A divyang's diary: From confusion to confidence - The Mumbai effect
The advancement of the ‘Persons with Disabilities’ and their contribution to national and global development, to a considerable extent, depends on the environment in which they operate.
This encompasses physical infrastructure as well as the attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions of the able-bodied (jargon for non-disabled) towards their disabled colleagues and peers.
If the able-bodied are open-minded, patient and considerate, the disabled, on the basis of their abilities and qualities, can achieve extraordinary results. On the contrary, a conservative, regressive and inconsiderate environment would ‘spell the doom’ for the disabled, however skilled or motivated they may be.
I grew up in a small town in Maharashtra where the disabled were perceived as objects of charity. They were considered incapable of contributing to the self or the nation's development. As a consequence, being partially sighted since birth, despite having a very supportive mother and a good school education, I hardly made heads turn in my professional as well as personal life. Despite completing two-degree courses with excellent grades, I severely lacked the wherewithal to stand on my feet, forget impacting others.
In early 2017, I got an opportunity to intern under an acclaimed solicitor at Bombay High Court, Mumbai bench. When I arrived at the CST station, I had only hoped for some confidence and direction for the road ahead.
However, over the past two years, the optimistic, supportive, encouraging and open-minded people in the city have transformed my professional as well as personal life. From a submissive, confused and dependent boy in early 2017, I have become a responsible, independent and confident adult.
Recently, I completed one year in my current engagement at a renowned Company Secretary firm at Andheri.
Thus, on this ‘International Day of Persons with Disabilities’, I choose to pen down some of my experiences and learnings derived therefrom in the 'City of Dreams'. These lessons would be of great help to anyone (disabled or not) who wishes to make her life more meaningful and purposeful.
The Whole Package Matters
The principal reason behind my inability to hit top gear pre-Mumbai was my visual disability becoming the ‘be all and end all’ of my identity. Such a mindset greatly restricted rapid progress.
My stay in Mumbai awakened me to two key ideas: First, disability is only a subset of my character which also encompasses positive attributes such as excellent cognitive ability, photographic memory, decent communication skills and the like.
Second, in the professional as well as the social sphere, the work matters and not the worker.
For instance, if I can make enriching PPTs at the office (part of my job description) or help organise engaging events at Rotaract, my disability is of little significance. Each person has her own set of challenges, she must remember that ‘the whole package matters’.
The Show Must Go On
The most fascinating thing is the spirit of Mumbaikars. Be it heavy rains, traffic congestions, train delays, technical breakdown or personal tragedy, they keep sailing. During the recent Ganesh festival, I was astounded to find that despite heavy rains and flooded streets, the celebrations did not stop. The chanting, singing, dancing, partying was hardly impacted.
Thus, to succeed, even if all hell breaks loose, the show must go on.
Concern is shown by Deeds and Not by Words
During my childhood, I heard a lot of criticism about Mumbaikars. Mumbaikars were considered impersonal and self-centred, rarely enquiring about the wellbeing of their friends or colleagues, too preoccupied in their lives. Thus, it was advisable that I remain in my home town, where people always had time to enquire about other’s wellbeing.
My stay in Mumbai made me recognise that genuine concern is expressed by deeds and not just words. The following experience is an excellent elucidation.
Mumbai on the night of July 24, 2019 was a frightening scene. Relentless rain over the 24 hours had left the city dumbstruck. With the weatherman warning of more showers, shops and offices began to shut. All roads and trains were jam-packed. I too was in a spot of bother. A technical glitch had caused the Uber driver to abruptly end my trip. While I anxiously contemplated my options, my co-rider volunteered to help. Ignoring her safety and well- being, using Google Map and brilliant pleasance of mind, she ensured that I was safely dropped home.
Thus, mere inquiries about a person’s current engagement or plans or using glorified jargons like ‘specially-abled’ or ‘divyang’ hardly make sense. To really make an impact, there must be concrete action.
These are just a few lessons taught by this amazing city. The icing on the cake was being able to ‘find myself’.
International Day of Disabled Persons
The annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities or IDPD on December 3 is one of the many efforts by the United Nations to create international awareness and acceptance for the unique needs and abilities of the disabled community. It was proclaimed in 1992 by the UN General Assembly. The theme for the 2019 IDPD is ‘Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership. The theme, according to the United Nations, focuses on the empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as envisaged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which pledges to “leave no one behind”.
On this International Day of Disabled Persons, I express my heartfelt gratitude to Mumbaikars for their key role in my professional and personal progress. I hope people in smaller towns take a leaf from their book. This would spiral the rapid progress of the disabled community and make them equal partners in India’s development.
The author is a visually impaired Company Secretary based out of Nagpur, currently working in Mumbai whose hobby is to blog his experiences and learnings from his tryst with visual disability.
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