As we start our conversation, Hari whispers something in his father’s ears, in a way that a child would. “He asks if you’re from the US as we are on Skype,” his father Raghavendra tells me. We both take a moment to laugh. This was a reminder that I was actually interviewing a six-year-old, albeit through his father’s eyes and voice.
The rest of our conversation left me wondering how this child could have such a broad smile plastered across his face when he had gone through what no child or person should. Hari lost his right arm and left leg at the tender age of four.
Before the accident
Even at the age of three, Hari was highly active and energetic, which set him apart from the rest. “He had an immense interest in many activities, and took part in anything that he could lay his hands on”, Raghavendra says. Hari displayed a flair for dancing even before the age of three. “We found him dancing when he heard anything that remotely sounded like music! While all children do so, we felt that he seemed to display a very keen interest in working on it as he would practice with steps. We considered sending him for classes to see if he would enjoy it.”
Hari, upon hearing this, jumped at the idea. He joined dance classes soon after and his tenacity at such a young age impressed everybody. “He wouldn’t take a break, his dance teacher would tell me! Even when everybody took a few minutes to catch their breath, Hari would continue practicing and keep asking his teacher if the steps were fine. He showed incredible promise in this field even when it felt like it was too early to make that call.”
I ask Hari why he likes dancing so much. “It’s like kung-fu”, he says with a grin. Are you going to learn Kung-fu? “Of course! I can punch very well!”
His father continues – “As we are quite religious, we would also expose Hari to our beliefs.” At the age of three, Hari was able recite certain parts of the Bhagavad-Gita and expressed a fondness for Lord Krishna. “When we got him a cake, he would ask, why not for Krishna as well?”. About two and a half years ago, Hari also donned the role of Lord Krishna for Krishnastami. Nobody imagined that on an auspicious day, this exuberant child would face such tragic circumstances.
When everything changed
On the second day of Krishnastami, Hari was playing on the terrace of his house with other children. Unfortunately, the terrace was dangerously close to high-tension wires. Accidentally, Hari touched a cable with his right hand, felt an intense shock pierce through his body and fell unconscious.
“I was in office that day, and only my wife, Prasanna, was around to handle it. She was completely blank and shaken when she couldn’t feel Hari breathing. As she took him downstairs, she screamed his name and shook him – only then would he show signs of life.” Raghavendra’s demeanour now changed from cheerful to morose as he recalls the incident.
“I rushed to the hospital directly. We were in complete shock. The doctor had told us that his right arm and left leg had to be amputated within 24 hours.” They could not come to terms with the fact that their child would have to be in such a state permanently. They consulted with several doctors and the prognosis was the same. “We were broken and in tears. He hadn’t even started his life! We turned everywhere for help – sought prayers from our gurus, Priests from churches and Maulvis from mosques – anyone that could help.” But no divine intervention could alter the harsh truth – their child of four would be an amputee.
“I felt very very bad”, Hari chimes in, sounding as his father did in speaking of that time. “I only asked about how I would tie my own shoelaces and wear my shirt. I had a lot of confidence, and it went away.” Hari had to go through six days of surgery consecutively. On the second and third day, the dressing had to be removed without anaesthesia and Hari would scream and cry in pain. Suddenly, he seemed to hold on to the pain and stopped crying. When the surgeon asked him why he stopped, he said, “When I cry, my mummy cries. I don’t like seeing that, so I stopped crying.” His father takes a moment to pause as he shares this, and I notice his mother flash a smile. “His love and maturity still surprises us in many ways.”
After his amputation, things were understandably hard on the family. The first three months, his parents didn’t have the slightest idea on supporting him. “I would attend many communities to understand how to deal with these situations. We were in the dark. When I asked the doctor how to teach him to cope with things, he would just tell us to not worry about it as Hari would find his own strategies.”
Interestingly, Hari approached the issue quite differently. “As his mother would fret, Hari would always say ‘Don’t worry Mummy, I will handle it! I can do it.’” Raghavendra said. “It was Hari’s resilience that gave us the courage to handle the situation. He’s now back to wearing his clothes on his own – and he found the way himself.”
The spirit of a child
As life was returning to normalcy for the family and Hari started going back to school, his dance teacher stepped up to take things forward. “It was he who told us that Hari should return to dance classes. We couldn’t even imagine such a thing, but his dance teacher, Mr. Bhanu Kiran, was convinced that Hari was the kind of child who would take the challenge head on and make it happen.”
