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Jayalakshmi Sengupta, TWF, Bollywood Trade News Network
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TAARE ZAMEEN PARPopular films influence the audience in many ways. But the recent hit film TAARE ZAMEEN PAAR has brought changes in attitude towards learning disabilities in such a way that is perhaps quite unprecedented in the Indian context. Jayalakshmi Sengupta reports

The storyline of TAARE ZAMEEN PAAR - about a child with dyslexia, has not only touched a chord with the audience but has also managed to sensitize the society at large about learning disabilities and stir up a collective consciousness. It has, in the process, made people sit up and notice ‘the need to be’. “It’s not to be mistaken as a film on a particular childhood disability,” reminds Hemangi from Tata Institute of Social Sciences who runs a counseling centre at Vashi, Mumbai. A reason why it is subtitled “Every child is special.” This message has spread to different levels, touching the dormant child in each one of us as if to remind how precious childhood is and how we need to nurture it with care in each child.

No wonder then that, of late, there have been many who are claiming to be a little dyslexic. One movie and a smorgasbord of emotions is cutting across the nation! Fourteen year old Aruna Panday, an ace student in her school Apeejay School, Navi Mumbai, recently declared to be dyslexic to her mom. Her mother Somi, a high achiever herself, is aghast. Aruna has managed to get good grades, even in Sanskrit, which she hates. Could Aruna’s sudden desire to be counted as a dyslexic a pointer to the level of stress the high achievers are put through in our present academic scenario? Amidst peals of laughter Somi defends her stand, “I haven’t really pushed but instilled in her the discipline of looking for and achieving the best because it comes so naturally to her.” But post TAARE ZAMMEN PAR, the trailblazing movie on the education system by Amol Gupte and Aamir Khan, many more like Aruna may look for an escape route from being the prize horse.

Surprisingly, Aruna is not the only one trying to lay a claim on her ‘free spirit’ as amply demonstrated in the film through the understanding teacher portrayed by Aamir Khan. Manju, a 60 plus homemaker and mother of three comes out tearfully from a late show of the film in a multiplex in Kolkata, equally moved. She has not only discovered that her son Samir was severely dyslexic as a child but that she herself might have been one too. Living through the stress of bringing up three children at the cost of a promising career in music, Manju pines for her ‘free spirit’ now and is ready to be identified as a dyslexic if that allows her own space.

Suresh is a struggling medical representative in Mulund, Mumbai. Today he wonders what his life might have been if he had the right opportunities. Coming from a lower middle class family, the idea of pursuing a career in music, which he loved, was unthinkable. He had to earn a decent living first. He felt the same way when his son resisted sitting for his Board exam. Equally gifted but not keen to follow the beaten track of education, he wanted to apply for the Voice of India instead. “I have learnt a lot from this movie. I will let him follow his heart and be a singer,” Suresh says today.

How easy is that?

Even among the privileged, to choose a career off the beaten track is a matter of great concern, admit parents of Santayana. Their ward eventually passed out from the premier National Institute of Design, something he had wanted, but everyone is not so lucky. In Bengal where even today artists are not in the same league as engineers or doctors, their main worry was: Would he be able to sustain in the mainstream?

Jayshree, an erstwhile journalist with a national daily, says, “This movie will make things easier for me.” She left a flourishing career to qualify as a counselor to help her young daughter who is dyslexic.

Darsheel Safari“This movie is a must see for all teachers more than parents", adds 32 yr old Moushumi Sen, a harassed mother who has finally identified her son's problem after seeing TAARE ZAMEEN PAR. She has learnt a lot too since then. “If we look into the learning disability dyslexia alone, an estimated 30 million children are known to be dyslexic in India,” she points out. She also discovered that the CBSE and many state boards have well- thought- out rules for children with learning disabilities. A dyslexic child is now allowed extra time during the examination, and can ask for third language exemption and also a scribe. “Such information should ideally flow from the teachers to the parents,” she says.

Teachers must also learn to distinguish between learning disabilities and behavioral and emotional disorders before they start handling children or it could lead to permanently damaging the personality of a child, according to Jayshree. For example, Ayuush, a child suffering from attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), was regularly punished and threatened and finally dismissed from school. While the real issue remained ignored, negative effects piled on him making him lonely and misunderstood. It is these children who tend to become antisocial in the long run. They also become school bullies provoking every one around. With the recent rise in school violence this may be a good time to review the whole situation from this angle.

But one should also remember the other side of the coin in an over-crowded and overburdened schools. “It’s not humanly possible for us to give so much attention to individual children. We need assistant teachers in that case who can take up the remedial action as suggested by the counselor,” says Meera Menon, a high school teacher.

However, the fact remains that some serious action is needed to change the education system to a more holistic one. The aim of education is first to help an individual discover his or her own identity and then choose a vocation. The stress should therefore be more on exposure and learning life skills till the secondary level. Performance and competition should be ignored at this stage to save the stars on earth, say experts.

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