Let’s talk sign

A few months back I went to attend press conference for a company. When I stood at the entrance of the room where the conference was to be held, I saw people there communicating with each other consistently, there were smiles on perhaps a joke shared, instructions being delivered and received at ease, a lot of interactions taking place in every corner of the room. But regrettably I was unable to join in.  Because a) I was an outsider and not a part of the team, so I didn’t know anyone there which is okay, and b) I, like most of us, have been conditioned to be an outsider and have chosen to remain so and this is NOT okay.

All the communication was taking place in the sign language, the conference was by the company about their vocational training programmes for the deaf who are graduates and because I didn’t know how to sign, I quietly found myself a chair and waited for the programme to commence – from hosting to presentations all of it were brilliantly put up by students and skillfully interpreted by a sign language interpreter. It was an absolute honour  to listen to Dr. Alim Chandani, Dr. Madan Vashisht and see the presentations by the students  there.

Like some of us who were there to cover the event, I instinctively raised my hands to clap as the chief guest cut-off the ribbon marking the launch of the institute and preceded to address us before the interpreter gently reminded us to raise our hands and “shake it” to show our cheers “because remember, we can’t hear,  right?”

Right of course! The thing is, how could we remember this because like I mentioned before most of us have conveniently grown up in our own little cocoons and called it a world. All the while thinking anyone who is different in any way is the one who doesn’t belong to “our place” or “our world” – our schools, our colleges, our workplaces, our ways of entertainment (which movie hall can a deaf person go to?) and our public spaces as outsiders. I and in fact 99.9 percent people I know have actually absolutely no memory in the first place of interacting with the deaf in spite of all the talks about inclusion, forget acknowledging the need to know how to sign even a hello or appreciation.

I have been following the company’s Facebook page, their videos etc., they are going on with their work and are also holding cool events like a movie show with subtitles at PVR, Indian Sign Language Trivia quiz to raise awareness about ISL and similar very interesting stuff and are clearly making a progress rapidly! But high time we do so too. As a journalist, I have had  a chance to write ‘news stories’ on special education but I have never attempted to speak to someone who is affected or rose above the lack of equal spaces and opportunities to do exceptionally well and instead have conveniently chosen to speak to people working with them, heads of special institutes, the experts so to say. Because I had never looked for, nor was I ever exposed to (in school or college) role models who actually experienced education as a differently-abled person. We tend to think that people with special needs, for instance those who are deaf, would always and always depend on others to say what they need to say.  That’s only a minor form of ‘Audism‘ (not to be confused with autism) , by the way, a word I learnt at the event which means ‘discrimination or prejudice against individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing’.. A little google search told me we as a society suffer from audism.

An excerpt from a news story I came across… It’s old yet unfortunately, I think it’s still relevant.

On World Disability Day the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People and the National Association of the Deaf demanded official language status for sign language and training of people to become sign language interpreters at public places.

“…18 million are people with hearing impairment. Unfortunately, the concerns of the deaf people in India have not been addressed even 64 years after Independence…You cannot go to school or watch television. And God forbid if you have to go to the police station or hospital for an emergency. If you go to the railway station to catch a train and suddenly there is an announcement that your train has been postponed or the platform number has suddenly changed. But you cannot hear a word. It is a matter of concern that there are no visual announcements for hearing impaired people and no visual emergency alarms in case a fire breaks out in a building…” says NAD president Zorin Singha.

As a journalist I have had a chance to profile some schools, they have different and brilliant amenities and specialized counselors for children with special needs, and now we have these schools offering our children languages like German, French, Chinese, Japanese and there are specialized clubs for English too. That’s all very good. Really.  But why aren’t there any courses on sign languages? Sign languages are taught in specialised schools but how will that be sufficient if mainstream schools do not have this option? From the start we are creating two separate worlds. Seriously, in India, how many people these kids can interact with in German or Spanish! On the other hand, learning of sign languages can actually help them grow out of the boxes we have been living in. Even if we are thinking career wise and want to focus only on what’s a lucrative option, India and I believe globally we need sign language interpreters. To start with, let’s acknowledge that there is a long way to inclusion and its really about finding our way into it and let’s explore how to go about diminishing audism from our lives.

