The challenged ones

The challenged ones

Recently I happened to be in HSR layout, Bangalore, trying to locate a particular address. Not able to find the right cross road I stopped every passerby for guidance. The responses I got varied from curt expressions to indifferent shrugs.

While I stood wondering why these people couldn’t make even the feeblest attempt to help others, a gentle and soothing voice from behind caught my attention.

I turned around and came face to face with a gentleman wearing dark sun-glasses holding a white stick in his hand. With a benevolent smile he asked me which cross I was looking for. It did not take me long to make out that he was totally blind. To my astonishment he gave accurate directions to that address indicating certain conspicuous land marks!

Thanking him profusely I could not help asking him how he could know all these details despite his condition. ‘Well, I live in this locality and these roads know me!’ he replied jokingly, his face radiating supreme confidence. Too overwhelmed to react I offered to drop him at his residence which he politely declined.

As I stood there watching him walk away with ease using his stick like an electronic sensor, my mind raced back nearly 40 years in time when as a SAIL executive on tour I had stayed in the company guest house at Calcutta.

As I was returning after the day’s work I noticed our guest house watchman imploring every passerby to fill an urgent message in Bengali in the MO form he was sending to his ailing father at Kharagpur. Not a single person so much as even looked at him and everyone seemed to be moving away like robots. The moment he saw me he hopefully came running to me with his request.

I shrank inside as I saw his expression of deep disappointment and disbelief when I admitted that I didn’t know an alphabet of Bengali. As I was regretting at my inability to help this poor illiterate chap I saw the mali of the guest house, who was silently watching all this, coming towards us.

He had lost both his hands in a work accident at our Bhilai plant and the company had employed him on compassionate grounds to water the garden here, which he was carrying out efficiently using his legs. He asked the watchman to tell him the message, and squatting on the floor of the verandah, asked for the MO form and the pen to be placed by his side.

With incredible ease he held the pen between the first two toes of his right foot and completed the message in his neat ‘foot-writing’ as I stood transfixed  watching this amazingly ennobling spectacle! These are the wonderful things, I thought, which beautify human lives. I couldn’t help asking myself: who really are the disabled ones?  Those endowed with all the physical and mental faculties but with impoverished hearts, or these two gentlemen who symbolise human compassion and nobility?

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