Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Poona Blind School

Its the hard truth - in India, without influence, its not easy to get things done. For a simple act, such as this, I was shown the door twice: once by the principal, and then by a social activist (who I'm sure had nothing to do with the administration of the school, but was just throwing his weight around.)

However, once serendipity was by my side - things just flowed like silk. And I was there. With these bunch of positive humans! Who have all the talent, humility, goodness and the flame to do something despite their limitations. Despite being visually impaired, they have the hunger to succeed. Which is a great lesson for anybody who has the luxury of basic necessities in life! It certainly was for me.

Our team of three - Ishan, Abhishek and me, arrived at the school at a little before noon with absolutely no plan in mind for the session that we would do with these students. It was a classic case of being consciously extempore. Which, I believe, worked out very well. 

A certain Mr. Mahajan took us to the dormitory. There he called, no - yelled, out to the kids as if he were their general taking them to war. "AYYYYE CHALA CHALA CHALA. PUDHE GHEYU. CHALAA". There was, however, a kindness in his yell. The group self-assembled themselves. And our threesome was guided by these lively guys to the recreational hall. 

Here, we thought we should begin with ice-breaking and we began talking to to each one of them. Asking their names. What IPL team they support (and those who didn't root for the Mumbai team, received some gentle leg-pulling from the Shiv Sainik in me! Ha ha)
This very sincere looking guy, Shankar, volunteered to sing for the group. And his voice had an emotion at least I hadn't heard live before. It was, unflatteringly, simply outlandish.

One dude Mahesh, was wearing stylish clothes that made him stand out (yeah, like a complete dude!). I complimented him (and everyone who I could) on that and, wow, what a beaming smile each one of them have! Like, its made their day. It felt so good. We took all of their hands to shake. And taught them to shake it firm, like men. Great ice-breaker session!

So the singer, Shankar, took us to the music room (as some of the rest wanted to go for a swimming session that a group of German volunteers had organized for them.)
They have a way to communicate with people. They stick to them. In the outside normal world, gestures like these will be considered atrociously indecent. However, with these guys, it didn't feel odd at all. Some of them were stuck on to me. Their hands were their eyes. The rest were with Abhishek and Ishan.

In all, it was the three of us and this group of boys - Sachin, Ankush, Madhav, Abhijeet, Harshad, Pravin, Rishikesh, Sandeep, with their Sir, BK (Bala Kamble). We had a good time listening to their soulful music. They used harmoniums, tablas and the bongo. After each music piece of theirs, the three of us showered them with chants of "Awesome, dude, Awesome!". It was warming to see, every instrument in the room had been donated by someone. A small act of kindness making a difference! 

It was also interesting to learn how they played the game of cricket. Conventionally, there is a bat and ball. The ball is chucked, and you have to smash it with the bat. For them, its a different ball game altogether? However, with their inherent spirit to fight, they play the sport by putting on these dangler like objects on the ball so that using their sense of sound, they can connect it to bat! Amazing, ain't it?

As the whole thing was approaching an end... I took over and we had a discussion on football. It was great to see the fanfare for the beautiful game! We ended up talking about Brazil. And I made them do a small Brazilian dance - O Yapo O YaYa ae ae ae. Which gave us all a real kick!
Their voice made me believe, our aim had been accomplished. Our team had given them reasons to feel good about life!

Some of their eyes made me scared, some made me think, some inspired me. It felt great to be hugged by so many of them.
I thought we'd take 30 minutes. But we ended up spending hours.

Here, I'd like to give a special mention to the group of German friends, as the boys called them. These are foreigners, in an unwelcoming environment, they have striven to make a difference. And they have done it! On a little tour of the premises, we were shown this tree-house that the German friends had designed and built. They have been regularly coming down every day of the week, for the past year, taking the blind kids for swims, talking to them, teaching them to speak fluent English and German, and so on! They are the real heroes. Salutes!