03 Dec Who is really the disabled?
It was a Sunday afternoon when this young man in his early twenties landed up at our Lucknow home. He was severely crippled below his waist probably due to a polio attack in his early childhood. I was still in my early teens and was curious about the purpose of his visit. On being inquired, Mrinal, the name by which the young man had introduced himself, said that he had come to Lucknow from a small town in West Bengal to learn Hindustani music at Bhatkhande Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, popularly known as Marris College of Music. He wanted to meet my father to see if he could arrange for him to be supported with a shelter and subsistence.
When Mrinal met my father, he narrated his entire childhood’s tale of poverty and pain and how he, nurturing a dream of becoming a famous singer, fled from his home without a penny to come to Lucknow with a dream to get trained at one the most acclaimed colleges of Hindustani music. My father, who was known and respected in the city of Lucknow as a connoisseur and patron of Hindustani music, was well-connected to many accomplished musicians of those days as well as the music college. After a brief evaluatory interview with Mrinal, which included a demonstration of his singing talent, my father promptly got him a place to stay in a nearby lodge and arranged for him to have food at ours and some of his friends’ home, each place one day a week. He also took Mrinal along with him to be introduced to
Pandit S N Ratanjhankar , the then Prinicipal of the music college and got him admitted.
Mrinal used to drop by once in a while to meet my father and update him on the development with his training in Hindustan music. My father would also sometime ask him to sing and we could perceptibly notice the gradual development happening with his talent. After a few years, in one of the state functions he was invited as a member of the music college to perform. It is here that he caught the attention of the then Governor of Uttar Pradesh, Mr. B Gopala Reddy and Mr. V R Mohan, the Mayor of Lucknow. A few months later Mrinal came to inform my father that he has been appointed by the Governor to teach music to his daughter and the Mayor apparently has undertaken the responsibility of getting him operated for a correction of his disability.
Months passed by. Mrinals visits started becoming infrequent. He told us how, after picking up the coaching engagement with the Governor’s daughter he landed many more tuitions and that was keeping him busy. One day, he came and touched my father’s feet and announced that he had gotten a break with a music director in Bollywood to playback for a film. That was the last of Mrinal that I saw.
Today, on the International Day of People with Disabilities, Mrinal came back in my thoughts, with a question. Yes, he was seriously challenged with his movements, but can he really be called disabled? Looking back, I would consider him to be more enabled – self-enabled – than many of us. His honoring of his dream and pursuing it with pure intent got him all the support that was required for his talent to blossom. Never ever did I or anyone see him wallowing in self-pity. Never did he either exploit his disability to wrangle undue favors.
To me the real disability is not physical. It is in our thoughts and actions. Driving on the streets of Bangalore and experiencing drivers trying to get one up over the other, I feel saddened at the disability being demonstrated in being sensitive and inclusive. It alarms me to see dead pan humanoid faces staring blankly as I walk along the corridors of corporations. So cocooned are they in their comfort zones that they do not even know that have become boiled frogs. Listening to men and women wiling there time away in coffee shops chattering meaninglessly over inane issues and blaming everything outside of them for their miseries makes me pity them, for they only can see the enemy out there.
On the International Day of People with Disabilities I invite my readers who are otherwise blessed with a fairly functional body, to look within and examine for themselves, how disabled they are in being human? How disabled are they in terms of making choices to live a meaningful, purposeful life, at their terms, with conviction? How disabled are they in pursuing what they are meant to be, with intent and pride? How disabled they are in terms of their own learning and learnability ?