I was 17 when she was born. And as all teens I just knew she was different because everyone in the family spoke about her in hushed tones. So, when I saw her for the first time, she looked like all babies do! I wondered what the problem was with Arti.
As she grew up we didn’t see much of her except on annual visits to various Army cantonments as her dad moved. One vacation, we stayed with her family in Ambala. And that’s when I realised she was a baby with special needs. We didn’t have easy access to the internet then, to catch up on the who, what or why …which may come as a surprise to some of you. We took cues from her parents and played with her as best we could.
She was a baby with Down’s syndrome – it is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features and mild to moderate intellectual disability.
I am sure Arti’s parents went through a lot of turmoil on why this had happened, especially since they had a normal first child. But once she reached schooling age is when they realised they had more in store. There wasn’t any mainstream school that would accept Arti. Her parents were told that she would not live beyond eight years, and that she was “mentally retarded”. They were told that helping her was pointless!
Little did the detractors know that the parents were made of sterner stuff. And the maternal grandfather was a rock-solid supporter in the era of ‘people who loved to point and comment’.After a lot of angst and research, Arti’s mother, Sandhya found a centre for people with Down’s syndrome. Her coach Veerabhadra, took special interest in her as he felt she had a spark. He’s her godfather, completely devoted to her progress, never gave up on her and put every effort in helping to overcome her fears.
Her elder brother, Anish never questioned why his mum was spending more time with Arti. He understood why it was important and now he reminds his mum not to give up and to keep trying. He is married now and his wife also has embraced Arti with open arms.
Today at 28, Arti is a STAR in the world of para swimming. She has won bronze and silver medals in the 2013 Special Olympics. She won her first gold medal in 1998 at the Special Olympics in Chandigarh. Arti Krishnamurthy has taken to water like a fish and this is commendable given that she feared it as a child.
She is a strong contender for the 2019 World Games as well. She will go through rigorous practice and training against the best in India for a spot in the Special Olympics team. At preparatorycamps,she will be around strangers and learn independent self-management - none of this bothers her. She’s super confident all thanks to her parents and people who love her. All the other parents see her as a role model as she can stay on her own, cook a meal, and travel by herself.
I have seen how caring she is – she will make sure her mother doesn’t forget her medicines, father takes enough rest and so on. For those of us who have had the privilege to live with her, one can learn lessons on how to be punctual, disciplined and plan everything to the last detail. Her one indulgence is non-stop ‘Sun TV’ serials