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Friday, 28 April 2017

489) Leisure Time Short Stories (4): A tour of Pune's Blind School (or as I prefer to call it the "School for visually challenged students"):

489) Leisure Time Short Stories (4): A tour of Pune's Blind School (or as I prefer to call it the "School for visually challenged students"):

A few years ago, Sumita & Karobi Boudi were attending Bengali music classes at Pune’s “Blind School” (or as I prefer to call it “the Institution for the Visually Challenged”) at Koregaon Park on Saturdays. The music classes were held for an hour and it was my job to take them in the car & as the wait period was only for one hour, there was no point in driving back home and then drive back to collect them once the music class for the day was over. So I had one hour to “kill” waiting up for them.

To while away the time, I used to carry a packet of biscuits and a couple of wine and coin related magazines, these being my favourite subjects. Once in a while, I would walk around & sit on the waiting area benches and observe the visually challenged children going about their chores, studies, playing games etc. The more I saw them, the more I observed that they were like any other normal sighted boys going about confidently through their various routines.

I noticed that there was a Buzzer at the main gate, which was constantly beeping, so as to indicate to the students that they were not to step beyond this limit unless accompanied by an authorised “sighted” person/guardian. Not that I ever saw any of the boys come anywhere close to the main gate all by themselves – such was their discipline and training which impressed me no end.

On one such occasion, as there was a nice cool breeze blowing, with a thick cloud cover overhead, I preferred to sit in my car reading a magazine. I suddenly, became aware, that I was surrounded by a bunch of inquisitive, visually challenged students. There were five of them. They all wanted to understand the functionalities of my car, which I explained to them as best as I could. One thing, which I noticed was that they were extremely polite & well-behaved boys.

As I was eating biscuits, I offered some to them, which they politely declined to have, saying that they had just had their lunch & their tea-time snacks would be served shortly. (I thought to myself, this was a fine example of self-discipline – and here I was munching away at the biscuit packet, especially when I had had a sumptuous lunch – so, self-consciously, I put away the biscuits in the gloves compartment).

Curious to get to know them better, I asked each one of them their names and a kind of “friendship” developed between us. This is how the conversation went:

 “Uncle, you have an Indigo GLX Car. It is the first “C” segment car made by an Indian Company.  “MH ________” is your Car number!!” (I was taken aback and enquired “But how did you know that?” (wondering that even if the Indigo embossed crest was there on back of the car, surely, the number on the number-plate was not in Braille). “I can read your number plate with my hands. You know, I am very fond of fast moving cars, Mercedes, BMW, Porche, Audi, etc. etc. My parents serve in the Police Services and even the Police Commissioner knows of my interest in Cars. Once when a friend of the Commissioner was visiting him in his latest model of Mercedes, the Commissioner invited me over & his friend took us for a drive, but only after I had familiarised myself with all the controls !!” Thereafter, he went on to share with me his knowledge on all the latest upgrades, models and new design foreign cars.

(Silly me!! And to think that I was trying to explain the controls/functionalities of my car to him & his friends!! I could learn a thing or two about cars from him, myself!! I was by now completely taken aback by his knowledge of cars – not that I knew much about them myself).

Another youngster asked me “Uncle, since when are you residing in Pune?” I answered back that prior to staying in Pune, I was staying in Hyderabad. Immediately, he answered back, “I have been treated in the L.V. Prasad Eye Hospital in Hyderabad. I was examined by a team of experts on whether I will ever be able to see again. They were unanimous in their diagnosis that it was not possible at this stage, but as I grow up, a few years later, they will re-examine me again and there is the chance that I may go through an eye-operation which may restore my vision to a very large extent. You see, I was not born as a visually, challenged person, but developed this problem by and by”. He spoke with a smile of a “fatalistically” optimistic young lad and I wished him all the very best in future, adding for good measure, that my late father had been a well known Ophthalmologist as well as a Physiologist who had helped several persons like him with their eye-sight related issues.

Then someone made a request that I should take them for a drive, which I politely declined, as I had no permission from the school authorities to take them out of the campus, as well as to drive them around the campus itself, as many other students were playing outdoor games on the school grounds.

Then two of the elder boys said to me “Uncle, would you like to take a tour of our School?” Inquisitively, I said “Why not, I hope I would not be disturbing anyone or your daily routine”.

I noticed that as we went around, the two boys walked like normally sighted children without faltering a step, and pointed out to me with a gesture of the left hand “Do you see that Tree House on the left. This was gifted to us by a foreigner lady from the nearby Osho Ashram. Also, do you see a student sitting in the tree-house? He is the most studious of us all & is constantly studying.” (I felt as if, someone with a normal vision was taking me on a tour of the School).

“Do you see this new building being constructed? Our school is undergoing an expansion programme”. Then we came across a few foreigners interacting with a few young students. “They come over on the week-ends and spend time with us, playing games and teaching us our school curriculum”. I waved out to the two foreigners, who waved right back at me.

