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The warmth of human touch

Last Updated : 19 January 2021, 21:36 IST
Last Updated : 19 January 2021, 21:36 IST

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It felt coarse, a tad slimy and alive. I first touched the edge of the human hand that held this thing...this repugnant creature and ran my finger down to the tip of its tail.

“Want to touch it again?” the man holding it teased me. “You know now that it’s too small to bite.”

That hot March afternoon in 1992 was unforgettable for so many reasons. It was the first time I went on a picnic after having gone totally blind a few months ago due to a retinal condition. Prof Daniel, the retired English professor in-charge of people with disability who was our chaperone that day, had given me and other blind students enough time to run our fingers over the granite figures dominating the landscape at Mahabalipuram.

Touching the baby crock at Madras Crocodile Park, however, was a different ballgame. “We don’t have to keep touching it again,” Prof Daniel kept saying nervously until Bharath, the most daring of our blind friends, expressed his desire to put his finger into the baby’s mouth and feel the tip of its teeth.

It was the early days when my brain was transitioning from seeing things to touching and feeling. Initially it felt disorienting, but as I acclimatized with blindness, touching an object has become a spontaneous way of perception. It could be overpowering at times as it might feel as if you are seeing with a multitude of underwater cameras.

Even while heating up the two-minute noodle or boiling a pot of tea, I’d impulsively touch the rim to understand the space the vessel occupies on top of the gas stove.

“How do you manage without finger burns?” asked a friend, to which I remembered saying something vague like doing it quickly enough to avoid injuries. In reality, my focus wouldn’t be completely in the action to make a mental note of how it is done.

Over the years, physical proximity to people around me has reassured my subconscious mind that I am not alone and I’d find someone who’d put out a hand when I fall over something or nudge me in the right direction when I need guidance.

My legs walk with greater freedom when a strong hand grips my elbow. The handshakes are varying and distinct as there’re personalities. The stiff, the limp, the decisive and the drowning death grip. To think I should even “sanitize” the hand would seem somewhat disrespectful to the person who held it with warmth and hope.

Now, sequestered in a room, proudly proclaiming to the world that I’ve been in self-quarantine, I think of the ways in which an invisible virus has altered the world of touch, which had made me feel warm, alive, wanted and included.

I have this insane urge to reach down the phoneline, seize their hands, shake it violently, hold it tight, breathless by the knowledge that the world as we know it has now transformed, possibly forever.

At a more personal level, I wonder how I’d transition this time, nearly twenty-eight years after blindness forced me to transition from seeing to feeling.

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Published 19 January 2021, 18:30 IST

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