Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Blind Man's Buff
Come twilight, a handkerchief is tied around your eyes to blind-fold, some ten odd hands touch your shoulders helping you swivel several times. Fingers rise up randomly before you with questions like, "is this one?...or two?...how much is this?...etc”, this being the test to make sure that you cannot see through the smallest puncture in the cloth, if any. The next thing, you are ushered to the center of the playground and so begins this amusement game. One, that we all played as 8-year-olds in the backyard, as 15-year-olds in school and even as 21-year-olds in sociable get-togethers. Some call it ‘The Blind man's buff’ others name it just ‘blind-fold.’ The excitement of the sport is the anxiety in the minds of the players as to who would get caught or for a start, will someone get caught at all or not. This excitement may eventually die down and the game may transpire into a rather boring one given the fact that monotony continues minute after minute, hour after hour. Then, its time to call the shots for a change of sport or to call it a day.

But imagine a situation where you were given a choice to play it for a lifetime. Would you play on? Now, let me rephrase that and say - suppose, there isn’t a choice at all, and it is imposed on you, then what would you do?

I know of a certain girl (one of my closest friend) who has played this game for 21 years now. She has to play it each day and every night. She’s still playing and perhaps will continue for a lifetime. But mark some aspects here. There is no handkerchief tied around her eyes. There are no playmates, no playgrounds, and no get-togethers. There is no excitement, no fun. Most of all, its no game for her, it’s a way of life.

Yes, you have figured it just right! She is visually impaired and not minutely, acutely, or partially. She’s entirely sightless right since the day she was out from her mother’s womb. This means she cannot see a thing. She cannot see the blue sky that blankets the earth. She can neither view the rising Sun nor soothe her eyes to a full moon’s night. She cannot (like the other girls) look at herself in the mirror and admire her beauty while getting decked up for a party. She cannot awe at the guy in her college who happens to be her latest or next crush. She cannot admire the flowers with which her mother adorns her drawing room’s center table. She cannot for once, look at the gossamer dress she wears and feel proud about how she looks. No, she cannot see colours, rainbows, shadows, meadows, rivers....and all those beautiful beings and their belongings that exist in this mortal world. She lives in a world of her own where every other being/thing is yet another imagination of her mind. Put in simple words, she does not know what it means TO SEE.
The first time I met her was back in the year 2002, when I was in standard 12th and she, a junior was one of the many participants in a popular show, which I was hosting at the English Literary Association (ELA) of our college. To cut a long story short, she won some prize (I don’t clearly remember what) and after the show, I met her amongst other participants back stage. What ensued was a rather brief conversation:
Me: hi, am surya....congrats! You did well on stage. Hope to see you again sometime.
She: hey, surya. Thanks!
Little did I know then, that what I said would actually come true one fine day as it happened two years later in 2004, during my second year in BMS. It was the eve of the fresher’s party and like all second year students we had hosted a not-so-great-party for the new comers (first years). That’s when I spotted her amongst the crowd, walked upto her, addressed her to say, “hey, guess who?” Confident that she wouldn’t guess, I took fun in the usual suspense that one creates in a friendly banter. She sure took a minute, but replied with crystal confidence, “Surya from ELA, right?” I would have pinched my self a dozen times before I realized that I wasn’t dreaming. I was left speechless.

What commenced with the shortest conversation has transpired into an intimate friendship over the years. Now that I have known her so well, I know what it means when they say – ‘life is a struggle’ because for her, life is indeed a struggle in the true sense of the word and in its complete version. But the same word – STRUGGLE is the one that’s actually almost invisible while one gets to know/see her. The reason being, she may seem like any other ordinary individual and from her conduct or mannerisms nobody on this earth would guess of her visual impairment. She does all her work right from making her morning breakfast to her classroom power-point presentations, by herself. She knows for sure what coloured dupatta would go with her salwar suit, or which shade of lipstick goes with her t-shirt. She would seem like just another girl amongst the crowd (and one cannot know of her sightlessness) unless one observes her vigilantly. Cheerful, confident and shrewd are some of the best adjectives that I can possibly use for her. A consistent topper in college, an excellent orator, an M.A in classical music, at the age of 21....she comes to me as one of those people who symbolizes power and ecstasy.

One thing that I infer after knowing her inside out is that, for people like her, Self-confidence perhaps is the most integral part of their personalities. While she ignores people who take uninvited pity at her plight and extend a helping hand, some incidents in life may take a toll on her confidence level. One such event occurred last week that shook the very foundations of her self-confidence. It was this camp called ‘training for the visually impaired’ conducted by an NGO of some sort in Mumbai. Though she has always been reluctant to attending such camps, she had to succumb to the pressure of her parents this time and ultimately attend it. The training was rather depressing as for the first time, she was asked to hold a cane as support to walk, she was being directed for every petty movement of hers (in spite of assuring the volunteers several times that she can do her work all by herself) and those compassionate words with a seemingly sugar-coated accent of the instructors/volunteers at the camp, are still torturing her just as a nightmare. For a girl who has always walked on the streets with the support of her friends, and for one who has never been to a blind school or college in her entire life, this camp came as a de-motivating one – One that has a long, wicked index finger constantly pointing out to the hard reality of her life. The questions that she threw at me after her return from the four-day traumatic camp left me stumped. “What is the primary purpose of an NGO? Don’t they exist to make lives of the likes of me, better? Why then do they conduct such camps at all, when it’s so depressing?” I don’t know how to respond to this, because whilst these NGOs are correct (in a way) by training them to perform day-to-day chores, they also either avoid the psychological part of their lives or indulge into extensive motivational speeches a la ‘You can win’ by Shiv Khera, which is even more disheartening to listen to. I guess the only way out is - DO NOT term them ‘special’, DO NOT take unwanted pity, treat them as one amongst the rest. According to me, if given the right kind of exposure, then blind schools/camps can be completely done with. Am not implying an anti-NGOs-for-the-blind kind of an opinion. But if they can be avoided, the Blind Man’s Buff becomes a not-so-rough game to play, until life ceases.


