An ode to JK & his mother

Fostering an inclusive culture

I owe my understanding of the word’s ‘inclusion’ and ‘inclusive’ to my childhood neighbor JK. JK was a healthy, naughty, and mischievous boy. Everything seemed normal. Until the day his parents discovered he was autistic. The world suddenly changed. I was lost. I had no idea what this meant. I saw how the family rallied around him to support and give him an upbringing that makes him what he is.

Today, in his mid-thirties, JK is independent, speaks fluent English, travels by local train and works for an NGO in Mumbai. How did he do all that? As a young girl, the ramifications of autism and what it meant never hit me. It is only now when I reflect on the journey JK has had that I realise what it would have meant to raise him against all odds.

I have picked up quite a few life lessons on inclusion from observing JK and the efforts his family made for him to be a part of our society. I hope these lessons will resonate with you when you reflect on your own journey on inclusion and inclusiveness. 

Equal treatment and training

I was always in awe of how Aunty would spend hours training and teaching JK so that he would be one of us. Speech lessons. English lessons. Teaching him to pray. Things that we all learnt as students. Inclusiveness starts here – by ensuring equal treatment and training opportunities for all. When the organisation puts forth opportunities and development trainings for everyone, it is setting in a fine example of inclusiveness. Similarly, when you are working with a team, if you are mindful of providing equal opportunity for everyone to contribute, your team is bound to give its best.

Focus on strengths

Whether it was games like ‘hide-n-seek’ or ‘catch me if you can’, JK was always part of our circle. We would match our pace to his. We would let him win at times just to catch the sheer joy on his face. But we would also let him lose so that he could cope with the feelings of it. Of course, as children we never realised that this simple act was imbibing in him and in us life-long lessons of involvement and accountability. But his mother knew. She ensured he was out there in the playground even though there was a section of children who didn’t care for him. Her focus was always on those who included JK in their circle. Both, JK and she rode on the strength of that vibrant circle. I am now able to recognise how at our workplace, when we stretch ourselves on the power of our strengths and the support of our inner circle, we are able to achieve much more. 

Push. Push. Push

There were innumerable instances when JK would fail. Fall down. Hurt himself. Get bruised. I suspect the mental agony of not being able to compete in simple tasks was a big cross that Aunty bore all her life. But I never saw her cribbing. She remains for me an epitome of positivity with her ever smiling face. She made JK get up after each fall and try again. She pushed him to test his limits. Her wide smiles at seeing JK win small battles are forever entrenched in my mind. Never give up on hope ever is a mantra that I learnt from her. It works very well for me when I am stuck in a project and unable to move ahead. I picture JK tripping and picking himself up. It brings a smile to my face and suddenly I have the vigor to move on. 

We do not really need to look far for our life lessons. Unknown to us we have been picking them up since our childhood and honing them unconsciously in our work behavior. They are an inseparable part of our professional self. This post is an ode to my friend JK, his mother, and what his childhood taught me. 

I would love to hear a story from your childhood that has left a deep mark. Do share.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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