It was heartbreaking. And humbling. And inspiring. I watched most of the show with a lump in my throat and unshed tears at the back of my eyes.
The children and parents of Jeena took the stage yesterday at the India Community Center, Milpitas for their annual show, Jeena Yahaan. Jeena has been a rock for parents of children with special needs. It is a support group and a resource, a community and a refuge; most of all, it is a place families with special challenges go to meet other families like themselves and forge relationships out of shared common experiences.
The evening began with Pt. Habib Khan’s students singing Panditji’s own compositions created specially for the event. Panditji sat on the side, directing and encouraging the children. Some of the kids sang with gusto, some shrank from the glare of the lights. Unlike a regular children’s event where the parents would be embarrassed by the non-performance of their kids, here there was a serene aura of acceptance, both among the participating parents and the audience.
The acceptance and the love and support that exists among the Jeena community is palpable and almost physical. Audience members shouted words of encouragement to kids on stage. “Go Sanjana,” was the cry when one child froze, overwhelmed by the lights. “You can do it!” was said frequently, as the children overcame incredible odds to present their various talents on stage.
Two dance companies, Selvi Pragasam’s Indian Fusion Dance Academy and Naach, the biggest Bollywood dance company in the US, generously contributed their time and efforts to putting together dance numbers based on Bollywood hits. The joy in the kids’ faces lit up Malavalli Hall, as they waved and twirled to the beat. The audience clapped along, delighting as much in the children’s happiness as the song and dance.
Then there was the play, “Treasure Hunt in TV Land,” which I had written for Jeena. I had to weave in the children’s interests into the play so they would have the patience and enthusiasm to perform on stage and as a result we had Iron Man and Barney rubbing shoulders with Buzz Lightyear, Woody and assorted princesses as the children hunted for treasure with the help of clues.
Whether it was the haunting innocence of a child singing “Shanti Nilava Vendum” with unbelievable purity or the halting exposition of the Gayatri Mantra by a child with cerebral palsy, it was impossible not to be awe-struck by the effort these children put in to perform and the glow in their faces when they had successfully delivered the result of incredible hard work over several weeks.When I saw one child on crutches successfully stomp her weak legs( with little ankle bells attached to them) to the beat of music, I had to work hard not to break down and bawl.
Yes, the set up times between acts was long and yes, some kids just could not perform before a large and loud audience but we knew what challenges they faced and how amazing the whole evening was. There was no fidgeting among the audience and no impatience. If the children could put in the kind of hard work they did, we could show a little patience too.
Jeena Yahaan 2009 has “established a tradition” in the words of Rajni Madan, Jeena’s founder. May this tradition continue for many, many years to come. And may the children continue to astound us with their display of human fortitude and the soaring courage ofthe human spirit.