My mornings are meant for a leisurely half-hour walk with my dog before I start my run and get into the frenzy of getting to work. On Tuesday, just as I finished my walk, I came across Mahadeo. Mahadeo was asking forRuiaCollege, tapping on the pavement with his white-and-red stick. He was asking no one in particular, but it was a dignified call for help. I gave him my hand.
“Are you heading that way? I don’t want to bother you,” he said to me.
“It’s no bother… So what do you study?” I asked him, smiling back at his smile – innocent and genuine. Turned out Mahadeo was studying economics, political science, and Marathi. A little ahead, a young girl almost tripped on the uneven footpath. Two morning ladies pretended not to hear her request for help. People are still uncomfortable, I thought to myself, and asked her to join me.
“Hi didi, I am Sangeeta… What’s your name?” She asked as my dog gave me a sharp tug. He was scared of the stick.
“I am Shakti.”
Mahadeo asked me if it was raining. Random drops from trees were confusing them. Mahadeo and Sangeeta were classmates. Mahadeo wanted to be a computer professional while Sangeeta wanted to be a lawyer.
Just as she said this, she almost stumbled into the bars placed on the footpath. We made our way towards the traffic light. We had to cross Dr Ambedkar Road, an arterial road of Mumbai, and very busy. The light for vehicles was red, but I was unsure of making my way across the roads with cars revving impatiently. I was worried that as soon as the light turned green, the cars wouldn’t notice us and zoom off. We crossed one part of the road and as we inched forward to the second part, my heart literally came into my mouth as a BEST bus zoomed past despite the red light, missing us by mere inches.
Mahadeo and Sangeeta looked scared but they had only heard the bus… I reassured the two and heaved a sigh of relief as I reached the other end ofAmbedkar Road. The crossing would have taken me two minutes at the most, but it was a five-minute affair this time… And to think that Mahadeo and Sangeeta went through this routine every day!
Mahadeo and Sangeeta had a tough life commuting, tougher than the one you or me have, but their determination to lead a life as close to normal as possible is noteworthy. They didn’t crib. They sought help, worked around their difficulties, and were smiling.
The least the city could do is to not add to their woes. Alas, Mumbai fails on that count.
Bombay may have become Mumbai with a dream to turn into aShanghai, but it is nowhere close to being friendly towards its disabled population. We crib incessantly about the city yet do absolutely nothing to make this city disabled-friendly. Not even stopping at red lights while driving. It took two blind students to open my eyes to this issue.
Originally appeared in DNA, July 6, 2011