Googling every now and then about this issue, attempting to get a figure about how many people in India are deaf/how many children are deaf etc. and how many sign language interpreters we need ( India apparently has only 250 certified sign language interpreters, translating for a deaf population of between 1.8 million and 7 million). i thought why not write a revolutionary article on the issue that could change the world and give myself a pat on the back for doing some great job — that’s not how it happens of course but I did become far more aware than I was.   I learnt a lot about deaf culture – for instance sign language, like other languages vary from country to country, so there is an American Sign Language, British Sign Language, there is an Indian Sign Language and so on. I also found out the last week of September every year is designated as International Week of the Deaf by the World Federation of the Deaf, an international non-profit and non-governmental organisation of deaf associations from 133 countries. And I thought it would be good to share it here.

So here’s to the International Week of the Deaf… trying to explore my ways into inclusion and do away with audism.


Shakespeare and me

April 23 will mark William Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary. April is also the month he was born in, though the date is not known. So while I was reading the coverage, the analysis and articles on The Bard in today’s papers (this being a weekend, they can elaborately do so in the special weekend editions), I couldn’t help but think that most of my coolest conversation with friends – that sort-of fortified my relationship with them – has been about Shakespeare, even if regrettably I haven’t read much of him.

I picked up Othello recently after some stimulating conversation with a friend who fluently used the Shakespearean language, probably because this friend was helping stage the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in a school. But whatever the reason be for my friends love for Shakespeare, it put me back to reading. Blame it on Vishal Bhardwaj, all I could really think of while reading Othello was Langda Tyagi and Omkara! I seriously think films are a great way of bringing Shakespeare to many of us. So I shouldn’t be judging myself for it I guess.

Anyway, a few pages through it and I tried to fake a high English literature quotient with another of my good friend (a former English Literature student) by trying to initiate a discussion on the play and particularly this line “’Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners,” and mentioned how it was a great message said simply, “… that we are thus or thus,”. What I was trying to imply was that I understood the profundity of the sentence. “We are thoos and thoos too, suttu,” pat came the reply, though I am pretty sure she didn’t mean it as an offence to Shakespeare but only wanted to make a light conversation. I had only been having heavy discussions with her for the past few days. And so we switched to joking about thoosing good food and turning the way I am now.

Shakespeare gave my brother, a year younger to me, recognition as well as first prize in grade 10, when he delivered Julius Caesar’s very famous “Friends Romans and Countrymen.. “ speech. In college, I was introduced to the world of plays by a dear friend (whose first love is theatre, from what I understand) who gave me a fairly good insight on Shakespeare’s contribution to concept of stage/settings/locations and basically theatrical production work.

A little more than three years back, when I was an expecting mother, one fine evening I was engrossed in a conversation with 19-year old cousin of mine about Shakespeare, why he is so popular, who were his contemporaries, why he used the language he used etc. It was mostly her speaking and me listening like you listen to an enchanting story- pretty much what relaxes you when you are expecting. And hey, good for the good child inside too who was listening to us. But no, my daughter is not a Shakespeare fan yet.

I am not sure if I should be putting this up on my blog because I don’t think I can write with authority on William Shakespeare. Hopefully after a few months, or years from now, when I can read him without referring to modern English translations of his works, I will make that attempt. For now my comments on his works, the dark sides of human emotions he explored etc will be shallow, so I shall spare the readers the horror of reading the same. What I can say with authority is that for me, reading and discussing Shakespeare has opened many doors  – of cool conversations, of entertainment, of friendships, of understanding plays, understanding that English as a language has had many forms, and that plays and poetries together can create wonderful imaginations. So yeah, to Shakespeare!



It’s been a week since Tamasha released and so I can’t call this a review, nor do I think I am so well-endowed with the art and science of filmmaking that I can actually review a film. Nevertheless (apart from the new bloggers syndrome of have-a-blog-will-write) I take this chance to say this: Dear Imtiaz Ali: Thankyou! Take a bow. For yet another good movie with a meaningful story and for not taking your audience for granted.

I think with each of his movie, Ali wants to say something, the same thing, and he only finds better words/ways to express himself in each. This is more specifically true with Rockstar, Highway and now Tamasha. All three of these movies, according to me explored the same themes – of self-discovery flamed up in our protagonists when out of their comfort zones and specially when touched by an encounter that works as catalyst that’s much needed to, I won’t say necessarily break free from, but definitely assert themselves in their on-going lives. Usually these encounters are allowed when you are not already communicating yourself articulately to people around. Now that’s another aspect of society that we live in that Ali subtly outlines in the three movies – communication gap, specifically between children and parents, and the need to have conversations with people who do love you and are family. Communicate clearly and with conviction and have some meaningful conversations, putting an end to tamasha we have to put up with.

