LIFE STYLE
WALKING IN STEP, HAND ON THE SHOULDER
Aye Bhayee, Bina Dekhe Chalo. On Oct 12, in Chandigarh
- By Chakshan Charun
Aye Bhayee, Bina Dekhe Chalo. On Oct 12, in Chandigarh



WHERE DOES IT start? Muscles tense. One leg a pillar, holding the body upright between the earth and the sky. The other a pendulum, swinging from behind. Heel touches down. The whole weight of the body rolls forward onto the ball of the foot. The big toe pushes off, and the delicately balanced weight of the body shifts again. The legs reverse position. It starts with a step and then another step and then another that add up like taps on a drum to a rhythm, the rhythm of walking.
 
When Rebecca Solnit wrote her path breaking Wanderlust: A History of Walking, this is how she began describing what walking means.

On Thursday, in Chandigarh's townsquare, some people will walk. They will explain what we mostly do not understand— what walking means.

The bodily history of walking is an unwritten, secret history whose fragments can be found in a thousand unemphatic passages in books, as well as in songs, streets, and almost everyone's adventures.

This plethora of resources misses the history of the act of walking undertaken by those who will be in Sector 17 Plaza on Thursday, October 12.
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The Blind. That's what we are being. Incapable of seeing because we do not care. They are trying to walk, and they 'see' our apathy because they care.
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Pablo Neruda also walked, and made his walk immortal with 'Walking Around.' 

I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes, 
with fury, with forgetfulness,
I pass, I cross offices and stores full of orthopedic appliances,
and courtyards hung with clothes on wires,
underpants, towels and shirts which weep
slow dirty tears.

The men and women who will walk in Chandigarh, and in 262 places in other towns and cities in four countries will not "stride along with calm."

For them, every step is a struggle, a threat, a danger, a boobytrap, a battle against civilisation's march that left them behind.

'Walk Like An Egyptian' may have been your favourite Bangles song, but it misses what it means to walk like an Egyptian who is blind. 'Piche Piche Aunda, Meri Chaal Vehnda Aayin' is too mysterious for those who cannot see, and the society simply did not care because there was no point in telling them Mera Laung Gwacha. They can't find it, we deduced. So why bother?
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On Thursday, come and see the city you live in. The world you inhabit where we always tell each other — Aye bhayee, zara dekh ke chalo.
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But they heard the song. And every time they do, they cringe. Rage fills them up. Disappointment weighs heavy. Life seems deathly. The world a shade of darker still.

How many times in the course of one day do we talk of seeing, walking, looks, beauty, colour, eyes? Every time a blind person listens to these words, he or she knows that he or she is not part of the world you describe.

"Are you blind?" could be a rage-filled abuse you hurl. For them, this is a description. Of them. 

These are two separate worlds, and few among us have the sensitivity, the sense, the empathy, the humane strain to try and understand what lies behind eyes that cannot see.

Several years ago, I tried explaining to a girl what it means to wink. It took me more than a couple of weeks, and I eventually gave up. She was a B.Com. student at Govt College in Ludhiana, admitted under handicapped quota, and often waiting along the sidelines of the grounds when hockey team selection trials were on. She was a regular, and had quickly picked up ways of understanding the game by listening to crowd reactions, loud shout-outs from the players, referee's whistle and the general audience commotion.

It was mesmerising to see (excuse the unintended pun) how quickly she had picked up the rhythm of the game, but it was a job trying to explain to her that the player had winked at the umpire and the other team was objecting. This was where I made the mistake. "Just like a boy winks at a girl," I told her, and then spent two weeks explaining what a wink means.

The history of the world is different from the history of the world of those who cannot see.

At least, one side cannot see.

I belong to that side.

For too long in the history of the world, we have not been able to see what being blind means. And when we try, we resort to cosmetics. Visually-challenged, visually-impaired...

The Blind. That's what we are being. Incapable of seeing because we do not care. They are trying to walk, and they 'see' our apathy because they care.

On Thursday, social activist Devinder Sharma will be in the townsquare, walking alongside some blind people, and others blindfolded so that they can 'see' what they often miss.

As part of the Project Vision, the Walk for the Blind will see people from all walks of life, volunteers, students from the local school for blind children, motivators trying to impress upon you the need to donate your eyes, journalists, civil society activists, doctors, including PGI Director Dr Jagat Ram, inspired young souls, inspiring old men and women, all walking -- double file, arm stretched out, hand on the shoulder of the one ahead, putting out each foot forward, gingerly, tip-toeing, avoiding a brick here, an upturned stone there, a displaced tile, a pothole, a suddenly rising footpath, a carelessly placed stepstone.
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For them, every step is a struggle, a threat, a danger, a boobytrap, a battle against civilisation's march that left them behind. For too long in the history of the world, we have not been able to see what being blind means. And when we try, we resort to cosmetics. Visually-challenged, visually-impaired...
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That City Beautiful can be a minefield of boobytraps becomes suddenly visible when you cover your eyes with a strip of black cloth.

On Thursday, come and see the city you live in. The world you inhabit where we always tell each other — Aye bhayee, zara dekh ke chalo.

Sometimes, you should close your eyes and walk. And look into someone's eyes and try to explain what it means to wink.

It takes some effort, but it is worth it. I didn't have sense enough in those days and gave up. You shouldn't. 

There's a lot I no more remember from those days, except those eyes. Eyes that couldn't see. 

So, see you on Thursday, October 12, 2017. Chandigarh's Sector 17 Plaza. 

Devinder Sharma is bringing along Navjot Singh Sidhu. You also bring along a friend, a piece of black cloth, a poster, some love, lot of anger, a slogan, a tear.

You need all that to see. Apart from eyes.

Before you go back, please sign that form and donate your eyes. So that they can see. Woh aankhein dekh kar hum sari duniya bhool jaate hain...
 

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