Was it just a year ago that Manu left us? It seems like an eternity! With him around everything seemed easy and possible. After his departure nothing was ever the same. Friday January 7th 2011 dawned like any other chilly winter day. Nothing could make us think that it would change our lives forever.

Upon reaching project why I as always made my way to the special class located on the ground floor. I needed my feelgood shot: Manu’s smile. I was a little disappointed to see he was not there but remembered I was the one who had decreed that he should stay warm in his bed on exceptionally cold days and this was certainly one of them. I made a mental note to drop by the flat he lived in later and set out to the chores of the day. I cannot remember what exactly occurred but I was called away and never got to keeping my tryst with Manu on that fateful day. I never knew that tomorrow would never dawn.

It must have been 4pm or so when the girls called me. They had been on their way home when a call from the special educator summoned back to Manu’s home. A few minutes later a weeping Shamika informed me that Manu had left us forever. Time stopped. My mind and heart refused to believe what the ears had just heard. How could this have happened. True he had been a tad unwell but it was Manu we were talking of! He had weathered so many storms. He had always seemed invincible. A little cold could not get the better of him. There was something terribly wrong. I rushed to the flat, running up the three flights of stairs and entered the room where he lay. He just looked asleep. He would wake up and we would hear when his endearing moans. But that was not to be. He never answered my desperate appeals. He was gone. And with him a little of myself too.

I sat next to him, my hands stroking his face. I barely heard the teacher telling we what had happened, how he had asked for a glass of water, drank it and then while the teacher went to make him a cup of tea and get him two of his favourite biscuits, he simply slipped away as quietly as he had lived, without any fuss. That was Manu, a gentle soul who had survived a wretched life without a word of complaint or anger.

Today my thoughts go to him and to his exceptional life, a life that is nothing short of a miracle. Manu came to this earth with a purpose and a mission. You may wonder what purpose and mission a mentally and physically challenged being born in abject poverty could have. It is true that most of us would have brushed him away as yet another wretched beggar had we come across him wandering his street dirty and half clad; that his heart rendering cries would have seemed an irritant that we may have quietened by throwing him a coin. I still do not know why I did not do just that. Maybe everything was preordained. I stopped and looked at him with my heart and my life changed forever. I was to be the catalyst of Manu’s mission on this earth. How blessed was I.

Manu’s legacy is huge. If not for him there would not have been a project why. If not for him so many lives would never have been transformed, be it the now thousands of children who have got access to education, the scores of kids with repaired hearts, the many hopeless souls who now have dignified employment, the bunch of disabled kids who now spend their day happy and so on. Manu was born to conjure miracles and boy he did.

If not for Manu a depressed and lost woman would not have found her way and discovered what she was capable of. Yes it was Manu who made the impossible possible. He lifted my sagging spirits and allowed me to soar. As long as he was at my side I could conquer the world.

With him gone my gait has lost its bounce, my shoulders have sagged and my spirit suddenly seems fallible. With him gone what once was effortless is now back breaking. True I know we need to carry on as that is the only way to honour his memory but the road seems long and replete with challenges that now seem almost insurmountable. Yet I know I will soldier on. I have to. For Manu.

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