With his latest, Tamasha, starring Ranbir Kapoor – yet another superb performer from the Kapoor Khandan – and a fine actress Deepika Padukone, Ali almost nails it. On the surface, it is a simple sweet story of girl(Tara) and boy(Ved) meeting on an unfamiliar though pretty terrain, the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, far away from familiarities back home in India that are perfect, accepted but unchallenged so far. They have a chance meeting, we assume while on a vacation. They decide to introduce themselves as Don and Mona Darling respectively and indulge in this adventure-like friendship without revealing their realities to each other, perhaps finding comfort in in fact escaping it. But as all good things come to an end, so do these seven days of passionately lived life. Tara leaves. Once in India (Calcutta), she is unable to beguile herself of her feelings for Don even after four years. Now though we have been told a couple of times that Don ko khojna mushquil hee nahi, namumkin bhee hain, she does it and locates him. Then of course the twain meet and their story moves on without much complexities – fine dining, get-togethers, movie-nights etc – until Tara realises Don is still lost and this well behaved fairly successful corporate lad Ved is not someone she had met in Corsica. That’s when the story really begins. In the course of Ved-Don and Tara-Mona Darling’s story, we are introduced to a story-teller (played by the amazing Piyush Misra) who would narrate stories to Ved in his childhood (and later questions his dependence on others to create his story) for some money per hour and an autorickhaw driver (Ishteyak Khan) who is a rock-star inside but had to give up his singing dreams to marry and procreate. It’s interesting to note that while these people live a life very different from what they dreamt of, it doesn’t stop them from pursuing what interests them. The story teller tells his stories and found a customer/audience and the singer still sings, even if the source of bread and butter is something else. A fine message again, to retain the balance you need in life.

The more I think of the story, this is what I hear Ali say: After years of perseverance, patience and practice; after giving in to well-meaning advice; after learning to ignore your basic instincts – to say what you feel, do what you think and follow your heart to create your own story, after years of all this when you have finally moulded yourself as a successful person conforming to all the norms laid out to you and actually believe you are that person; may you encounter a joker. The joker will want to have fun, and to do so, will poke you, will mock you, jest at you, trick you to play along, you may want to shoo him away but he will come back to annoy you, laugh at you till you start laughing at yourself. And after you have laughed at yourself enough, so much that you are teary-eyed, you will start thinking clearly. There will be illusion and disillusion, there will be confusion, you will look out everywhere for an answer and then figure out that the answer is in you. All this will bring a lot of cathartic energy and then it is solely on you on what you do of it – channelize it creatively or just be demolished in the fire. And of course, it’s definitely great if your loved ones are still around to hold your hands all this while, in spite of you saying “Thanks, but no thanks”.

I said Ali almost nails it. Because I hope to be enchanted further by more of his work. Also because I feel some more clarity would have gone down well with his audience. Some scenes needed to be held together, for example the movie starts brilliantly — with a joker jesting a robot and hitting it hard on its heart, a notion that’s central to the story — but it remains unexplained for many and lasts only for the first few minutes of the film. We are taken to a flashback and do not come back. I think if we could get more of that metaphoric narration throughout the movie, it would make it more interesting, more articulate for everyone and world-class. The kind of clarity we saw in The Truman Show.

Nonetheless, the story and the acting by everyone is so brilliant that it would be a little disrespectful to look for the thorns with a magnifying glass. Do watch. And let me know if any of you felt any different, or same :).



I feel like I have a lot to say, and I am struggling to find a way to speak my mind, to express myself.

These ideas, these stories, they are floating, like a dream in my eyes, all the time, and I am longing for words to describe them, to define them, and so I write.

It’s like I have been hit by a catalyst, and now I want to react really fast, and pull out, put out all that I have to say, lay bare.

But these are not chemicals here, we are talking of emotions, suppressed, unchallenged and those never felt before,  hence the reaction here is slow, quite frustrating and irritating at times, you know.

And sometimes, only a few times, the emotions flare up so fast, I vent them out, they go and I don’t even know. And I am just yelling at someone/something.

It’s like you are high and still in control.  And all I really really want now is is for the volcano to erupt, curious to see what it will be like, thereafter.

I am in a state of catharsis, and I feel like no one understands , but it could be that I am not explaining well.

Or may be its nothing of the above.

May be all I want to do is scream, check my voice and leave everything else only to dream. Like a sweet dream, a lullaby to induce me to sleep and take me to a world, will it different from the reality of mine?

