I had some buffer time before I headed over to watch the latest thriller on the block at the cinemas in the mall, and being the obsessive control-freak that I am, I landed at the mall an hour and a quarter early. This has been my beta-phase of my ‘alone-time’ after ages, where I just randomly make plans and try to surprise myself. So, a movie was a good enough plan to kick-start the whole process. Still trying to figure out how I was going to spend my time, I looked hither-thither to find something to occupy my mind as well, and not just my mouth and stomach (yeah, the food court was on the same floor as the movies and the aroma was enticing. Sigh!) and that’s when I stumbled upon ‘Dialogue in the Dark’. I’d seen the place before and passed by it on several occasions. I also remember suggesting to my friends that we should visit this place sometime. But, as always, the equation was movie+butter popcorn+coke+lunch or dinner+hours of banter. This time I willed to do something different, something more productive until the movie begun.
Dialogue in the Dark (DID) is part of a huge network that immensely supports the visually challenged. They have various activities including the one I had an opportunity to experience and about which I’ll share with you in a minute. DID was initiated in 1988 by a German journalist, one Mr. Andreas, as an outcome of a dear one turning visually impaired on account of an accident. For more on the history, please click here.
I was instructed to leave any and all belongings (all but a small change of a 50 or a 100 Rupee note for some shopping inside the dark alleys I was to visit!) in the locker they’d provided and I so was thrilled as to what was to come. I was handed over the white stick and instructed as to how to use it and which direction to tap it in. As we entered the darkness and I heard the door closing behind me, I was engulfed by nothing but a scene I was too familiar with in most horror movies (I have never been too good with darkness). As my eyes adapted to the sudden withdrawal of light, I was greeted by a very cheerful voice in perfect English, and all those demons that cluttered my head registering feelings of fear in my brain, just dissipated and slunk to wherever they came from. The voice was from my DID guide, Mr. Nityanand. He asked me to follow his voice and move towards him. As I still fumbled in the darkness, I was reassured I was fine and that there were no slopes or steps in the whole experience and even if there was, I would be warned sufficiently in advance. We introduced ourselves and began the adventure!
We first entered what seemed to be a park where I could feel the pebbles underneath my sandals and in my hands I felt a branch and its leaves. It was the first time I was awake in the dark and all my other senses were heightened to a point where I could instinctively feel even the smallest brush of the edge of the leaf on my hand. The guide doesn’t tell you what it is or where you are. He would ask you questions, giving you clues all along and enables you to absorb the new atmosphere. To my right, I could feel bamboo sticks and I heard a number of birds chirping resonating all around me. The task was to identify all the bird sounds! I hear crows cawing outside all day long and that was a sound I was way too familiar with, but these birds were the chirpier kind, making it all the more hard to recognise them. I managed to find most of them with a lot of help from Nityanand and his wonderfully-deciphered clues. We moved on to the shaky bridge (which really shook and scared the bejesus out of me!) which is a simulation of treading on a ruined bridge which was the only means to crossing the stream that was gushing below. We moved on to greener pastures (pun intended) where the floor turned to grass and felt instantly comforting for my petrified soul. Ten minutes into the escapade, I savoured the blackness around me and it was time for some games! We were to play Hide-and-seek (it was hide-and-seek all the way for me, anyway) and cricket. Cricket at DID is played sitting down, holding the willow bat and defending the deliveries from a ball that makes the sound of a rattle (as is usual with blind cricket, except they don’t sit down). I was to play one over and for the first time ever, I hit sixers in every ball (my cricket-frenzy friends would have been proud of me). Being pretty pleased with myself and acknowledging the encouragement and motivation I got from my guide, we moved on to the ‘Spice rack’ as I would have loved to call it. I was given six spices to smell and identify (no points if you rattled the box to figure out its density) and not bad, they were all easily gettable! Feeling my hands on the wall beside me, I found the seven wonders embossed and the detailed carvings felt life-like in my cold hands. Further down and taking a u-turn we stopped at the DID Cafe. I was waited on at the counter, where I bought (the revelation of the 100 Rupees sitting in my pant pocket) chocolates and a water bottle and was tendered the exact change 🙂 I moved closer to the left wall and another challenge awaited me- find the sofa! I ambled across to the far left and hoped my leg would encounter and collide with the sofa somewhere and voila! It took about 10 seconds for me to ease myself into the leather, and once I was comfortably seated, it turned out to be the last destination in this dark and paradoxically, enlightening journey. Here, I bombarded Mr. Nityanand with questions as to what he does and how life has been for him. What he said truly amazed me and I’m sure I remembered that feeling of being drenched by goosebumps. He was a double Postgraduate and holds a B.Ed as well. I felt abashed that I even had the nerve to mope about my life. I also asked him how he was able to determine where I was and how he was able to weave his way through the dark maze seamlessly, for which he merely stated matter-of-factly (with no heart-wrenching emotion) that he was visually impaired and he determines the objects and the people around by the velocity of the sound that bounces back to him (also known as echolocation where every object emits a different reflection of sound). He then went on to explain about DID, how it all started and how it provides extensive career and growth opportunities to thousands of challenged people across the globe. He emphasised that they don’t like pity and they love independence just as anybody else, which is why they are extremely adept with the technologies of everyday. They are proficient in computer knowledge and they operate and work around the computer by using a software called JAWS which serves as a screen-reader for the visually challenged. They are very active on WhatsApp, Facebook and a myriad of other applications by enabling the talk-back feature in their android phones. We exchanged movie reviews and he offered me a plenty of good suggestions, which I promised to watch and thanked him immensely and repeatedly for what is easily one of the best experiences of my life.
As I stood up on his cue, he guided me back to light, to the entrance door. I shook his hand, deeming it an absolutely wonderful opportunity to have met such a positive, strong and empowered person, despite physical limitations. I felt insignificant and small but I was proud of the fact that this served as a good ground for me to start looking for positive signs for self-improvement. As I moved to the locker where I had kept my belongings, a warm fuzzy sense of contentment filled me and I walked out of DID with a smile on my face.
They don’t need us to guide them to light, they can do that on their own and they’ll probably beat us to it; but the least we can do is share their darkness 🙂