Living with Polio




Shivkumar is 12 years old. Or so he says himself. His mother says he is 10, and his uncle says 7.
His family call him Shiva, like the god of destruction, the god of meditation, the god of pure consciousness.
Shiva has got polio- a rarity in the west these days, but still very common in India. Shiva's mother, Poppi, is 27 years old, and has had no less than 7 children already. However, one died, from polio, and another one she gave up for adoption to a rich couple who couldn't have children.
The family is very poor. They live together with grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins in a small house with only one room.
They make their living from selling jewelery and religious paraphernalia to tourists and pilgrims who come to Gokarna to worship its holy temples and sights. They stay in Gokarna during the tourist season, from november through april, and for the rest of the year they go back to Shimogo, more inland in Karnataka state, where they are originally from.
Shiva's legs are completely paralyzed. They are stuck in an awkward position, splaying outward. He can sit steadily, however, but his neck-movements are severely restricted. Basically, he can only look up and straight ahead. Shiva contributes to the income by always keeping a begging-box in front of him. He doesn't ask verbally for donations; people stop voluntarily to look at him, pity him, ask the family what is wrong with him, and give him some money.
Shiva doesn't complain much. He has a lot of patience and acceptance regarding his situation. He sometimes complains a little when he is moved around or lifted up, mostly by his mother, as his bones are extremely weak and soft. His left elbow is broken from a very light fall; it is taking a very long time to heal.
Shiva is a very brave little soul. He has much peace inside him and never complains about how life has treated him. He does find it boring at times that he cannot move around by himself and play with his siblings and cousins.
The family tells me, in front of the boy, that he will have maximum 20 more years to live. If he is lucky. Shiva doesn't flinch; he just looks at me serenely, with his beautiful, big eyes.

Shiva has an old soul, a wise soul. When I talk to him, in the few words of English and Hindi that we have between us, I feel as if I am talking with an old, wise man, and not a small child. He has such a strong, calm presence of acceptance and his eyes are alight with not only a striking green colour, but mostly, with a deep sense of wisdom and peace, that slowly pushes its way into my heart.