Dialogue in the Dark

For an hour on Saturday evening, I turned blind. Visually impaired, as they call it. No vision, no I could see NOTHING. कुछ भी नहीं. And after my last exchange with the dark, this was a paradoxical experience. It was, to use a cliché (because clichés are true nevertheless), an eye opener in more ways than one. It was literally a walk in the dark. Pitch dark. The kinds in which you can’t see your own hands. And the only thing to lead you is a walking stick. Of course, the banging into each other (we were a group of seven), stepping on someone’s foot and hitting-the-ground you do, are not even a fraction of the amount of assistance that you discover your senses can lend. Your companions become the subjects of most concern.

I’ve always believed that it takes only short of five hours to be physically attracted to any human being, whether or not you like him or her. But to genuinely care for someone takes as little as an hour in the dark! It is a kind of dependence that links the two beings. The dependence to know that all shall be well and al manner of things shall be well.

What may seem like a rant so far, is a mere scratch on the ambience created solely for the ‘unseeing’. I ‘saw’ today the fickle and unnecessarily complex exterior of people who find it hard to simplify. I saw a woman who could not come to terms with the fact that being unable to see does not enable us to be or do the metaphysical. I also sat with another woman to whom it mattered more how our guide lost what he had lost, and not what he had gained. We still hoped to glorify a man who was being himself. Quick to label him “Shahrukh Khan”, we needed a parallel, a precedent, because this was too unique to have happened to us for the first time. The first time in years, or the first time in life.

I smelled the coffee for the first time in ages. I differentiated Cuticura and Ponds talcum powders. I tasted Colgate tooth power for the first time. I swayed in a boat all over again. And sang प्यार की कश्ती में and ओ माझी रे with Upasana. I touched the bark of an Ashoka tree. I shouted, and screamed and ate a packet of chips in there. I used my fingers to sort a fifty from a tenner to pay for it. I felt the spray of the winter winds on Hussain Sagar lake. I held hands and shirt sleeves and shoulders. I followed a voice – in fact, many voices. I recognized them all. I knew where they came from. I knew they were going nowhere. I felt solid ground beneath my feet. I felt a carpet of lawn and pebbles. I felt the steel new seats at the bus stop on Pedder road. A little water wet my shoes too. I felt cold, but not alone. I felt protected. I felt full of purpose. And the dark… the dark was not of the night, or like Kshitij’s “velvet”, but it was definitely “alive... so much that its smoothness could be felt on the back of my hand, around my neck and my ankles...”

“Like silken threads… millions of them… lying as if someone had dropped them in the breeze… scattered… each strand tracing itself on my skin… the strands lay together yet distinguishable.”

My hand holder, the one to lead in a calm voice, the one to challenge my judgement, to ask me what an odd apple was doing amidst another pattern, to get me humming, to say my name, was a voice all of 19! Nasir his name.

When our walk was done, when out questions asked and answered, when our perceptions shaken and when we were allowed to walk 30 times slower than ever, Nasir led us back to our world - the world of light, colour, lines and eyes, with the souvenir of a card with our name written in Braille.

Nasir is really a 30-year-old from Bombay who worked as a tele-caller at TATA Indicom for two years. He lost his vision at 21. Equipped with rudimentary English and working Hindi, our man has been in Hyderabad for the past two months training as a guide at Dialogue in the Dark, which opened to public on Sunday, 9 January 2011, at In Orbit mall, Madhapur on level 5.

Nasir told me something no Hyderabadi will ever be able to: the number of species of flora at KBR Park. Any guesses?

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