Special children are special because with them, what you see is what you get.

They express feelings, unabashed, that tug on our hearts. For so-called “normal” people it can get awkward and discomforting to accept this raw truthfulness of emotions. I saw a charming, funny, sweet film called Ahaan on Netflix recently. The central character is a young adult with Down’s syndrome, played by Abuli Mamaji, who was also born with Down’s in real life. This film took me back to my childhood and our awkward interactions with my cousin Vasudha who was born with the same condition. Abuli states this truth in an interview:

“People look at us differently the moment they know that we suffer from a disability, no matter what it is.

As a child, I remember being scared, I recognise now, it was being wary of meeting someone unlike myself…Where we had words to communicate, Vasudha had just sounds. Where we could be understood, she struggled to communicate. Where our wants were easily met, we could not even comprehend what she wanted! Our talents were noticed and nurtured, she had to work so hard just to cultivate a basic life skill set. Our desires were considered the norm, hers deemed impossible. 

How ignorant we were. She must’ve had the same dreams that the character Ahaan in this film does: a satisfying job, a decent salary, a car, a wife, two kids. (Abuli, in his real-life, wants to be an actor like his hero Salman Khan). I remember Vasudha loved to dance and was superb at crafts. She was born in 1959 when the lifespan of people born with Down’s syndrome was 10 to 15 years. Vasudha lived up to her late 50’s. Her parents could, fortunately, afford exceptional caretaking for this very special child of theirs. Empathetic, sensitive caregivers are the most important factor in these children’s lives. Their patience and interaction can make or break them. 

Abuli Mamaji had a wonderful team as can be seen from the empathetic and sensitive direction and the story of Nikhil Pherwani and his team. Though Nikhil had met Abuli in 2013, the film got made several years later, once he had invested a lot of time and affection in Abuli, studying him, working with him at his pace, his methods and that effort shines through. This film does not condescend or emotionally manipulate you… instead, like Abuli, is spontaneous and comes from a clean heart making it unique and also unpredictable! 

My aunt Durga Jain recognised that in the 1960s, there were no facilities for children with Down’s syndrome to flourish. That is why they founded SPJ Sadhana School, a specialist, one of a kind school that today offers polytechnic courses guaranteeing employment to 100% of its graduates. She further initiated Om Creations, a trust that supports the inherent skills of those born with Down’s syndrome empowering them to lead their lives with purpose and joy. 

I don’t think we can imagine the joy an Abuli, Vasudha or the character in the film, Ahaan got when they were able to do their heart’s desire! There is no conviction that can equal the conviction that comes from mining your own experiences whether it’s for Abuli in this role, for Vasudha at her dance and crafts, for Ahaan when he fulfils his dream or even for us, the “normal” ones.

We all want the same thing… we feel in exactly the same way… We want to live our lives the way we want to, the difference is in the manner in which we have to experience it.

Neerja Shah

Former Publisher Editor of Elle India & TV Producer

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  1. Neerja… Abuli was the first 5 friends of vasudha when we began Om creation Trust at shikkar kunj Garden… it so beautiful for you to connect this connection in your writing s thank you so much warm wishes love n gratitude their educator
    Dr radhike Khanna

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