LATHA was born to a truck-driver in a slum in Bangalore. She was born with a form of cerebral palsy that took away her ability to stand on two legs. Life delivered her as a cripple. In the eyes of society, she was doubly burdensome – girl children are considered burdens anyway, but she was also handicapped.
Her parents gave her away to a missionary. Latha was raised at a convent away from her family. The missionaries realised the nature of her handicap and enrolled her at the school of the Spastic Society of Karnataka. We discovered her there when we were launching MindTree Consulting in 1999. We were looking for a visual identity for the organisation and decided to try working with children who had cerebral palsy.
In a unique experiment, a week-long exercise was conducted with 10 children. They were briefed about the company’s mission, vision, values and DNA. Our DNA was settled as Imagination, Action and Joy. She was one of the 10 children who were asked to render the concept of Imagination, Action and Joy into MindTree’s visual identity. Latha, who was in the class-10 level of non-formal education at the school, did not make it with her design, but she won our hearts with her enthusiastic smile. We asked her to come and intern with us. We wanted to see if someone like her could run the front office of a consulting organisation. And over the last five years, she has grown up to fully take charge of our front office.
When Latha joined us, she had just come from the doubly protected environment of the convent and the school. Though she was studying for her class-10 level non-formal exam, she talked like a small child and had a poor attention span. But we refused to sympathise. We believed that she had to learn her work, and if she challenged herself, she could scale. She did.
As soon as she started with a stipend of Rs 5,000 a month, her long-lost family rediscovered her. She wasn’t a handicapped person anymore. Her economic viability made her very wanted. They persuaded her to leave the convent, and come to live with them. They even tried marrying her off. And Latha was clearly not in a position to take her own decisions. We were also in a quandary: do we intervene or do we not? Were these her personal issues even though their outcome could hurt a shared goal of proving that a person like Latha could become part of the so-called mainstream? Were we selfish about nurturing that goal? These were not easy issues. Latha and the organisation worked their way through these challenges. Eventually, she emerged a winner.
Today, Latha has a respectable place in society. She earns well and is even on MindTree’s stock option plan. She comes to work as regularly as the sunrise. She knows her work and does it very professionally. Not stopping at that, she has trained two students from her school – both are earning members of society today. One of them is Lavesh who was a complete introvert. Many people with cerebral palsy are like that. Being part of a social system that focuses on the disability of an individual ahead of anything else, they tend to withdraw. It is both a defence mechanism and an inevitable trap.
Months after coming into contact with people at MindTree, Lavesh has largely forgotten his past. He is not what his appearance or manner of speech is, he is what he knows and what he does. One day, when Lavesh was managing the front office, a visitor came looking for Abraham Moses, our administration manager. Moses was caught up with other work and, quite unlike his normal self, came to meet the visitor late. Lavesh chastised Moses and told him that while keeping a visitor waiting might be OK for Moses, it wasn’t OK for him. Moses gracefully apologised, and was let off.
One Latha has shown the way to one Lavesh, and to 15000+ other MindTree minds. Like Lavesh and Latha, we all have some disability or the other – some are pronounced, some are not. Latha has taught us that we are not our disability. We are our dream.