I was in Udaipur last week. The best thing in the life of a reporter is the travelling that comes with it. You go to places, meet people, peep into their lives and write stories about them. That is our job. That is what we wish to do: telling stories.
After a long 12-hour train journey followed by a hectic day at work, I was sipping a cup of strong ‘after-dinner’ masala chai (ask any reporter of its importance and you would know). A light, scented breeze from the jharokha felt calming, as I comfortably leaned against the cushions on the divan in the rooftop restaurant of our hotel, Mewar Haveli. It was unusually quiet, with most guests having retired already to their rooms. The light from a single lamp illuminated my notebook.
Before me, the beautiful Lake Pichola shimmered in hues of gold, silver and copper with the Taj Palace sitting in the middle of it. The fort of Sajjangarh – a hilltop palace constructed by the Mewar rulers as a monsoon retreat – shone brightly in a distance.
The city of lakes, the ‘Venice of East’, is one of the most romantic destinations in the world where thousands come to profess their love. And in this city of love, we found the most unusual love story ever – the story of Kamlesh and Geeta, of Vijay and Pramila, of Manohar and Mankunwar.
People find love in strange ways. But a hospital is perhaps one of the most unusual places to find love. Yet, some people are lucky. They meet their soul-mates when they least expect to. More importantly, they are courageous. They learn to find strength even in their hardships; beauty even in their so-called disabilities. They are brave enough to cut across caste and social barriers to be with the one they love.
All these couples are disabled persons, who met in a Udaipur hospital run by the Narayan Sewa Sansthan while undergoing corrective surgeries for polio. They fell in love, but caste and community – so deeply entrenched in Indian society’s fabric – kept them apart. Till, they decided to break those barriers, get married and build their lives together.
When Kamlesh took us to Fatehsagar lake, I remember him telling us of the times he and Geeta had spent there, talking of their dreams and aspirations. “Other couples would come on motorcycles and cars, take boat rides and go to Nehru park, the small island in the lake. But we would be content here, strolling on my wheelchair, sipping kulhad coffee. We never thought, ‘Oh, why can’t we take a boat ride? Why can’t we hop and dance?’ We were just too happy about our love to pay attention to these minor things.”
After two years of dating and a secret court marriage, they broke the news to their families when they realized Geeta was pregnant. Initially, the families refused to accept the match – Kamlesh is a Brahmin, Geeta a member of the Scheduled Tribe. But slowly, everyone came around. The couple has a four-year old son now.
Each couple has a similar story. After years of teasing at the hands of classmates, rejection by suitors on account of disability, the struggle to gain education and make a career, most of these people never harboured any hope of ever loving or being loved by a partner. Few had imagined they too would get married and have a family.
To say their stories are inspiring is, thus, an understatement. Today, most of them lead happy lives and have successful marriages, something even perfectly-abled couples find hard to achieve. “We need each other. And we count our blessings each day for getting each other,” Geeta says, smiling at her husband.