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The birthday that changed my life
Vallari Shah
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February 02, 2007

With 2 hours to go, I was all set to be a 17-year-old pesky brat. Like others I grew up with, I usually wanted to celebrate with a lavish bash at a restaurant or disco. But, this time, my plans were different. The clock struck 12 and I was flooded with text messages and phone calls. A few close friends and relatives dropped in with a surprise cake. And yet, it seemed as if the big day was incomplete. There was something missing.

Party dilemma

Late to bed and early to rise, I visited the temple, thinking of ways to spend the day. A party at some beach resort, or lunch at a fancy restaurant? After a while, I gave up. I had to think of something more than just pleasing myself. And then, God gave me the answer.

As soon as I reached home, I called all my close friends inviting them to my party at a place in Santa Cruz, Mumbai. I said I wanted them to spend the day with me. I got to Advitya at 12.30 pm and was welcomed with the warmest wishes I could ask for. Advitya is a centre that occupies mentally challenged adults and teaches them to do constructive, creative work. When you enter its premises, there is a certain air to it that simply reeks of good cheer. The children (yes, they are adults, but behave like small children) were delighted to see me with this huge cake, cola and chips. It was party time!

Making a difference

My friends arrived on time and had no idea of the surprise they were in for.

They were taken aback with the concept of sharing my joy with these innocent people, but the reaction was pleasant. We cut the cake, distributed food, and stood there watching the delight on their faces. Post lunch, we played games with them -- some that we had forgotten since school! From 'passing the parcel' to musical chairs, we did it all. The more they smiled, the more satisfied we felt.

We were about 15 young college kids among 30 special adults, fooling around, cracking silly jokes, teaching them the alphabet, dancing with them on songs one really can't shake a leg to. And it was all tremendous fun.

Unforgettable experience

Time flew by, even though we wanted it to stop. Being with those people was an enriching experience I wanted to live with forever. It reminded me of the fact one needn't always do things for oneself. It is equally important to look at the world around. These special people were so magical, so full of love. All they asked for in return was a little time and consideration.

It was soon time for them to leave, to go back to their respective homes, but they had a lesson to teach me: It is always more satisfying when we live to love, and not just live for the sake of it. I also realised the hard truth that these are not a liability to society. They need to be treasured as assets, because they remind us constantly that the greatest things in life are free.

Lasting impressions

When it was time to go, we were all left with tears in our eyes. Not because we felt sad for the students, but because we had experienced a third world, one that stays with me still.

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