother to little Georlin and his sister. She had a daughter of her own. She would force her own child to eat more and more while making the others go to bed without a meal. She once acted kind and let the kids eat some gruel for lunch. The children found nail clippings and their stepmother’s hair in it. They decided that starvation and the occasional begging would suffice from then on. The stepmother’s daughter was taken to school and back on the coloured cycle rickshaw with all the other children in the neighbourhood. She had a pretty little umbrella that she liked to twirl around during the mango showers and a tiffin that her mother lovingly packed for her everyday. Georlin walked four miles to school and four miles back home. When it rained, he would run to school holding a banana leaf over his head and throw it away right before he reached the gate so that the other children would not make fun of him. His little sister stayed at home because Father and Mother could not bother to hire domestic help to cook, wash the dishes, milk the cows, feed the chickens, clean the house, sweep the courtyard and do the laundry.
Georlin was in the eighth grade. He was a meritorious student and made his teachers proud. He was a winner in whatever he did. His teachers were quite sure he would score well during the final examinations. And he strived to do the same. One hot afternoon, during the History examination, Georlin happened to sit next to Francis, who might have failed in all subjects had it not been for his beautiful elder sister who taught at the same school, loved her little brother a lot and took unabashed advantage of the fact that the young male teachers were out to impress her. During this particular exam, Francis had sneaked in his History textbook and was copying answers to his answer sheet. Since his sister happened to be invigilating the class he continued copying without fear of being caught. Suddenly the headmaster walked in. Francis was startled. He threw the book down. It landed near Georlin’s feet. The headmaster noticed the commotion and walked over to the bench. Wrong conclusions were easily drawn and Georlin was dragged by his ears to the Principal’s office. Francis wrote the exam quite well.
Georlin was screaming and crying. The Principal was a close friend of his father’s and the boy was scared about what would happen at home. The boy pleaded innocent, but in vain. He said he would gladly carry out any punishment but begged that his father should never know of it. The Principal and the headmaster took no heed. All the students and teachers were summoned for an emergency assembly during which Georlin was made to stand on stage. He was mocked and heralded as a common cheat.
Fearing the consequences that would unfold at home, Georlin borrowed some money from his close friends and ran away from home. He arrived at a distant city where no one would know who he was or where he came from. He slept on the sidewalk that night. Early morning the next day, he went to a little teashop by the roadside and asked for a cup of tea. He paid for it with the last couple of coins he had in his pocket. The owner of the teashop took one glance at the emaciated, earnest boy and knew he had run away from home. He asked no more questions. He let Georlin stay under his roof, took good care of him and let him work at the teashop.
A few years passed this way. One day the boy happened to eat something stale. He started vomiting and soon fell unconscious. At the hospital a nurse injected him with the wrong medicine. This worsened his condition. His body started to turn grayish blue in reaction to the poisoning. He was almost in a coma. The doctors said that his legs would have to be amputated. After multiple amputations, Georlin was left with nothing but two useless stumps where his legs had been. The left stump extended to six inches below his hip and the right stump was eight inches long. He spent the rest of his days in the hospital in isolation. Since the rotting flesh gave off a smell so foul that even the nurses were hesitant to approach him, he was not given a room with the other patients but was left to recover in the store room where a temporary bed was put up for him. Though some people from his hometown heard of his condition and came to visit him he refused to go back with them for he still feared his father. Meanwhile his little sister had joined a convent and was working with some missionaries in Malawi.
Society had no job for a man with no legs. Thus he lived for many years, confined to a wheelchair, dependent on charity. His friends from his native village had secured jobs, married and raised families. They had always wondered about where Georlin had run off to. The owner of the teashop managed to get in touch with a few of them and told them of the terrible games that Fate had played with the poor man’s life. They decided to help him live in dignity. Georlin’s friends sent out letters to their relatives and acquaintances telling them of his story. They hoped to raise a few thousand rupees that would help get him a pair of artificial limbs. By the Almighty’s grace, lakhs poured in for this cause. Some kindred soul sponsored the necessary medical treatment and with a lot of time and effort, Georlin was able to walk again using wooden stilt-like contraptions that were fitted to what remained of his legs.
Georlin had won many prizes back in school for his elegant handwriting and his excellent command over the English language. One of his friends remembered this and told him to write a letter to the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. She replied promptly. He received her personal recommendation to the Cheshire Home for the Disabled. It was the same year that the Cheshire Home, an international organization that functions to help disabled persons lead a normal life, set up its first branch in Kerala. Georlin was the first inmate to be accepted. And all this time, he never shed a single tear.
PS: This is a true story though names have been changed. This man still lives. I have never met him in person but I have seen his photographs. He is my father’s friend. They grew up together. He taught my father how to swim, just a few days before he ran away from home. We receive a Christmas card and a letter from him every year, without fail. He still lives at Cheshire Home, near Kanyakumari and works at the front office there. Every morning this brave man wakes up to see the beautiful sunrise. Its rays glint off the sea and illuminate his face as he has the last laugh at Life and Fate.
A big hug to two great friends: Georlin John Joseph for letting me borrow his name and Aiba Varghese for suggesting it. Thank you for helping me tell the story that has touched my life a lot… 🙂