Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Magic Realism

This is not a post about Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa as I am yet to read anything written by him. In fact, I have just started exploring the genre of Magic Realism just some time back by reading the (short) works of his one time friend Marquez. If you have started wondering what am I getting on to, please continue reading.

This post is rolling in my head even before the Nobel Prize in Literature for the year 2010 was announced. But, in a different form; I was wondering how different my life would have been if facilities like Google and Wikipedia were available, I'd have easily found references authors, director, books or films (letting me know what all interesting things were there to read or watch) instead of the dictionary (yes some days only the dictionary was my reading material), which I'd read as a book looking for meaning of words without any context or reference (picked up in some weird random order).

After the news of Nobel came, my thought process changed a little; how would a writer approach my life story? He'd find it very difficult to tell it in a linear, logical or rational way. Because when I think back or go in the rewind mode I find some events there are nothing short of miracles (it'd be said that I worked towards it and it wasn't easy in any way, but, even in my head it sounds hollow). So, the writer would have to depend on elements of magic realism otherwise he will be at his wits end trying to find explanation for things, like a friend once asked 'you cannot sit steady on your wheelchair for more than a few minutes, then how come you hang like a bat behind your father on the two-wheeler and roam all around?”

There are such unexplainable events scattered around in every aspect of my life, be it education, employment, writing skill (however bad it is) and even my friendships, there seems to be the proverbial Hand of God phenomenon.

I just wish the last line of the story would be; 'then one fine day he got up from his wheelchair and started walking towards the toilet all by himself.”

Thursday, September 16, 2010


As a teenager some twenty years ago I too nursed an illusion that good education and gainful employment was the only escape from my misery. Being locked in a quadriplegic body was a bother but still there was a kind of foolhardiness that made me think that things will work out. In that age the harsh reality of the world takes time to dawn on you. So, when the elders in the family chided my brother (couple of years younger to me) you should be more responsible,remember you have an invalid brother to take care of, whenever he was his mischievous self. Those days political correctness wasn't in vogue. So it wasn't supposed to be hurtful. Still it made me wonder will I be forever dependent on someone all my life? There was a compound effect of this thought as I was lured to do physiotherapy and other treatments with the promise that it will make me run like others.

So, it was only in my teenage that I became comfortable with my physical being and started thinking of doing something worthwhile in spite of my deformity. After my tenth class I registered for Pre-Degree Course in the Commerce stream as a Private (meaning just study sitting at home and going to college only to write exams) student It wasn't easy but it was the only thing I could do at that time, and with the help my siblings and friends (who shared their notes and those who became my scribes for writing exams) I passed and registered for Degree in same manner.

Now, it is nearly a decade and half that I passed out Degree and have been employed in a MNC (basically working with a computer doing data entry and typing out short letters), and a freelance writer (journalist) for the last ten years or so. My ambition to be a writer had grown due to the fact that it felt like the easiest the job to opt for a person like me (you just needed a typewriter and a bundle of A4 size papers). So, along with formal education I started equiping myself with requisite skills; learning to read with a purpose and writing Letters to Editors, just to prove to myself and others that I had it in me (I could even buy more publications with that).

I realised as I moved forward in life that a job could be the ultimate goal for a so-called normal person and mark of achievement so to speak, but, for a person with disability it presents new barriers and challenges to surmount not just physical but even attitudinal. You have to be socially equiped to deal with new people (my voice still chokes if I have to talk to new person or even my seniors, so an interpreter is always has to be near), maybe a result of growing up in a protected environment of home. Even in the matter of education I maybe one of lucky few who could reach to the level of graduation. And, what about accessible public transport? Whatever I earn virtually goes into reaching my place of work.

So, we have to have an holistic vision while lobbying for the three percent reservation even in the private sector in accordance with the People with disabilities Act.

I wrote this piece on employment for disabled people for my friend Anita Iyer, who runs a NGO EKansh working in the disbility sector in Pune. My only brief was a 500 words straight from the heart piece about my expiriences as an employed disabled.

