Today has been declared as the World Autism Awareness Day by the UN. On this day, I can’t help remembering my cousin, Gopu, who died ten years ago. He was just in his forties and he had spent most of his life in a mental asylum.
He would speak in a slightly garbled tongue, exhibit some peculiar mannerisms and, invariably, when he talked, spittle would drip from the sides of his lips and he would be totally unaware of this till one of us told him about it.
Gopu was fifteen years older than me and we were told he was in a hospital and not a home like the rest of us because he was mentally retarded. But the reason I loved Gopu was that he used to bring some of the best biscuits I have ever eaten in my life. In huge cubical tins, two feet high and one foot wide, he would carry the biscuits made by the residents of the asylum from house to house, to sell. He was the official salesperson of the asylum.
Like most people who are not aware of autism, we thought Gopu was mentally retarded and was safer in an institution. Now, when I am more aware of autism than I was when Gopu was alive, I wonder whether we did him an injustice by confining him instead of accepting him and providing him a caring environment at home that could have had a more salutary effect on him, and perhaps, even helped him lead a more normal life.