Blogger Dhananjay Shettigar said...

I am short of words to describe your post. But, just as a blind person doesn't need sympathy similarly I would tend to believe that you do not need any appreciation for this post.
Have tipped Desipundit, because I would want more people to read it and absorb the true essence of life.

9:43 PM  
Anonymous nishu said...

Same here buddy, no words for the way you have written the whole thing except that I have tears in my eyes. Kudos!

11:50 PM  
Anonymous meghna said...

Excellent piece of write-up my friend. you can use language to its best to express emotions. i just loved the lines where you have given it a girlish perspective and say, "she cannot see herself in the mirror, her crush,etc...." beautiful! You'll go a long way, take it from me.

5:02 AM  
Anonymous Jk said...

Beautiful..Inspirational..Heart-rendering..Well written..one of the BEST posts..EVER!!! Hats off to u, dear surya..

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blind Mans' Buff - never quite thought that this little game that we played could actually sometimes get this 'serious.'Arre yaar, i really dont know what to say, your ideas, writing, analogies, everything is so artistic! just one question - How does 'this'girl do her routine and even workon the computer,etc all by herself? also what about exams?...coz its just unbelievable.
u keep writing
Anita Fernandes (remember??!)

5:49 PM  
Blogger K.K. said...

Hi ,

have been closely reading your posts for sometime and must admit that you have an ability to enthrall. One of the best posts I have read in recent times.

I totally understand that we should not show sympathy with such people but then as a volunteer who wants to reach out to a section of people and create a difference the line between help and sympathy is very thin. And believe me the NGOs also want to treat people without any sympathy. All i am saying from an NGO's perspective it is easier said than done. You have just made me a little overcautious !

6:25 PM  
Blogger Shruthi said...

Excellent post - hats off to the girl!

I know how she must feel, if someone points out to her and says "you need help" when she is sure she doesn't. I have experienced it myself, although in a very small way.

I hope this does not crush the confidence of this wonderful girl!

Keep writing :)

9:05 PM  
Blogger Surya Ragunaathan said...

@ Dhananjay - Thank you very very much :-):-)

@ Nishu,JK & meghna - thanks a tonne for dropping in and for these wonderful comments.

@ Anita - of course I remember you! How can I forget my saviour during my Bangalore trip last year?! BTW, to answer ur question 'she' does all her notes, etc. on Braille,obviously. Also she has a software installed on her PC, mobile phone,etc. which speaks to her, thus she can read, type, edit, play games, everything(technology is a blessing, i tell you)...and thanks for ur comments, didnt quite expect them.
(ps: how did u know of my blog?)

@ K.K. - very true that there is a thin line between help and sympathy and infact most NGOs like 'Disha'(a mumbai based NGO for the blind) try to draw the line,have personally met these volunteers...my remarks were pointed at specific ones, not generalising...thanks very much for reading my blog and typing those comments.

@ Shruthi - it did shake her confidence, but wasnt strong enough to crush it completely...she's much better now...thanks very much

10:43 PM  
Blogger aShWiN said...

u really rock...
just one question..
How many days did u take to write this post?

9:43 PM  
Blogger Surya Ragunaathan said...

@ Ashwin - days??(hehe!) why? does it look like a time consuming write-up?...to tell u the fact,the idea was always in the mind,and the message in it was straight from my heart,so didnt take more than a couple of hours to pen it down....thanks for the words of appreciation

10:21 PM  
Blogger O said...

hi surya,good blog. and of course i loved the post on Niki the best. She is one of my best'est friends and i knwo that to talk of how accomplished she is would actually still be an understatement.
And hey, you were in the ELA? I have been a partof it since my FYBA and a co-ord as well. Good times! laterz!

7:57 AM  
Blogger loveunlimited said...

sensitive description and superp post.....kudos!!!

9:17 AM  
Anonymous Nilesh said...

Hey Surya, have been reading your posts for quite some time now. But I must tell, by far this is the brilliant post by you (probably among the top five that I've ever read). Gr8 that you've a friend like her. Excellent!!! Hope to read some more posts of such kind. Cheers!!!

10:59 AM  
Blogger Surya Ragunaathan said...

@ Nikita & Nilesh - Thanks a bunch both of you for ur encouraging words.

11:17 AM  

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