One of the greatest disadvantages of having a disability, especially in a country like India, is that you become the focus of prying eyes the moment you enter a public place like a restaurant, the airport lounge or railway station. If you are accustomed to swaying your white cane as you wade through crowded platforms, there would be a few hands trying to hold your arm, steer it around objects as if turning it right or left would automatically turn your body to the desired direction. A few would have the courtesy to hold you gently and guide you around the chaos towards a seat. But even then, you face the danger of having to put up with folks who get curious.
Usually, a gentle but not too subtle interrogation follows after the introductions are over and a few minutes of customary silence pass. What do you do?, How do you occupy your time? (It’s usually assumed that a blind person is without a job and entirely in the care of his family) Do you get everything in subsidized rates? (Government of India provides close to nothing, but people think if we look decent we have to thrive on subsidies and half rates)
But the worst situation is when people get overly disturbed by the idea of someone surviving blindness, that too losing sight after having lived a normal life. “God’s cruel. Why should he give such a cruel punishment to you?”
“Oh brother, do I look like a prisoner in jump suit?” I feel like asking every time the business of god being cruel comes up for discussion. But I maintain silence to let the conversation (usually a monologue) reach its conclusion. In fact, such conversations usually end in a dull sort of way, with the other guy feeling helpless as if it was he who had to bear our troubles.
I normally take the ‘god’s cruel’ comment with a lot of humour, as if I’m guarding over my (god-given) inner happiness from the outside world which assumes that I’m brooding over the fact of not seeing. There are bad days when that comment evokes unusually sharp response. Sometimes I sigh helplessly, thinking about the futility of trying to convince someone about my generally healthier and happier state of mind, especially when he has already assumed that there’s something wrong because I’m blind. But it’s a mystery how god comes into all of this.
Having been a practicing Hindu, I can say most of our misconceptions about god (in our part of the world even among those following other religions like Christianity) have got nothing to do with our faith. Superstition is usually a heady cocktail of traditional beliefs, an inherent fear in god that he would do something awful to you if you don’t obey his orders (most of which are issued by human beings), or blaming every misfortune on not being pious enough.
This cocktail is spoon-fed to us from childhood. It starts to become a part of our habitual thinking pattern when an elderly says you fail in your school exams if you don’t pray to god (before leaving home for exams in the way of petitioning him about your success). We’re taught from that age to look at god as a kind of empowered genie who grants wishes or a powerful force that strikes you blind or leaves you deaf for even a slightest transgression. Over all, we are presented a picture of god which is tougher and exacting, who causes pain at the slightest of provocation.
As that pattern starts to get deeply entrenched in our belief system, we actually forget that god is far more loving and caring than we bother to understand; that he has given us a challenge for a reason (could be to learn or experience something or offer solace to others), which is for us to find out; And that he would have meant disability just as a unique attribute to someone or an intrinsic aspect of her personality, rather than to make her inferior to fellow human beings. So is it god’s fault if we think disability is a punishment?
**For those in Bangalore who would like to volunteer for a cause, please get in touch by writing to my email: firstname.lastname@example.org.