After a euphoric trip, I sipped at my cup of tea, reminiscing over the days spent in England, when a thought struck me. Every spot of national interest or tourist importance had an entrance fee that went towards its maintenance. This fee, albeit hefty, was used prudently. While it ensured the place was all prettied up, it also kept casual loungers and the frankly disinterested away! Student concessions were also offered. In many places, we saw artists with their sketchbooks or easels, frowning in concentration.
What impressed us most was the fact that everywhere, special ramps had been created for the differently-abled, over which they could roll their wheelchairs. Consequently they could go everywhere on their own, without having to face the embarrassment of being turned away.
This is not the case in India. I recall reading an article titled ‘Are Public Places made to Suit the Needs of the Physically Challenged?’. Not really, I would retort. Builders turn a blind eye to making structures friendly towards people with special needs, as doing so would cost them more. The apathy is saddening, and so is the attitude of the general public. There is a tinge of apprehension, fear, sometimes even repulsion, with the callous even deriding them at times. Why can’t people hold out a hand instead of pointing a finger? The Indian psyche needs to be educated on this, as it is still a taboo subject, often swept under the carpet. No wonder differently-abled people are hidden so well that even friends do not know anything about them, and are left to live and die unseen, the modern invisible folk!
They do not require maudlin sympathy or lip service. They want to be independent — drive their own car, do their own shopping and live with dignity. Isn’t it up to us to see that they are given the right and the facilities to do so? Who can forget Helen Keller who was a saviour to those like her, partly due to the dedication of her wonderful teacher, and partly due to her own amazing strength of character.
Thus, ramps, wider lift doors, beds lower in height, toilets with grab facilities and separate queues might make all the difference. Public transport proves a nightmare, as many railway stations have serpentine steps, jam-packed with people and their luggage. (We never travel light) Bus stops are overcrowded, and it is hazardous for a differently-abled person to clamber on. Of course, if he/she does get in by the skin of his/her teeth, all the seats are occupied by more ‘deserving’ candidates, like a burly college kid listening to music, or a matron who has broken the Guinness record for shopping.
Little gestures, like a hand held out, a step forward in line, and just being around to aid, are all ways to make the differently-abled more comfortable. It is the little things that matter, and make people feel big. As Thoreau put it: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away!”
New Indian Express
12th May 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
I had heard of a couple of shoppers’ paradises in Purasawalkam. My sisters and I needed to buy some steel plates and so in we trotted into one of the biggest stores which boasts of branches all over Chennai. The crowds were daunting, which only proved that the sales were skyrocketing. What put us off totally was the attitude of the salespeople within, who had most certainly made a habit of getting out of the wrong side of their beds! They wallowed in their misery, not a smile or polite remark cracking their grumpy exteriors. When we asked for the plate section, we were pointed towards an even grumpier soul. Miles and miles of plates littered the area, but not the kind we were looking for, mom being rather particular about her choices.
Meanwhile I had bought something small, and I made my way out to call up Mom to ask if we could pick up some other plates. Cell phones have a nasty habit of switching off at inopportune moments, much like the staff within the store, and even as I made my call and moved back in, two huge bulldog-like men growled at me, asking me to deposit my bag outside. I protested that I had only gone to make a call, but the growls increased in intensity, and they only piped down when I asked for the manager in my sternest voice possible.
Meanwhile the plates had been located but the snails disguised as salesgirls took their own sweet time in making up the bill, sending us all over the place to collect our parcel. And finally at the collection counter, the frowning beauty there sent our packet flying across the counter, even as our plates landed with a giant crash inches away from us. That was when I took a grave vow, like Bhishmacharya... never again would I set foot on this store or any of its branches, where, despite being named after a gem, the people within were no gems... just a whole lot of boors who should never have been in sales ever!
The day had not ended yet. Off we went to another huge store, which claimed to have everything under the sun, except good tempers! Once again we waded our way through to find an onion pink printed polycot sari, again courtesy Mom who had loved it on someone else! As we made our winding way across bales of cloth and baleful glares [since all we wanted was one measly sari!], my sister decided to buy a blouse piece. Half an hour later, she regretted ever having walked into the shop, for one blouse piece warranted no attention whatsoever. The salesgirl was rude since the sale was just a drop in the ocean! Another vow was taken, this time by all three of us! Never again!
By this time we were hungry enough to eat a horse apiece, and we needed to find a good vegetarian joint. But the best one was off limits, because we had just got in foul moods, out of the store with the same name! God forbid!