Here is an interview of Anita.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bharath Hotel

  • Bharath Hotel is one of the wheelchair-friendly place in Kochi. Some other good hotels have ramps, but they are movable wooden ramps. So, there is a flurry of activity to locate and fix the ramp whenever a wheelchair-user lands up there. Some other places like the Music World on the M. G. Road are barrier-free by default. If you can successfully get on to footpath, then you can easily get into the place as there are no steps at the entrance.

  • The recently renovated Bharath Hotel has fixed ramps. You can easily get into the restaurant serving the famous traditional Kerala meal on plantain leaf. One can also use the elevator without much hassle to go to the top floors.

    One just wishes that some thought should have been given to the fact that some wheelchair user would get excited hearing about the facilities and would want to try them out. The tables in the restaurant are arranged in such a way that you cannot place your wheelchair close to the table without being nuisance to the guests on the nearby tables. The best option is to make yourself comfortable in the passage.

    Friday, August 19, 2005

    One Hand Typing

    My physical condition doesn’t allow me to use conventional typing method by using both hands; even though I know the method that was taught in Typing Institutes in olden days. I used a small typewriter in my student days, the keys of which were hard and it used to take me ages to even complete a sentence. Generally, I depended on the generosity of my siblings and friends to help me with my work.

    Then the computer came. It significantly improved my typing skills, and, the familiarity with the typewriter helped. I never considered the lack of speed as a shortcoming because I could achieve maximum 8 to 10 words per minutes, which was phenomenal when compared to earlier days.

    But it all changed a couple of weeks back when I read a write-up on Touch Typing by my friend Alexis Leon on his weblog. It motivated me to think that there is scope for improvement. I wrote him asking if there was anything that would improve my typing speed.

    He sent me the URL of One Hand Typing, a site by Lilly Walters, an expert one hand typist who can type 80 words per minute. It amazed me so I downloaded a sample manual offered on her site to see if I could adopt some techniques from there.

    I must say that Lilly Walters’ site helps you to develop a “Can Do It” attitude that helps you immensely.

    Thursday, August 11, 2005

    Vivekananda Rock

    Vivekananda Rock may be considered as an inaccessible even by the able-bodied people. But it is the most wheelchair-friendly place that I have been to in recent times. It was during Pooja Holidays last year (October 2004); I went to visit my brother Manish who works in Kovalam. He planned to take me to the place on a weekend. Though he is supremely confident of carrying me (he had taken me to the tip of the Suicide Point in Ooty just a few months earlier), I could notice that he was very nervous.

    The place is off the coast of Kanyakumari in the Indian Ocean. It takes a few kilometers of ferry ride to reach the spot. We had hired a fulltime taxi, so we could take my wheelchair anywhere we went.

    We arrived at the ferry jetty at around 2 PM. The authorities, on seeing the my chair on the carrier of the car, told Manish to inform the office that he had a wheelchair-user with him and take tickets for the ferry from there itself to avoid standing in the queue. Manish virtually jumped with joy as he had crossed the first hurdle (wheelchair rarely gets such cordial reception in India). They also quashed his worries about not being able to take the wheelchair into the ferry and then onto the Rock (wheelchairs are not allowed beyond a point in religious places).

    When we reached the ferry, two persons who were there to help the passengers, whisked the chair inside with expert ease. On landing, one of them pointed to the inconspicuous ramp. Manish, who had feared the worse, was happy that he could take me on the top. And, to our surprise we found a ramp along with every flight of steps or even on the rocky terrain. Only the Meditation Room and a couple of small bookshops were inaccessible.

    This was my third trip to the Rock (first with the wheelchair). I should say I had the time of my life, with Manish, my sister-in-law, three year old nephew Jai and my mother for the company.

    The place where one of the celebrated spiritual leaders of modern time attained enlightenment (or awakening), also prove that to create a barrier-free environment you just need the intent and little civic sense, and nothing out of the ordinary.