I had to make a presentation on disability rights for a committee affiliated with a liberal arts university in Delhi. I received a message with the details of the meeting. It first mentioned a brief description in English and then its literal translation in Hindi. In English, it said that they were holding a discussion around disability rights on the occasion of the White Cane Day. Then, while translating it into Hindi, they called it the ‘Safed Ganna Divas’.
Ganna is a Hindi word which means sugarcane. I laughed a lot and wondered if I ought to start calling my cane ganna from thereon.
But then I stopped and pondered – is it okay to laugh? Are people like me allowed to laugh generally? Are people like me allowed to laugh on a joke about our disability or anything connected with it? Even more so, can there be anything like comedy on disability? For it’s meant to be tragic.
I have been partially blind since birth. But I never availed a disability certificate, I never asked for reasonable accommodation and never acknowledged my disability till a time it becomes inevitable.
I lost my eyesight at the age of 16. My family observed a month-long mourning session thereafter. My father visited temples to get rid of my blindness, a bunch of my family members cursed god for the mishap, a few of acquaintances came and told me that this was a curse from some past birth.
Today, I receive texts and calls from partially blind people struggling with their identity, struggling to acknowledge that they are blind, struggling to embrace themselves. This hesitation stems from shame, guilt, and pain associated with disability. No one is happy to embrace it, no one is happy to receive it, no one celebrates it and no one laughs about it.
When I went to my college and realised that I could not do without a cane as depending on peers and friends for mobility was not workable, my father struggled a great deal to imagine the sight of his daughter holding a white cane. This is because cane to him meant “additional support”, “dependence” and “restriction”.
But the first time that I felt that I could fly in the lifetime up till then, was on November 1, 2018, when I held a white cane and successfully navigated one of the most inaccessible campuses in India. My cane did not just enable me to walk, it empowered me to rise and move on. I could compete better, study better, live better, and do all this on my terms. I did not need the elbow, the shoulder or a tie of an escort to walk and fly.
A great stoic philosopher once said that “we suffer more in imagination, than we do in our reality”. The peculiar characteristic of disability is that a lot of the pain is socially induced. The fading eyesight, surgeries, anaesthesia, incisions, stitches and post-surgery procedures hurt way less than the mourning sessions, than Dad’s frustration to somehow get rid of my blindness, than relative’s conjectures of my blindness being a result of the sins from my past birth.
My journey with my cane made me realise that the best way to live with a disability and to live a disability, to grow as a person with disability, was to accept it, to laugh about it and to crack jokes about it. This will make it easier for all the able-bodied folks out there, to imagine disabled folks as happy and cheerful beings.
Today, I laugh about how all my dates will always be blind dates. I laugh when my friends lose their shit while watching horror movies and while on roller coaster rides, and I sit there like a monk. For, the visuals make it harder. I laugh when I am able to read for class at light’s speed due to my screen-reader software which speaks way faster than what human eye can read and my batchmates struggle to catch up.
Yes, I laugh and I celebrate and my laughter and my celebration are valid. I celebrate my identity and I am proud to be what I am – a blind person.
Anchal Bhateja is a fourth-year B.A. LLB student at National Law School of India University, Bangalore.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty