Tamana Chona: From cerebral palsy to teacher & marathoner

Tamana Chona is special. She has an NGO and school for special children named after her. Born with cerebral palsy and spasticity, she spoke her first words and took her first steps at the age of nine years. At 46, she is a nursery teacher in a mainstream school and marathoner. She spoke to Anuradha Varma about her incredible journey.

Shyama Chona is well-known as an academician and former principal of Delhi Public School. But, her life’s work is her daughter Tamana Chona. “She was born with cerebral palsy,” she starts to say and the sentence is completed by Tamana, “And had delayed milestones.” Her mother continues, “She spoke her first words and took the first steps at the age of nine years. And now she plays tennis, does yoga and takes hip-hop lessons.” Which is why at their special school, named after Tamana, playing outdoors is a big part of the kids’ regular day.

Tamana Chona (centre) with friends Rubaina (right) and Blessin at the Tamana School of Hope
Tamana Chona (centre) with friends Rubaina (right) and Blessin at the Tamana School of Hope

Tamana, 46, a nursery teacher at Delhi Public School, is also preparing to run the Airtel Delhi half-marathon in November. And it won’t be the first time. Why does she do it? “We are running to create awareness for our cause. There are many friends of Tamana (the school), who run with us.” Another reason is, of course, that she loves it! “I love the music, which really motivates me before the ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ is announced.” She won a medal at one outing and remembers fobbing off requests from friends for a treat!

She’s building up stamina for her run, helped by her friend and dietician Aditi and hip-hop teacher Pooja, coupled with tennis lessons. It helps that the day we met, the lift hadn’t been working for the last few days. Tamana sighed, “I was complaining about that, but I was told it would help me build stamina for my run.” It’s still a pain, admittedly, but she’s learning to grin and bear the climb up three flights of stairs to meet her friends at the Tamana office. And there are many friends here, including Rubaina, who coordinated our meeting. She says, “Tamana is a happy person. She loves having fun.” And if anybody’s ill, they get personal, handmade Get Well Soon cards from Tamana. The atmosphere is definitely “special” and humbling at the same time. There’s none of the formality one would expect when interacting with the boss’s daughter. When Sharad, the receptionist, who is special, is shooed away by Tamana during our chat because she “is in an interview”, he responds sportingly to the friendly banter with “Theek hai, theek hai (Yeah, okay!).” She also has friends from school and on a free day, enjoys going for movies, eating out and hanging out at the mall.”

Every morning, Rubaina and Tamana also discuss issues from the newspaper, which Tamana reads religiously from front to back. She also writes her thoughts down on paper for the two to discuss the next morning. I ask her if I can read some of it, but “My handwriting is really bad,” she tells me. Her topics of choice are random, and could be about the plight of beggars to wishing she had a sister. Evenings are about spending time with family and surfing the Internet to prepare the next day’s assignments for her students.

Family seems to be Tamana’s pivot, comprising her father, a retired Lieutenant General from the Indian Army, her brother, sister-in-law and two nieces. She played matchmaker for her brother and sister-in-law, who accompanied her for Spanish classes. They’re close, she says, and remarks, “There are some secrets you can only confide in other girls, right?”

Tamana talks easily about her childhood, but some details are hazy. She tries hard to remember how it felt when she took her first step. “I can’t remember,” she finally says. But she does remember the early years. She flops her head back and lets her hands hang limply…“That’s how I was. I used to drool too. I remember my brother taking care of me at times, when my parents were busy. That used to be fun.” Tamana has a come a long way since and credits the change to her parents’ commitment. She underwent speech and physical therapy in the US, where she learnt to sit, stand and speak, her brief bio tells us. She attended a special school and learnt to convert her disabilities into abilities. He resume reads, “In 2000, Delhi Public School Society employed her as a Nursery School Teacher at DPS Infant School, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi, to set an example that a special needs individual could be woven into mainstream society. She is the favourite teacher of the preschoolers at DPS who hops, skips and jumps with them.”

Tamana Chona
Tamana Chona

In 2015, Tamana Chona became the recipient of the National Award for the Best Employee with Disabilities in the Cerebral Palsy category. She was also selected to represent Asia-Pacific as one of the Special Olympics Inc’s Seargent Shriver Global Messenger for 2002-2003. She has been recognized as an Ambassador for Peace by the Universal Peace Federation and the Inter-religious and International Federation for World Peace.

Through all these achievements, her education continues. Currently, she is learning to do sums in her head. “My mother is teaching me about money. So she asks me to add numbers mentally.”

Any message for parents of special children? “Don’t hide them or lock them up. Let them out to enjoy the world.”

And, finally, how does Tamana see her journey? After our meeting, she calls up to say, “I am what I am because of my Mom and Dad. I have no aspirations in life. All I wanted was to be a good teacher for nursery kids, which I am. The kids love me. The other teachers at DPS love me. My parents, my brother, sister-in-law and my nieces love me. I was born a special child, but today the whole world loves me.” How many of us can claim to feel the love and contentment that Tamana Chona does? That’s a special ability in itself.

(Join Tamana Chona on 20th November 2016 at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, as she runs for the third consecutive year. Last year, the Tamana contingent was the biggest NGO contingent at the marathon. Support the initiative, by running with Tamana or donate towards the fund-raising goal. Donations can be made via cash/cheque/ DD which can be sent directly to the NGO. The cheques have to be made in favour of ‘Tamana’. Donations can also be made online at http://icfn.in/ADHM/fundraiser/tammychona/ If you plan to run with Tamana, contact Rubaina Juneja on 011-26148269/011- 26151587.)

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