Dr. Shayama Chona’s title reads as “Founder-President of the Tamana Association and the former Principal of Delhi Public School, R. K. Puram“. However, during our conversation with her, we realized that she is first and foremost a mother, before anything else. Her awards, including, National Award for Individual towards Social Cause, cannot do justice to the resilience she encompasses within herself. She battled odds and came out strong, which stands as an inspiration for women all around the world. Her story acts as a testament to the will a mother possesses that can truly change the world. In her own words, here’s the riveting tale of Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri, Dr. Shayama Chona:
“Tamana Association is named after my daughter, who was born with cerebral palsy. She had her legs and hands were moving in a very random motion after birth. And so when I first took her to the doctor in Vellore for the first check-up, they told me that this was due to lack of oxygen during birth. I really felt like cursing the doctors, but then I wondered what’s the point- I had to go on. And it was then I realized that the potential of a woman, which cannot be determined until she really stands to the test. The courage and the feeling mothers have are above all and this where your determination really becomes extremely useful.
I realized that I was not just a mother of my daughter, I had to do something where all the manners of the world would gain ‘Tamana’, which actually means ‘hope’. I thought that my daughter may not have had she may not have everything put together for her and she may not have been able to sit, but she had a smile. And the smile said, “Mom, don’t worry, I will speak, I will stand, I will walk and I will be something.” And I must say, I think this name is what has led me on in every manner.
I thought I couldn’t really manage. But you know, a mother suddenly becomes a Durga, a divine idol and all the things that you talk about the women in temples, and that is just a testimony that there really is potential in each one of us.
My family was hesitant at first but they did support me in my every step. I went from one hospital to the other, from Bombay to the United Kingdom and then to America. And then she enrolled in a special school and Tamana, the NGO which has three centers, here in Delhi is modeled after the school where she went to. She talked, she worked. She’s now teaching in Delhi Public School Vasant Kunj. The kids love her because she is a kid at heart and she loves them too.
So you see these stories of courage in women are so true and real. Women are gifted by God. I want to be a woman and a woman in India, even in my next seven coming lives. I really believe what a woman can do to change the concepts, the precepts and the people cannot be matched. And if the fathers support the mothers, then you know the strength becomes 100 fold.
I think it’s obvious that in situations like these one and one make 11. And that’s the advice I give to everyone. There are still various issues and I come across lots of women where as soon as they have a child who is handicapped, call the child ‘disabled’. We call it ‘specially-abled’ or what the Prime Minister has coined a new word ‘divyang’, which means ‘one with the divine body’.
Very often when a child like this is born, the family splits, leaving the entire responsibility on the woman or the state. But once you explain everything to the others, it doesn’t matter. They will understand and they will realize that it is not a curse. It is not your fault. It is something that may be explained by medical science, or genetic science.
But it does take a toll on the mother. A mother has to be strong. And let me tell you, I am much stronger today than I was when the mother was born in 1970. I have not for once felt that I am alone. At times I cried alone. I didn’t cry with anybody. But I laughed with everyone because I said that I’m going to do something. Tamana is going to do something.
Can you imagine me writing a letter to Queen Elizabeth? Then I was just a teacher at that time in Delhi Public School. I became a principal after her visit. And I got a reply from the other people who said that I am crazy writing to Queen. I just wanted to get the land to build a new school. It’s very, very ironic that in India, if you have to be known, then you have to really be known to somebody who lives internationally.
I also wanted closer to be closer to RK Puram, where I worked. And from a college lecturer, I changed my position to a school teacher just to be able to look after Tamana. And then when I wrote to the Queen of England, I got a reply, saying that some officials were coming to see what I did. And they really cared, you know. In those days, we used to live in a gulley. We had no place proper place. We had nothing. And they said that if I can’t have a place where the Queen will be safe, she cannot come. I was told the Queen couldn’t come but Lady Diana was coming and that in February, she can visit if I was able to get a place and have a few security cameras so that she’s safe.
Can you believe I approached the government. I mean, those days I went begging to the government. It was Indira Gandhi back then and she was very sensitive having lost her own son. I said to her that she’s lost her son, but I’m losing a daughter. I’m losing many daughters, because if this did not happen, then I don’t think I’ll have the heart to do anything. So can you believe it, I actually got the first block of land ready. And Diana came after which I got two more plots to start a Centre for Autism and received my Padma Shri. And from then I was known to the world.”