My Little Fighter

Over the centuries, The Banyan tree has taken on significance as a symbol of fertility, life and resurrection. It is a fitting symbol for ‘DesiStoriesAshaUSA’ which presents the stories of South Asians who have wandered far and wide from their ancestral homes, traversing new frontiers and setting down roots and networks in the US. Our goal is to connect and establish closer ties within the diasporas of the South Asian community and facilitate a dialogue with our readers, one story at a time. We will showcase stories of achievement and success and also resiliency and hope during the COVID pandemic.

Our story today features the heartwarming saga of Rijuta Pathre, and her 43 year quest, to give her daughter and other children born with severe mental and physical disabilities, a life that all children enjoy.

“I see a young bud blooming into a new personality. She is not the unreachable soul with a twisted body. She is in contact with the world and with emotions, fear and love”.

Rijuta and Sadanand Pathre’s second daughter Meenakshi, affectionately known as Minu was born in 1979. From the early age of 2 months, it became evident that Minu had significant disabilities that left her unable to speak, and engage in activities like crawl, see and move. At the age of five months, after undergoing a battery of tests, a doctor at the University of Minnesota, told them that Minu would not see her first birthday: “The parents should put her in an institution and forget she was born. She is not going to amount to anything”. These words seared her consciousness like a branding iron!


Three years ago, Rijuta and her family celebrated Minu’s 40th birthday!

“Everybody’s life has importance, no matter what their ability is. Minu is dependent on other people’s care, but she has such stubbornness and will power that she gets things done in the way she wants. So she has power over her life. She cries, she has facial expressions that convey her desires, and then she has that big smile that makes everything worthwhile”.


Minu is not an unreachable soul, She is in contact with the world



FAMILY LIFE

Rijuta came to the US in 1970, soon after her marriage to Sadanand. The culture and lifestyle were new and strange, but she assimilated, catering to her passion for Indian home cooking with improvised ingredients, viewing Bollywood movies at the Bell Museum and meeting other young Indian couples. She became one of the founding members of the Marathi Association of Minnesota, and the Bharat School which later evolved to SILC (School of Indian Languages and Culture). Rijuta also became involved in the community, organizing cultural programs from dramas to children’s dances, and flexed her writing skills by penning skits. She recalls these times as some of her “most fun days”, struggling for money, but deriving great pleasure from a shared ice cream cone with her husband (a Ph.D student in chemistry at the University of Minnesota) bought from a left over laundry quarter.



Their eldest daughter Anviksha was born in 1974. She is a successful Psychologist with two practices in Chicago. Happily married, she has blessed Rijuta and Sadanand with two teenage grandchildren, aged 14 and 11.

Anviksha, Syon, Arav, Pat and their dog Bo


The strong bond between five year old Anviksha and Minu was fostered from the time Minu was born. Anviksha was made to feel an integral part of Minu’s care team. She even insisted that Minu be her First Grade ’Show and Tell’ project, her story focusing on: Our love for her; How cute she is; How we care for her”.

Sisters


Meenakshi (Minu) was born in 1979 and labeled ’severely’ impaired, without a specific diagnosis. Prognosis was dim without much hope for the future. Ignoring professional advice to institutionalize her, they brought her home to love and nurture.

For 11 years, Rijuta took care of Minu alone while Sadanand supported the family as a chemist at 3M. Minu was enrolled in an infant stimulation program, then she went to a Developmental Achievement Center (DAC), and finally to the public school’s multi-handicapped unit. The teachers were wonderful and the family received a lot of support, but it did not move Minu upward.

Just about then their prayers were answered. They were able to enroll in ’A chance to Grow’, a Sandler Brown Program. The first six months were hard and demanding, yet gratifying. With an army of volunteers that included family, friends and 21 parishioners from the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Maplewood, Minu was attended to 6-7 hours a day. The positive changes included weight gain, fewer illnesses and even a crawling pattern on the floor.
Unfortunately, after 4 years and a home move, they had to discontinue the program as they lost most of their volunteers, but key positive changes stayed that included: normal light reflexes and tracking people and objects; “she is aware of her surroundings; understands language; and can even throw temper tantrums”.


