Shashmita’s bright smile lights up her face, but it cannot hide her angst as she hurriedly arranges her skirt to hide her amputated leg when we visit her at her home. She lives in joint-family with her grandparents, uncles and cousins, in a modest house in a village on the outskirts of Kolkata. The family owned a thriving grocery store till the pandemic disrupted their business and threatened their livelihood.
But despite these knocks, the palpable warmth and harmony is evident as her family hovers around her and she in turn, is measured in her response in their presence, taking particular care to hide her pain. The only daughter in a large joint family, it is evident that she is loved and pampered and each of them is still struggling to cope with this pain in their own way.
“It has been about five years since I had my surgery, but the trauma still lingers and takes me by surprise in unguarded moments. For example the realisation that I cannot ever wear jeans with my bulky prosthetic leg was very depressing! The truth is, it cannot be pushed away or put behind you nor can you just pick up from where you left. Losing a limb is life altering and it is almost cruel when you are an aspiring dancer! Even routine activities are sometimes big challenges and it continually reminds everyone in my family of how our lives have changed forever. Of course, we try to look at the positive side. I had bone tumour and the malignancy was life threatening and we are all glad I got a new lease of life even if it was at a huge cost.”
Sashmita’s mother comes in with tea and one cannot miss how Sashmita immediately changed her tone fixed a cheerful smile on her face. Sashmita explained when her mother left the room, “I do not like to talk about it in front of my mother. She tries very hard to be strong but you will soon find out that we are all poor actors! Just because they do not cry in front of me does not mean that they do not bleed, I see my mum’s red eyes every day and my father’s taut face as he watches me limp. I know they are traumatised like me, but collectively they all encourage me to go out and live life.
My cousin was the one who insisted I sign up for the ‘GROW’ training, because he wanted me to learn to face the world. It was perhaps the best thing to have happened after all the unhappy events because it slowly made me determined to not let my disability stop me.
My trainers at the Centre were very encouraging and patient. I learnt new skills and also regained my confidence. And thanks to their keen support, they worked hard to find me a placement close to my home so that I do not have to travel in public transport.
Getting a job has added to my self-worth in a big way. It gave me courage to face the world and I am also back to my dancing on my prosthetic leg! I feel I am finally able to regain my independence and have some control on my life which is something you learn to value only when you lose it.