But I am enjoying this experiment on me, Haha! It excites me, I feel like I am a work well begun.

Bihar elections

“So the people’s mandate to rule in Bihar goes to the newly-formed Mahagathbandhan or the Grand Alliance (the Janata Dal United, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress Alliance) who have ousted Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government in Bihar”, I am thinking, while mindlessly doing some house-chores. Facebook updates and conversations with people back home suggest that in general, we Biharis are thrilled to have Nitish Kumar back as our chief minister. And so am I. But I wonder if he will be able to pull off the grand alliance for his third full consecutive term, on his own terms.

Oh by the way, there is lots of work left for him to do. He has to walk down the roads he has carved and improve the quantity and quality of education delivered in its primary-secondaries as well as revamp institutes of higher education, electrify more of Bihar, create more job opportunities so that youngsters do not leave Bihar etc. I would like to believe that it is with this and more such expectations that people have brought him back.

As for grand alliance, so they had a greater vision for Bihar and its progress and was not formed only to uproot the current common arch-enemy of the member parties – the Bharatiya Janata Party? Wow! That’s something indeed. Can’t wait to see the progress. Surely they will side-track all other political issues and work towards one goal – Progress of Bihar.

Now what is that voice resonating in my head since morning, since I have been celebrating the idea of Bihar flourishing under an alliance — that perhaps very romantically came together and won 178 seats out of 243 — for that very purpose? Let me pay attention .. I got it now.. “Bhakk Burbak

Parenting Blues…

“Baby don’t touch it, it’s dirty”, I said while my two-and-a-half year old daughter gave me an amused look, as if to say i-know-what-i-am-doing-please-carry-on-with-your-work. She had picked up some tiny particles of the floor and was very happy to have found this treasure. Her reply made me feel like the most racist person in the world – “But, yeh black nahi hain” (This is not black). I suddenly realised that unconsciously and unfortunately, I was telling her that black is dirty.

More often than not, I have instructed her to stay away from things that I wont want her to touch saying “see, its black-black, chee chee, it’s dirty”. So unconsciously and unfortunately I was trying to encrypt in her mind that anything black is to be abhorred. And it was only when she said it in as many words, did I realise the blunder. I am afraid even now, I have to be conscious about not using derogatory, but nevertheless, I am conscious now definitely. A good start may be?

These kind of prejudices are so ingrained in us, it’s like we have been schooled very well to think that way, that we don’t even know we are practicing it in our day-to-day language, culture and practices there by making it so normal – almost making it rule.

How do we get away with it? How do be filter and fine tune all that we do, speak and practice. And will that really ensure that children grow up to be adults who are perhaps are free of all kinds of prejudices? Or will it only be a lesson on speaking a politically correct language? I don’t know, what I do know is language is a very powerful tool of expression and is a reflection of the school of thought you follow. For kids, words are the gateways to the world around. So may be, it would be advisable to pay attention to the words we choose to convey any message. To begin with..

APJ Abdul Kalam (1931-2015)

The news of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s death at the age of 83 on the ill-fated evening of  July 28, of a cardiac arrest while addressing students on ‘Liveable Planet Earth’ at Indian Institute of Management, Shillong (estb.2008) rekindles fond memories in me of a summer morning of May, 2003. Then a student of class 11, Notre Dame Academy (Patna) – I was fortunate enough to be selected among 2000 students across 30 schools of Patna, the capital city of Bihar, to join an ‘interactive session’ with Dr. Kalam, or Kalam as he preferred to be called, the then President of India (2002-2007) at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. It was even more overwhelming when he asked the mike to be passed on to me to answer his question – ‘What is the secret of success?”. Two words from him, ‘okay, good’ to the answer given and a report of the event in the next day’s newspaper, left me elated for days to come. That was pretty much the state of all the students present there. The humility with which he took each questions from the students and the wit with which he replied to them — whether it was on science, his favourite meal (curd-rice) or his hairstyle (which he said suited him well)’ — struck a chord with one and all. He went on to say that the secret of success lies in “process of learning, creativity, thinking and knowledge’.