The dance teacher’s belief was spot on. Hari was very excited to resume dancing. To everyone’s surprise, he worked harder than ever. “He kept practicing in all the breaks and asking the teacher if he was getting it right. It was amazing to watch – he wasn’t demotivated; instead, he only worked harder and had fun doing it. Within six months, he was even ready to be on stage! We couldn’t believe it”. Hari adds on – “My mood was bad, but I was very happy to get back to dancing. Other than that, only doing naughty things at home would make me happy!”
It was then that Mr. Bhanu, the dance coach, suggested that Hari participate in competitions. “Again, we were very tense. Hari, however, was overjoyed and ready to take it on. He seemed to have no fear at all and loved moving forward with what he was doing.” Before the curtains were raised, Hari would ask for photographs to be taken! “He didn’t care about winning. He just seemed to care about doing a fantastic job.”
From that point on, there was no turning back. Hari only grew more stronger and confident as the competitions went by – He was the winner of Dance Hyderabad Dance that was telecast on television and the runner-up of footloose. He’s also had local Telugu channel specials featuring him as an inspiration and went on to win the Bala Rathna award. “I felt very lucky and very happy when this happened.”, Hari says.
His zest for life wasn’t limited to dancing. He took part in marathons upon the insistence of Mr. Gandhi from Dakshin Rehab – it appeared that everyone who had met him had faith in Hari and were confident that he could accomplish anything. So far, the six-year-old has covered eight kilometres in one go at a marathon. “My confidence became stronger and stronger with the support. My leg was hurting as I was running. When people clapped, I felt happy and continued running.”
His father steps in to add – “In all of this, Hari’s attitude amazes me the most. Once, when we were going to watch a marathon, his prosthetic leg broke and he stumbled. He was crying and wailing in pain. I felt guilty as I helped him put on the leg. When I rushed to help him, he simply said ‘Don’t worry, Baba. It’s not your fault. I will get up and it will be fine. It will be ok.’ I don’t know how he keeps moving forward. He seems to have incredible maturity in handling his issues.”
What have you, as a father, learnt from Hari? “His attitude to getting things done. Somedays, I come back from work in a tense state of mind. He looks at me and tells me to chill out! I suddenly realise that I have nothing to complain about. He is filled with positivity and always moves with a “can-do” attitude. When I look at other children, I feel terrible and sad for my son. When I come home, it all changes – he’s so happy and content. He knows and is very aware of his situation but he is motivated to move forward and very positive!”
In the midst of the sombre conversation, the little boy starts giggling. “My father sometimes complains of extra salt in the food. When that happens, I ask for extra salt.”, he says, continuing to flash his trademark smile. For a moment, Raghavendra looks at his son proudly. “Hari will adjust with anything and make it work, regardless of the circumstances.”
I take in a moment to look at Hari’s family – while one can’t always know the inside story, there seemed to be a sense of joy and contentment. Hari, a six-year old boy, radiated a sense of positivity that seems to affect anyone around him – even through Skype.
As we close in on our conversation, I ask Hari what he wants to be when he grows up. “I want to be a soldier”, he says, beaming. Why, I wonder. “I danced to the song Soldier.”, he said, as we all smiled.
I’m not sure if Hari’s a ‘dreamer’, and here’s why – he possesses a gift that many children do and one that adults often struggle with. He has no baggage and does not see his dreams as dreams. He just gets it done because he doesn’t understand the concept of ‘limitations’. He possesses all the traits that every dreamer must have – positivity, calmness and a sense of perseverance. Perhaps his biggest gift is that his dreams are not ‘far-fetched’ in his mind; they are just things he wants to do. That, by itself, seems to be his biggest asset and helps him accomplish whatever he sets out for. In fact, Another adult amputee was inspired to move forward and learnt swimming after watching Hari take on challenges and get the job done.
There’s a hidden story here though – Hari is also a product of the dreams around him. The faith his family, dance teachers and rehab centre have put in him has allowed him to progress extremely fast. “I have to thank Bhanu Kiran Sir and Murali Sir for helping me, other than my parents!”, Hari says.
The ‘hidden story’ is probably best summarised in what was, for me, a heart-rending moment. Hamsa, his sister, whispers something into her father’s ear, just as Hari did in the beginning of our conversation. “Hamsa would like to share her dream with you”, Raghavendra tells me.
The nine-year-old comes closer to the laptop screen and says, “When I grow up, I want to become a doctor because I want to help my brother with everything. That’s my dream.”