Asha Ramnaney was born in India with serious facial deformities that prevented her from speaking and attending elementary school. Today she is a doctor, a wife, and a mother. Her loving parents named her “Hope,” and her protective siblings helped her to experience normal childhood activities. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns I joined this class because I am fascinated by other people’s writing, and I wanted to learn to write better myself. Unlike most other people, I learned to write before I could speak.
I was born and brought up in Delhi, the capital of India. I was the youngest member of my family and I was born with major facial deformities (including a cleft palate) and medical problems. This was unexpected for my parents, and medical science in India in the 1940’s was not that advanced to detect problems in pregnancy so people could be prepared for them.
My parents were very concerned and wanted the best medical services so that I could be as normal as possible under the circumstances. One of the doctors told my mom that she should not be worried for me as she had four other “normal” kids; her hopes should not be too high for me.
But my parents were not disheartened and they had faith. So they named me “Asha,” which means “hope” in the English language.
I had multiple surgeries in childhood to correct my facial deformities, and rehabilitation, including speech therapy, as I could not even talk and eat normally. In those days in India we did not have special education classes for disabled kids, so I didn’t go to school until sixth grade.
My mom and dad were both very educated so I learned from them and my siblings, even if no one had any special training for home schooling. My parents were very patient and encouraged me.
My mom was one of the pioneer women to attend college in the 1940’s in the area which later became Pakistan. She became a teacher. My father had worked in the government ministry responsible for environmental issues. When World War II ended and the modern state of Pakistan was created, my parents moved to India because our family is Hindu.
I remember my dad reading me classic stories such as David Copperfield in a special way with gestures and tones to dramatize the book and make it really come alive. Sometimes I would pretend that I was sleeping even if I was listening to him just so that he would carry me in his arms to my bed.
Mom used to sing nursery rhymes to me while doing household chores. These songs are etched in my memory, and I still sing them to my niece’s children.
My older siblings encouraged me to be a participant in all of their activities and were not ashamed to take me with them to birthday parties and other social events. They never made me feel that I was in any way different and less capable than other children of my age, even if I had facial and functional deformities.
Now when I go back to India, I sometimes get bronchitis and laryngitis because I am more sensitive to the air. Then I am unable to speak normally due to the hoarseness in my throat.
Our family in India is very hospitable and wants to make my favorite food, but I can’t always eat it because of my sore throat, and I have to write on paper to tell them this. Then they tease me and say that I am back to my childhood days when I would have to write to communicate because I could not speak.
My parents are no longer a valuable guide for me as they have been deceased for more than fifteen years. But they gave me hope to lead a normal life. With hope, you have everything; without hope, life is meaningless. All it takes is one bloom of hope to make your life a spiritual garden.
As Maya Angelou put it: God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us in our darkest moments can see a possibility of Hope. It is funny how life makes us revolve in a circle to reflect on the past.
Published: Sept. 11, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 22