PARTNERS IN POLICYMAKING

Around that time, Rijuta joined a two year leadership training program for parents of children with disability: Partners in Policymaking. ”When I graduated I was so empowered. It changed me inside out. I became a fierce advocate not only for my daughter but for all people with disability”.

A summer workshop provided new skills such as writing and reviewing grants. Rijuta was also selected to serve on their Rule Advisory Committee, and became part of a study group to implement legislative changes. It gave her direction, a new path to march on and appreciate life as a precious and divine asset.

“It enlightened me to get actively involved in different organizations, to voice my concerns, work on changing laws, become part of a task force at the state level on information dissemination at doctor’s offices, reaching health and social workers and affected parents. Rijuta also sat on many Governor’s advisory councils and was a board member of the ‘Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC)”.

Commendation from Governor of Minnesota


MINU ENJOYING LIFE

“I never would have imagined my daughter taking horseback rides or going to Disney World. Minu goes camping, for a walk in the woods with us, and to Anviksha’s dance recitals. We take her to the mall and out for lunches and dinners, where she sees her friends and kids from school, and all the kids who have known her don’t think anything different about her”.



After traveling to memorable places like England, India, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and California as a family, they discovered camping. Minu joined them on all their camping trips.

Rijuta wrote a prize winning article for the St Paul Sunday Pioneer Press, of their trip to Itasca National Park, genesis of the mighty Mississippi river. Preparing for every emergency, their gear could have taken them to the North Pole!

”We felt such a closeness that nothing else seemed to exist. Open space with a blanket of sky full of stars. Our family seemed to be closer than before. We laughed, watched birds and made sandcastles. Now we go camping whether it rains or shines. We love every minute of it”.


AS LIFE MOVES ON

Rijuta and Sadanand are now in their mid-seventies and live with many health challenges. The Covid pandemic has affected their care of Minu. Federal and State programs have been cut back and/or discontinued. Their need for caregivers is acute, as they struggle alone to care for their 43 year old daughter. Any referrals for qualified caregivers are appreciated and can be sent to ‘randspathre@gmail.com’.

With all the challenges they have faced and continue to, Rijuta and Sadanand have never lost their positive attitude and have a tremendous zest for life. The love of friends and family and good food keep them smiling. Rijuta’s friends call her ’Dear Abby’ since she has a solution to every psychological dilemma. They entertain and are entertained frequently: birthdays, baby showers, weddings, Indian festivals such as ‘Diwali’ and ‘Kojagiri Purnima’ celebrated with a boat ride on Lake Minnetonka, and Christmas parties.

“I represent a neglected minority population. I am a voice for those who don’t have a voice in this political environment. My life has been enriched by my daughter and family. I was able to spread my wings to see the world at different angles, which I would otherwise never have seen. My mind still thinks I am only 25”.

Rijuta And Her Family Support Group


DISCUSSION : Our goal is to start a dialogue through the stories we present here. Please send us your thoughts and comments, either by posting a comment at the bottom of this blog, and/or sending an email to ’ashausastories@gmail.com’. We will collate all the feedback we receive and share back with you. (And let us know if you wish to remain anonymous).

A. What insights and life lessons have you gleaned from Rijuta’s story?

If you wish to submit your story for consideration, please send an outline with contact information to ’ashausastories@gmail.com’.

Please follow our blog ’DesiStoriesAshaUSA’ by entering your email at the ’follow’ prompt at the bottom of the page. You will be among the first to be notified when a new story is published.

AshaUSA’s mission is to provide culturally specific programs to the South Asian community to foster health and harmony in their lives. Please visit our website ‘ashausa.org’ for more information on our programs, volunteer opportunities and resources.

40 thoughts on “My Little Fighter

Add yours

  1. Thanks to you Ruby for sharing a wonderful, emotional and touching story.

    This highlights Rijuta’s quest to be a true warrior and sheer determination enabling Minu to have a wonderful life.

    We pray that God continues to bless Rijuta, Minu and their entire family with much happiness and good wishes.

