“Nostalgia” or rosy retrospection is a cognitive bias wherein people tend to exaggerate the glory of the past and overlook the negative experiences that they had. This is because with time, memory of the trivial fades away and all that we remember is, “what the past meant to us” instead of “what it really was”. But today when I write about a decade of navigating friendships at one of the premier law schools of the country, from the position of a blind individual, all that I wear are my black shades and not any rose coloured glasses. I intend to state “what it was” and I believe it was worth all the exaggeration for its glory.
I had lost my eyesight three years before appearing for CLAT (The Common Law Admission Test). I was absolutely sure I would not make it but because of sheer luck I got into the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. So here was an extremely sheltered girl from a conservative household of Punjab and her single dad who had lost his partner the year before, at the crossroads between living the ordinary life that they were living already or boarding the flight to get to a new future full of greater opportunities. My father took the road not taken and decided to let me go. I became one of those rare blind women to travel 2000 kilometers away from home in search of better education and opportunities and become a full time hostelite in a not so accessible campus.
When I entered NLSIU, I was clueless and lost. In my introduction during the orientation , I confidently asserted, “I have a vision despite the lack of eyesight and as for eyesight, I believe that my 80 batchmates will be my 160 eyes.” But that was the most optimistic statement I had ever made without any evidence to base it upon.
From the day after the orientation, I started feeling the heat of rigor that NLSIU is famous for. Heavy course readings, Hectic project schedules, difficult subject matter was coupled with a sense of home-sickness, alienation and imposter syndrome. Even though things are significantly better now, the lack of institutional support back then, made me rely upon my peers for most basic things like reaching the academic block , getting my food served in my plate at the mess, understanding graphs, running from pillar to post for getting accessible course material amongst others. Therefore, the very starting point of all interactions used to be based upon dependence and inequality.
I got a hand for most of the times I needed it, to walk, to operate Microsoft word, to understand graphs. But every time that hand was a helping hand and not that of a friend. I had someone to walk me to classes but no one to go on a late night walk after a long day. Surplus of help and scarcity of friendship bothered me for months and I did not know how to win the trust, friendship and warmth of every batchmate and senior who was helping me out of niceness.
The chaos in me was finally put to rest through a conversation with one of my batchmates who went on to become one of the closest allies in law school later on. We discussed aspects of responsibility and independence that made me realize that I could only translate help into friendship, once I did not need that help. I decided to pick up a cane myself and navigate independently. My dad was emotionally taken aback with the idea of his daughter holding a cane but I convinced him that the cane was not a symbol of limitations or pity but it was an instrument of liberation .
On 2 November 2019, I navigated the premises of my campus independently for the first time and I felt as if I could fly. The freedom soon seeped into my academic performance, extra-curricular participation and friendships.
Once I was capable of doing everything for myself, I found more and more peers who were willing to befriend me and do those things for me with much more warmth, care and belongingness. Once I started believing that I was an equal , I found more and more peers who were willing and happy to treat me with equality.
Once having people around was not a logistic necessity, they started going out of their way to do much more than what was necessary for me. As an under confident and blind individual, I could not fathom crossing a narrow stone pathway amidst a river or attempting a trek. I could never dare to take uncalculated risks or breach conventions. I could never imagine that I would have the courage to speak my mind and stand for what I believe in or to be my authentic self – the emotional, over-expressive, outgoing and annoying person I am. But I got to do all this and be all this merely because of the shoulders and elbows of my friends that I got to hold while I navigated uneven surfaces of law school and rough patches of life in the half decade that went by.
This is what my friendships were and this is what they mean to me. When I look at them through my black shades, I see that they are imperfect and yet so inspiring. I see that they emit freedom and equality despite our inherent differences. I see that they will live on beyond law school.
And here is my message to all the fellow students with disabilities looking to navigate friendships in their universities: friendships can only be built through freedom and equality. Imposed obligations only create transactions and relationships of inequality. In order to befriend others, we first need to befriend our own disability, walk with it and accept it without complaints. And it is that intrinsic acceptance that would soon translate into extrinsic acceptance.
Anchal is the first hundred percent visually impaired graduate of national Law school of India University, Bangalore. her core interests, are classical Eastern, music, non-fiction, literature, and philosophical trivia of all kinds.
Featured image illustration by Pariplab Chakraborty