Pointing out to an area from where an uproar had just gone up, one of my friends said “These boys are playing a game of cricket. Would you like to play with them?”

 I declined politely, adding for good measure that the Bengali music class would be getting over soon and I would like to tour the School instead.

I noticed that the cricket ball they were playing with made a loud noise when it landed on the ground as it was filled with a few “ball bearings kind of a metal”, the batsman could make out from the sound of the ball pitching on the ground, the direction the bouncing ball was going to take, make necessary adjustments in his stance and play out the ball with his bat. Mostly, the ball would go in the direction of a fielder who would catch it by the sound of the “ball bearings” and return the ball to the bowler. Once the ball landed in the tall grass a little far from the playing area. I wanted to help retrieve the ball. One of my little friends said “Don’t worry, you just watch how the ball is retrieved”. One of the fielders took the bat from the batsman, and started walking in the general area where the ball had landed, pushed the grass by swinging the bat in several directions, till he made contact with the ball and retrieved it, all in good time.

Then, I was shown the Football playing area, which was fenced out by rounded wooden logs. I saw the footballers go about their game with great seriousness and no hesitation – the only difference from a regular football being that this ball made a loud sound when it landed to alert the players of the ball being in play close to them.

I asked the elder of my two friends, “And what game do you play?” He answered, “I play Chess. Do you play Chess? Would you like to play a game with me?” Shyly, he added, “You know, I am the School Chess champion and have a few prizes at the District level too”. (I thought - Hah, Catch me playing Chess with a Champion!!). Nevertheless, I said “Maybe, the next time!!”

We moved on to the hostel area, passing by the Junior and Senior Dormitories, each of which had double bunks for the boys. I was quite intrigued to see some of the boys gathered around a TV set watching a latest Bollywood block-buster and having a jolly good laugh and passing comments. I asked inquisitively, “Are they seeing this movie?” Casually came the reply, “Yes, we all do. All of us have a very good idea of the Bollywood Movies. Everyone has their favourite actors & actresses & have their own “visualisation” of the scenes as the film plays on. We also have a few colleagues who can see partially, so they help us out with our visualisations and in following the story-line”.  Then we passed the senior boys dormitory. I asked “Do the senior boys bully you sometimes?” Pat came the reply, “No, never!! Everyone tries to help us out, whenever we need some help!!”

Next on the tour was the Food Mess and the Kitchen followed by the classrooms, the Common Room for indoor games etc.

Lastly, I was taken to the bathing & washing area situated in a large courtyard. “This is where we wash our clothes and have a bath”. I noticed that one student was having a bath in his striped underwear. When he heard that I was being taken for a tour around the school, I suddenly saw him blush and hide behind the concrete structure where the taps was placed just like any boy with normal vision.

I was quite taken aback at his normal behaviour of exhibiting embarrassment and apologised immediately, adding that I was looking in the other direction away from him, so as not to add to his embarrassment.

I thanked my little friends and said that I had thoroughly enjoyed my educative tour of their institution and wished them well, but they added, “We will come and leave you up to your car”. I protested that they too had to go about their routines & I knew the way back quite well, but they would not have any of it.

They both came back up to the car to leave me, which is when I felt encouraged enough to ask them a few questions:

“One thing has been bothering me. I have noticed during my extensive tour of your school that everyone seems quite normal, happy and enthusiastic in whatever activity they are involved in and everyone seems to help out everyone else. But, don’t some of you feel depressed sometimes?”

They thought about this for some time before replying – “No, we were born this way, so we don’t know what it is like to be sighted, but we are having a lot of fun, we have our aspirations, our hobbies etc. within our natural limitations”.

“And what are your aspirations, if I may ask? What do you want to become?”

One answered, “I want to become a well known Chess Champion”. The other replied “I want to become a well-known writer and poet”. I wished them all the very best with achieving their dreams, but, I persisted with one last question for them “What if the Ophthalmologists at some later date could help you out with vision? How would that change your aspirations in life?”

They answered back with a wisdom far beyond their years “Perhaps, in that event, we could expand the horizons of our goals and aspirations from say, 70% as at present by another 30%, but we are hardly missing anything as of now”. I wished them all the very best in life, shook their hands & we parted ways.

This interaction has left an indelible imprint on me.

I am reminded of the English Poet John Milton’s well known verse from his sonnet “On his Blindness” : “They also, serve, who stand and wait”.

This may have been true during Milton’s times, but for these young boys there is no standing and waiting. For them, life is in the Fast Lane, of course within their limitations. It is for the rest of us to cheer them on!!

(This short story was first written by Rajeev Prasad for Sumita’s blog “Fabhobbies” on my impressions made during my trips to a “visually challenged” children’s school in Pune). This story is being placed here for wider coverage)

1) A Two Rupee Commemorative Coin issued on the Bicentenary of the Birth of Louis Braille
Links to some other short stories on this Blog by Rajeev Prasad:

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