By this time readers would have well acknowledged that the life and work of Kalam stands testimony to these four principles, with almost every detail of it flooding the leading national and international news media as well as social media networks. Born on October 15, 1931 in a modest Tamil Muslim family of Rameswaram – a small temple town in Tamil Nadu — to father Jainulabudeen, an oarsman who ferried pilgrims between Rameswaram and now-extinct Dhanushkodi; and mother Ashiamma; a housewife, Kalam completed his schooling from Rameswaram Panchayat Elementary School. A Physics (Honours) graduate from St. Josephs College, Tiruchirappali, Kalam specialised in Aeronautical Engineering from Madras Institute of Technology, Madras. He graphed an illustrious career as scientist between 1960-2001 — occupying top positions at Defence Research and Development Organisation, Indian Space Research Organisation and Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council. As chief of Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme of the Indian government and as Chief Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister of India – Kalam gave a successful direction to India’s space and missile programmes (he guided the launch of India’s first satellite Launch Vehicles, the PSLV and Agni missiles, Pokhran II nuclear test). His works earned him the title of ‘Missile Man of India’ by the Indian media and won him all three coveted civilian awards among innumerable others — Padma Bhushan (1981), Padma Vibhushan (1990) and the highest civilian award Bharat Ratna (1997). In 2001 Kalam took to teaching and joined Anna University, Chennai as a Professor, Technology & Societal Transformation.

While only an acclaimed scientist till then, Kalam gained popularity among students and youth after winning the 11th Presidential elections of 2002 against Captain Lakshmi Sahgal, a left-nominee and succeeding the former President K.R.Narayanan, and thereafter.  Ironically, it was also a controversial time of his life, when left-leaning intellectuals questioned his presidential candidature proposed by National Democratic Alliance I government.

“Mr Kalam has only two public faces: devotion to militarism, and his image as a Muslim, which fits the stereotype constructed by the Hindu-chauvinist core of India’s present ruling coalition, represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party… Mr Kalam is a vegetarian… plays the rudra verna and reads the Bhagwad-Gita… The Hindu-sectarian BJP is totally militaristic in its outlook, and wants Muslims to “Indianise” themselves, i.e. adopt “Hindu” (read Brahmanical upper-caste) ways. Its anti-Islam, anti-Pakistan ideology is closely connected with its obsession with nuclear weapons and missiles,”

said late journalist Praful Bidwai in an article titled Missile Man as India’s President in the June 23 issue of Antiwar.com, a publication of US-based Randolphe Bourne Institute (a non-profit educational organisation, estb.2001). I recall an interview to a news channel by the then spokesperson of BJP, Rajeev Pratap Rudy who said Kalam is not any Muslim but a ‘Veena Playing Muslim’, though clarifying his statement a second later, a statement that clearly testifies Bidwais’ claims.

Kalam, nonetheless, superseded petty politics and by doing so connected with the new generation of India. Taking the roles and duties of the President too seriously – when in India its actually only a decorative post — he recommended quite a few NDA proposals for reconsideration including Sonia Gandhi’s office for profit issue, as well as petitions from death row prisoners for clemency, citing his reasons for the same (all of these suggestions were naturally rejected). He opened the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the public, invited students to exchange mails with him and rejected VIP privileges. In 2010, to honour the author of bestsellers like Wings of Fire (1999), Ignited Minds: Unleashing the power within India (2002), India 2020:  Vision for the New Millennium (2008), Children Ask Kalam (2006), The Scientific Indian (2010) to name a few, the United Nations marked October 15 as the Worlds’ Students Day. He was nominated for MTV India Youth Icon Award twice in 2003 and 2006 along with popular cricketers, actors and entrepreneurs. Throughout his lifetime, he met educationists, teachers, children from across the country and expressed the need to create an environment of inquiry, creativity, entrepreneurial development in the country’s education system. This is what he said while addressing a conference ‘Idea Exchange 2009’, organised by The Indian Express.

“It’s when children are 15, 16 or 17 that they decide whether they want to be a doctor, an engineer, a politician or go to the Mars or moon. That is the time they start having a dream and that’s the time you can work on them. You can help them shape their dreams. Tomorrow if I address a group of youngsters and talk about the flag flying in my heart and how I will uphold the dignity of the nation, I can get them to dream… Also, the youth have fewer biases about their society as compared to the grown-ups.”

To commemorate his death, the central government announced a seven day that came to an end on Sunday (July 27-August 2). The government at the centre as well as the state have also expressed their desire to rename various educational and vocational training programmes after Kalam. All of this will prove to be only a superficial service to the departed soul – whose last rites at his hometown on July 30 gathered lakhs of people wishing to pay homage — if the current National Democratic Alliance government does not distance itself from irrational viewpoints of its affiliates. With Kalam’s death, the nation has not only lost a great scientist but also a voice of reason – much needed today when there are ways being devised to institutionalise irrationality.