    With love,

    Santosh Jhanjee

    Like

    1. Thanks Santoshji. Yes our positive thoughts and prayers are with Rijuta, Minu and their entire family for the future. Rijuta has been a true warrior with Sadanand’s unswerving support.

      Like

  2. Sharad Majlekar
    May 23, 2022

    Thanks to you Ruby for sharing a touching story.
    This shows how Rijuta has taken pain to grow Minu and enable her to have cheerful life. It’s not atall that easy. Hats off to Rijuta and Sadanand.
    I pray to almighty God from the bottom of my heart to bless entire family with best wishes.

    With love,

    Sharad Majlekar.

    Like

    1. Thanks Sharad for your comment. Indeed, hats off to Rijuta and Sadanand. Their devotion, love and care for their daughter knows no bounds.

      Like

  3. Sharad Majlekar
    May 23, 2022

    Thanks to you Ruby for sharing a touching story.
    This shows how Rijuta has taken pain to grow Minu and enable her to have cheerful life. It’s not atall that easy. Hats off to Rijuta and Sadanand.
    I pray to almighty God from the bottom of my heart to bless entire family with best wishes.

    With love,

    Sharad Majlekar.

    Like

  4. Mother is a born fighter!! Rijuta has proved every word of it. Her family ‘ s support is note worthy. It indeed touches the heart to see the love that flows in this closely knit family. May all the blessings shower on the family and ease their way forward.

    Like

  5. Ruby Anik – AshaUSA
    My profound thanks for the story of Rijuta n Sadanand Pathre you have enumerated. It is most touching, most inspiring and an example of dedication and total caring of a special child by an outstanding parentage.
    I have known Sadanand since our schooldays together till date, he is a devoted person, whether it is studies, sports, his married life and his parental responsibilities which are most adorable. He has been creating his own niche, in his academics, his career, his married life and his child care. He has been very fortunate to have a matching wife Rejuta in all his endeavours. I admire both of them for their relentless efforts to make their family life meaningful and cheerful. I am very fortunate to have such a distinguished friend and all our schoolmates join me on this.
    Though he lives in the US we have been meeting frequently during his visits to Mumbai, I have even visited his house in Minnesota and met Minu there.
    I always remember that.
    … Ajit Karbhari

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Ajit. Wow. You have so captured the spirit and character of Sadanand and Rijuta. They are very special and it was my privilege to get to know them and write their story. You are mutually lucky to be friends.

      Like

  6. Thanks Ruby Anik-AshaUSA for your kind words. I have just stated the facts and there is no overdoing it. Their entire life travel has been witnessed by me and our friends and believe me, not a word is out of place
    They cannot vist Mumbai together, one of the has to stay back home to look after Minu and that too for all these 43 years. It is one of the great examples of dedication we have ever seen. We sincerely pray the Almighty be with them for ever.

    Like

  7. As a kid brother of Rijuta, I have been watching her life for last many many years – 68 to be precise. She has an amazing power to go through the ups and downs of life with a bright smile. Her relationship with Minu is so special that they communicate with each other without speaking a single word. Rijuta will be celebrating her 75th birthday this year and I wish her a long, happy and healthy life ahead.

    Like

    1. What an honor to be a part of the family. Rijuta has told me about your help and travels here to help them in times of need. Their positive attitude is amazing and those smiles and calm faces are an inspiration.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I wish we could have travelled to meet Sada and Rijuta more often and shared part of their hardship. Sada was my Idol since school days and I admire his ability to share the parenting of Minu along with Rijuta. I have rarely seen this in any of the special children.
    God has sent Minu to them because He knows that they are the only people who can make her life so happy.
    Thank you Ruby-Anik for sharing this wonderful story.

    Like

  9. Dear Rubi Anik,

    “My Little Fighter” is a superb article written by you. Rijuta and Sadanand have been our dear close friends for many years. We have seen Minu from her birth. She was strikingly a very pretty baby. However, soon we came to know about Minu’s condition and we were shocked and saddened. That feeling didn’t last long though. Rijuta and Sadanand took this as a challenge from God. Rijuta stood behind her little Minu with new vigor and energy. She started treating Minu as a normal child. Minu was taken everywhere they went. That’s when Rijuta opened the door for Minu’s growth. Rijuta’s determination and ability to find out and acquire all the resources for Minu’s development have been the key to her success. Sada and Rijuta look after Minu with abundant love and respect her as an individual.

