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Back to Delhi in 1981, Sapna was now a young adult (at least as per her chronological age). This time we discovered a new school for the retarded children called Sahan Institute in the New Delhi's Institutional Area. Sapna was one of its first students and my wife was also involved in its development as a volunteer. It was not very far from our residence and my wife could easily drive in ten minutes to school in the morning. She helped the school teachers in many ways as she had learned a lot from the New York experience. Initially, Sapna enjoyed the school and went willingly. At school she won several prizes for minor achievements – a prize for stitching, for fancy dress and for participation in a play. However, her IQ, we were told, remained that of a six year old. As she grew older, her interest in the school was not the same. She now avoided going and was happy sitting on the bed and playing alone with some toys. She had dozens of toys in her closet. She checked them everyday and selected one.

Ten years later, we were growing older and decided to move to Chandigarh where we had a ground floor house. However, we did not find a suitable institute for retarded children which Sapna could join. The only institute in the city admitted girls below 14. However, the management of another institute called Prayas (which was a rehabilitation centre for handicapped children) allowed my wife to bring Sapna everyday to play with other children and join in some physical activity along with the other children. My wife drove her to the Institute everyday and as I was now retired, I would sometimes accompany them. Gradually Sapna lost interest and it became more and more difficult to take her there. She preferred staying home and playing with her chosen toys. At times, she played intricate games requiring intelligence, but at her own sweet will and not at our asking.

While Sapna was in her late thirties, my wife was in her late sixties and both were gradually decreasing in energy to cope with active a life. Although Sapna was slow, she was not a difficult child to handle. Her constant smile and her baby-like face reminded us that we had a little daughter to be looked after. My wife remained active and fully occupied in helping her to take her bath, change her clothes and taking her for a little stroll if she was so inclined. She never lost heart. She never thought that Sapna was a burden on her. She was her baby, a little girl with whom she was always talking and still making an effort to teach her.

Sapna kept us young as we always felt that we have the responsibility of a little child who still needed us to look after her. Down's Syndrome children, we had been told had an average life span of twenty years. Our Sapna lived to be forty. She died on December 1, 2002 within 24 hours of a sudden illness. On her last night on this planet, my wife accompanied her to the toilet but she needed help to bring Sapna back to bed. Sapna walked back with both of us. I was worried about her plight and must have looked quite stern. She gazed at my grim face and seemed to be asking with her usual smile, “Dad, do not get angry with me.”

I smiled and patted her. She was happy.

She looked at her mother, her cousin Rekha and me again with alert and sad eyes – trying to say, “Dad, I want to withdraw from this world”. Her face was lit up in the bright lights in the dark night. Suddenly the lights shone even brighter despite Chandigarh’s usual low voltage in winter. Sapna's face had a sudden glow and then it faded. My niece cried and said, “Uncle, she is no more.” We did not want to believe her but, in our hearts, we knew that Sapna had gone for ever, leaving us alone.

We did not even have to call a doctor. A friendly doctor in the neighbourhood walked in on his own to look up the smiling Sapna. He looked at her face, felt her pulse and said “She will smile no more.”

Our dream girl was gone.