Maveen’s dad was in construction. Travelling around the remotest of regions, mainly forest areas of Northern India building bridges and barrages, living in makeshift houses. She therefore had to be educated in a boarding school, as were her siblings. So having been home tutored to the age of six, Maveen then went to a Catholic boarding school in Goa. Maveen was brought up a Catholic. She was taught by nuns.
She moved to Mumbai to study Psychology. It was her decision. At that time, Goa didn’t have a university that had a specialisation in Psychology and so Maveen had to take the bold step and leave Goa. She was only 18. She packed her bags and stayed initially with an aunt and then found a place in a hostel. She then went on to do a Masters in Social Work and worked for eight years with a grassroots organisation, working for the support and empowerment of women and tribal ethnic populations.
Are you beginning to get a sense of the independence and determination of this woman already?
In 1988, she moved on to work in an academic institution. She met Brian in 1989 and was married in April 1990. She took a year out of her post in Mumbai to move to Ahmedabad to live with Brian’s parents who were not at all well and by July, she was pregnant. However, she soon became seriously ill. She was in hospital for a long time. The doctors had trouble diagnosing what was wrong. She was receiving blood transfusion after blood transfusion. It was a serious kind of malaria -falciparum malaria – but because of the pregnancy, she could not be given quinine. However, when the pregnancy was at six months, since the malaria would not leave her, Maveen received quinine. The doctors had run out of options. She almost immediately started to feel better. But soon after, she lost the baby. She miscarried. She lost a lot of blood. Her haemoglobin levels were very low. She was very, very ill. She remembers being in theatre and looking over at the baby and asking if it was a boy or a girl. It was a girl. She’d always wanted a girl. The Parish priest came to explain about the need for a burial but she wasn’t well enough to go. It was all a blur. She just wanted to feel well again.
She began to realise the enormity of all that had happened to her, but she managed to stay strong mentally. She was determined to feel well again, And she knew what she needed to do. She needed to go back to Mumbai to recover. To be with her family. She knew that her in laws were not well enough to care for her and she couldn’t put that burden on them. She stayed with her mum in Mumbai for a month and then went back. She went back too to her temporary job in the Behavioural Science centre at a college there. Everything was close by. She could walk to work. Walk home for lunch and back again. Until one day, she could not walk. She was in excruciating pain. Again the doctors struggled to diagnose what was wrong. It was a very scary time. Brian was away working and Maveen didn’t know what was wrong and what was going to happen. She was told she had avascular necrosis of the hip joints.
Avascular necrosis is the death of bone tissue due to a lack of blood supply. Also called osteonecrosis, avascular necrosis can lead to tiny breaks in the bone and the bone’s eventual collapse. The blood flow to a section of bone can be interrupted if the bone is fractured or the joint becomes dislocated.
In both hips.
She would have to stay in bed on traction. For such an active, independent person as Maveen, this was so very hard to do. She returned to Mumbai for surgery and had plates on both legs. She was told she would be at home for eight months and on crutches for a year.
She battled with a sense of humiliation that she could now do nothing for herself.
She battled with the fear of wondering if she would ever be able to get out of bed again.
She battled with frustration and negative thoughts.
But Brian and her mum were always very positive and very calm. And Maveen had her faith. Her faith kept her going. Her faith gave her hope.
She was determined to walk. She was determined to get back to work again. One day, Brian and her brother-in-law carried her into town to visit a healing priest who used naturopathy and she was on her feet quite soon after that. She travelled by rickshaw to work everyday. She climbed the two floors up to her office on her crutches as there was no lift at that time. She felt valuable to the world again. That was all that mattered. She was gradually able to give up her crutches.
Maveen and Brian wanted to have children, but having a natural pregnancy didn’t feel like a viable option any more. The couple began to consider adopting. In 1996, a friend told them about a baby that needed to be adopted. He had been cared for by nuns in a hut in a slum, who had passed the child on to relatives to be cared for until suitable parents were found. These were elderly carers. Maveen and Brian went to see the baby and knew immediately this was the baby for them. He gave them such a bright smile. They had to go through the proper procedures, but it all worked out and Maveen had a sense that God was in it. After his first birthday, Christopher started gradually regressing. It was obvious. He’d hit all his development milestones early before that, but then he started to withdraw. By the time he was eighteen months, Maveen knew it was autism, but autism at that time in India was not well understood and treated. At around that time, Maveen got the girl that she’d always wanted. Karuna. Another baby given up for adoption by an unmarried mother.
Maveen knew that she wanted the best provision for her children, particularly for Christopher with his presenting needs. She knew she was the one that would need to find a job, because Brian was in HR and it would be hard to get a job in HR in another country. She started looking at anything and everything she could possibly do outside of India – the US, Europe, the UK. She applied for a job at Traidcraft as Programme Manager for South Asia. A couple of months later, she had an informal interview in a poky little restaurant in a little hotel in Mumbai and then had to come over to Newcastle for a formal interview.
I didn’t think I was qualified for this job. God was with me right through. Everything fell in my lap.
In March 2001, she came across to the UK on her own to take up her new job and to find a house for the family. She was so determined. She didn’t really think about what a massive upheaval it would be. She fought to get the right education for Christopher. Although her English was already great, she struggled with the accents and always asked everyone she spoke to to send everything through in writing to make sure that she never misunderstood anything important.
The family came over a month later.
Maveen has always been the one to work full-time. She’s travelled a lot with her job. Brian has always been the main carer. He now works almost full time as a finance officer for Gateshead Carers, but for many years, he had to work part time to be available for the children and any emergencies with Christopher.
Christopher is now 20. He’s had a good education. He is happy. He’s been thoroughly spoilt by his teachers, carers and social workers. He’s now at the Real Choice College in Consett. Maveen worries about his future, of course she does, but for now, all is well. Karuna has just left school and is about to start at Northumbria University. She wants to go into journalism. She’s had to grow up faster because of Christopher. She’s very close to him, but Maveen has never wanted her to feel responsible for him.
Maveen misses India. She would go back in a flash if she could. She misses her family. She struggles with the weather here and lack of sunshine. India means everything to her. But she loves her job here and the family are settled and they are part of a good, supportive community at Immaculate Heart church. As for her health, she can more or less do what she wants. She hasn’t let it hold her back. She’s had two hip replacements. She may never experience full recovery. She’s now learning to drive. She wants to remain independent as she gets older and being able to drive could make a lot of difference.
What a journey! When you meet Maveen – this positive, determined woman with a twinkle in her eye – it’s hard to imagine the path that she has had to walk.
She has always been determined to keep going, to find a way.
I have a feeling she always will.