    There is a lot that one can learn from this couple. Despite Minu’s responsibility, they enjoy life, help others in their need, and extend their warm hospitality. We are fortunate to have them as our friends.

    Rajani and Suhas Patankar

    Like

    1. Thanks for your sensitive and impactful words. The good news is they have a loving support system. And the bond between Rijuta and Sadanand allows them to face anything life throws at them. 🙏

      Like

  10. Madhura Sane
    Dear Sadanand Pathre kaka
    and Rijuta Pathre kaku, I have a
    smile on my face and a tear in
    my eye at the same time! Your
    story, your passion, your energy
    and the indomitable spirit is a
    true inspiration to me as a
    mother and as a human! Hugs
    and positive vibes and best
    wishes to you both and Minu! I
    feel incredibly blessed that our
    paths crossed!

    Like

  11. Neha Damle
    What an incredible life
    story….so many teachable
    moments to parents like us
    and others all across the world.
    I am so glad to have known
    truly inspiring parents like you
    both Rijuta Pathre kaku! Thank
    you Sayali Amarapurkar
    Jahagirdar for sharing their life
    story and moments of
    challenges and happiness.

    Like

    1. Thanks for your comments on this heartwarming story. We appreciate the time you took to write it.

      Like

  12. Thank you Ruby for sharing such a emotional and inspiring story. I learn a lot from Rijuta and Sadanand. Some times we can’t learn from books and lectures, but when we see devoted parents who sacrifice, patience and making every moment the best. Minu is lucky to have parents like Rijuta and Sadanand who are Angels. You changed our life, specifically mine. God bless you. Love you Minu. My Hats off to you Rijuta and Sadanand. Love Rama Chauhan

    Like

  13. Chicken soup for the Indian/Marathi soul.

    Extremely well written!

    From a friend who has witnessed it!

    Sunanda Kakade

    Like

  14. Hi Ruby, another well done saga of a very remarkable person. I can only imagine the hardships and difficulties that Rijuta and Sadanand have had to overcome in caring for and bringing up a challenging child. It seems that through their love, positive outlook and resolve, they have managed to give Minu a truly happy and blessed upbringing. I hope and pray that they will have continued success in their endeavour and continue to be an inspiration to others who face the challenges that they do.
    Regards,Nafisa

    Like

  15. I had no idea that there was so much more to Rijuta than the positive and contended life she portrays. I got to know Rijuta in the last 10 to 15 years, but her positive demeanor is so contagious I decided to stay in touch. Her acceptance of life with all the complications is truly admirable. I always remember her when life is a tad unfair. Thank you Ruby for sharing the story of this phenomenal family.

    Like

  16. Hi Ruby,
    You have captured and told Rijuta, Sadanand and MINU’s life story accurately and beautifully. I have known them from the time they came to Minnesota and have been by their side and watched them with admiration all my life. Rijuta and Sadanand continue to amaze me as they continue caring for Minu with this strong unconditional love. They are truly inspirational! Thank you.
    Mira Jejurikar

    Like

  17. Hello Ruby,

    You have written this story on Sadanand, Rujuta, Minu and family so well and accurate that it touched our hearts. Me and my husband know them for long time, and we have seen their challenging life very closely. We deeply admire Rujuta and Sadanand’s love and affection towards Minu, and we have tremendous respect for both of them. We wish them happy and healthy life ahead.

    -Vasudha and Sunil Khadilkar.

    Like

    1. Thanks for posting a comment. Rijuta and Sadanand are wonderful and caring parents. 🙏 It was an honor to write their story.

      Like

  18. Thanks so much for sharing this heartwarming story of unconditional love, grit, unwavering support of family. Rijuta and her entire family are a true inspiration for us.

    Like

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