'There is an India we don't wish to know'
In our Independence Day Special on the India You Didn't Know, Sikkil Gurucharan, one of the country's most exciting young musicians, looks at the dark side of India, one that is blind to its physically challenged.
There is the India we Indians don't wish to know about and I'd like to throw light on that. Throwing light is ironical in the context of this true incident about a blind man which happened to me.
I had reached the train station unusually early that night and with a lazy gait, was walking towards my compartment. All around me were people of all shapes and sizes, scurrying in all directions.
Amidst the chaos I saw a young man (let's say Ravi) walking towards me, using a flimsy stick to feel the terrain before him. Just as I was absorbed in my thoughts about what life would be like engulfed in total darkness, I was rudely jostled to the side and before I could gather myself, I saw a long fragment of the flimsy stick roll towards me.
The guy who had pushed me aside in a hurry didn't spare the visually challenged man ahead of me and ran straight into his stick which had neatly snapped into two.
Instinct told me to chase that heartless soul who couldn't even stop for a second to apologise, but looking at Ravi's frantic attempts trying to realise what struck him, I went and held his hands, which were up in mid air by now, lost.
By the time I reached him, around 10 people had easily rushed past Ravi without so much as a glance, making me feel he was quite lucky to be spared from being hit again!
We rave about the beauty of the earthy shades of Indian ethnicity, the abundance of natural wealth and mainly the hospitality of the Indian culture that encompasses a myriad diversities from state to state, among a million other things.
India, incredible India indeed!
These aspects make me proud but that's just one side of the coin. This incident probably testifies the India that we don't know about, the other dark side with subjects we condemn when people make movies of. The India that Ravi 'sees'. That we do not wish to see.
I picked up the remnants of the stick and saw the distress on Ravi's face when he felt the broken pieces. For some reason, I could feel a surge of guilt riddle my innards. I walked Ravi towards the compartment for the physically challenged and we got talking.
I found out that he worked at an office in Chennai and studied part time at Tanjore, where his parents lived. After the initial reaction, Ravi seemed calm about his stick being rendered useless albeit I was quite anxious as to how he was going to reach Tanjore without it.
He told me resignedly that only one stick was given as a gift by his company. A replacement will call for formalities and will take a few months for the process to be completed. His words "But what to do, I must have come in his way inadvertently..." triggered a train of thought making me gauge the worth of my existence.
The way he sees it, trains have compartments reserved for the physically challenged, to ease them of the hassles of reservation. To my eyes, the reserved compartment is placed in the farthest end from the entrance. By the time we walked to the last bogie of the train, the seats were already taken by other people who shared Ravi's plight.
The way he sees it, people are in a hurry and he should be wary of others who are going about their way. To my eyes, they are in such a great hurry that anyone who obstructs their path is a minion who can be brushed aside insignificantly. Remember, he got to Ravi after jostling me first.
The way he sees it, it's still Ravi's fault. His stick was broken because of his intervention in someone else's life. To me, Ravi may be physically blind, but we are the ones who are truly visually challenged.
Ravi would have reached Tanjore happily. His stick would be replaced by now. His life would have resumed its normalcy. He still does not know what hit him because he is oblivious to our India and, we, to his.
But true to our hospitable Indian culture, let us make way for Ravi, no matter how important our errand is. Let us show him what a heart filled with compassion, can do to make a difference. It will give them hope and hope is what brings light into their world. That will be freedom for souls like Ravi's. Jai Hind.
Sikkil Gurucharan, 29, is one of India's most brilliant musical talents and the recepient of the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puruskar from the Sangeet Natak Akademi.
Earlier in the series:
'The credit is in India's roots and its stories'
'The world has come to know India better'
'See the Ganga aarti at least once'
'They looked African, but spoke Gujarati'
'Indians have a sense of humour'
'A Hindu couple at an Islamic shrine illustrates how India works'
Image: Visually impaired children play Holi in Bhopal
Photographs: Raj Patidar/Reuters