On World Aids Day, Benson dreams of bicycle with gears
Benson, 17, is a class 11 student. He is HIV-positive and not quite healthy - and he wishes he could have a geared bicycle.
"He owns an ordinary cycle which takes him to school and to the neighbourhood playground, where he plays cricket with his friends. Since he is weak, he says a bicycle with gears would help him ride more easily. But where will I get the money for that," asked Sallamma, his 60-year-old grandmother, while speaking to IANS.
Sallamma's is a two-member family. All she and Benson have are each other, as there is no one left.
Beson's father C.K. Chandy died of Aids in 1997; his mother Princy succumbed to the same disease in 2000.
Benson's sister Bency died in 2010 of Aids. She was then 16.
In 2003, the story of the two siblings had been widely reported in the national and international media, when they were turned out of school for being HIV-positive.
Along with their grandfather and a large media contingent, the two siblings had walked into the then chief minister A.K. Antony's office to narrate their tale, after warding off security personnel.
The educational needs of the children were taken care of, after that incident.
BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, then union health minister, publicly hugged and kissed the two children, sending out a strong message against social ostracism of the HIV-positive.
Nearly a decade after being briefly in the limelight, Benson continues to struggle with the effects of the virus.
"All I have now is a widow's pension of Rs.4,000. Benson gets financial assistance, which allows him one litre of milk daily, Horlicks and travel expenses to go to Chennai for his anti-retro viral treatment. HLL Life Care (formerly Hindustan Latex) provides the assistance," Sallamma said.
"Despite all our woes, and despite the struggle to meet expenses, the good thing is that the social ostracism that we experienced earlier is not there now. Benson has some good friends, and he plays cricket with them. Now and then he says he wants a bicycle with gears, but he realises that there is no money for it. Only God and I know how hard life can be, when we're so tight on money," Sallamma said.