High designs on his mind
"Just tell him there's more to food than dosa, paneer, chicken and aloo. And he will be better," says Khyati Jethanandani rather admonishingly. Kunal, her brother-in-law and the object of her reprimand, is laughing uncontrollably. Forcing her to break into a wry smile herself.
But she gathers herself quickly and says: "No, really. His bones need a lot of calcium. And this boy needs to be forced every single time to drink milk and vegetables. How will he get okay?"
The newly-married daughter-in-law of the Jethanandani household in Bandra is upright and forthcoming about her 21-year-old brother-in-law Kunal's eating habits.
Perhaps she needs to be. He suffers from cerebral palsy after all. But he seems the least perturbed about it. He talks freely. He's never conscious about his pronunciation because of being tongue-tied.
And very honestly tells me how he yawned through most of Life in a Metro, enjoyed Spiderman 3, and loves Scooby Doo, He-Man and WWE. "WWE is violent, but I still enjoy the crowds and the excitement," he adds candidly.
Kunal and his family - his dad, mom and two sisters - live in Lucknow. He and his mom are in Mumbai to visit his cousins in Bandra. And given a choice he would rather live in Mumbai than Lucknow.
"That's a silly question to ask," he guffaws and wipes the saliva off his lips.
His mother Sangeeta joins in the fun too. But painfully recalls the fever that struck five-year-old Kunal in 1989. "It quickly subsided and life returned to normal until after two months when he would collapse while walking."
Early next year he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
If he ever was disappointed on hearing the news, Kunal isn't showing it. Schooling and academics have been tough since. And he dropped out of school in the ninth standard.
"He had very co-operative friends in school. But I don't think he enjoyed it," says Sangeeta. Besides, his family by his artistry on canvas and is sure his painting and sketching skill will stand him in good stead.
Kunal aspires to be a web designer and is already designing a website for his cousin's diamond business. "It's six months more till I finish my course in a computer institute in Lucknow and I hope to get designing and graphic assignments," says Kunal.
Computers apart, his other passion is cricket. "If I was fit, I am sure I would have been playing serious cricket at some level," he says. Back in Lucknow there aren't too many evenings when he is not outside his house, bowling underarm from his wheelchair.
He will be back in Lucknow as you read this. Alongside his computer graphics, he wishes to pursue education through the National Open School.
His sisters, meanwhile, have been trying to get his talent noticed. Khyati, who worked in an event management company, says: "Organisations like CRY have become so big, they seem to have stopped responding to people."
Apparently, the Jethanandanis had approached the NGO to look into Kunal's talent in designing and writing copy for their in-house greeting cards. They still await a response.
This is when Khyati digs out a neat, laminated card Kunal had gifted her for her engagement. A neat job on Photoshop.
"His memory is remarkable, he understands everything anybody says and has a great knack to associate films songs with the movie they were sung in," says Khyati.
About his cure, Kunal's mother hopes that the pool exercises, medicines and callipers will improve his motion if not completely cure it.
Cure or not, Kunal is confident that in six month's time he'll be self-sufficient and earn enough as a web-designer. "I don't want to approach people as a disabled person.
Let them see my work and give me assignments," he says. As for his immediate future, he'll be happy playing cricket and on his next visit to Bombay, wants to walk at least one quarter of Marine Drive.
"Yeah, right. Tell him to drink his milk and eat his vegetables first," says Khyati.