Friday, 8 February 2013

A giant among men

The last few days have been about the lowest point I have encountered in my life. First, I had to come to terms with the fact that the health of my brother, who has always been considered the strong person in the family, had been going steadily downhill for a month and, has spent the last week in the ICU of a hospital, and learning every day that there was a new complication. To the extent that I told my daughter who works in Mumbai that she should probably take some time off and come down to Chennai.

And to make sure that life wasn't treating me too softly, I was dealt the `unkindest cut of them all' a couple of days ago when somebody I have come to love like a brother even though he entered my life only about eight months ago was snatched away from our midst at the young age of just 39. This post is dedicated to him.

People reading this blog would be aware that `disability activism' is what I have been trying to get into for a little more than a year. Some time back, I wrote a piece wondering aloud if `going legal' was the only way. A cousin of mine from Bangalore suggested that I get in touch with the Alternative Law Forum. The upshot of it all was that I came up with one name of a lawyer practising in Chennai and interested and actively involved in disability matters.

Meanwhile, and by an odd coincidence I had also got in touch with Vaishnavi Jayakumar. So I fixed up a meeting with this young lawyer, and requested Vaishnavi to join me (as I was a `babe in the woods' in these matters) when I went to talk to a lawyer about possible help in enforcing existing laws concerning accessibility. And so it transpired that the three of us met one Saturday morning in a coffee shop. That was the first time I met either Vaishnavi or Rahul, and I realised that they were far from being strangers to one other. That morning was an eye-opener and life-changer for me. Vaishnavi's dynamism and Rahul's critical and practically sound approach, in conjunction with their shared passion and zeal for bettering the lot of people with disabilities and striving for an inclusive planetcould not but convey optimism that with such people working towards a joint goal, no obstacle would be insurmountable.

Since that meeting, my life has been enriched in untold ways. I slowly started being included in the activities of various organisations. I started becoming aware of the myriad activities at national and international levels that Rahul was involved in. I was more than considerably impressed with his mails concerning his visits to and work in Geneva on making the pages of printed information in books get out of the clutches of the copyrights guarded fiercely by the publishing industry (primarily in USA and Europe) and made available to the visibility impaired people of the world. There is a must-see  clip of vintage Rahul  (at In this video, Maryanne Diamond, the President of the World Blind Union is being interviewed (by an interviewer with what sounds like a clearly American accent) where she says in polite terms that while there was great enthusiasm at the beginning of the meeting (to arrive at an acceptable draft of a treaty concerning the involved issues at the WIPO SCCR 24, after 10 days) there seems to have `not been as much progress as had been hoped for and that there was a certain amount of disappointment among the members'. At about this point, Rahul who has been sitting by her side, leans sideways to affectionately rest his head on her shoulder with a `Sorry, I couldn't resist' with his characteristically engaging smile.
Then the interviewer asks him for his opinion, and while concurring 100% with the views stated by Maryanne, clarifies that there is a clear division into two camps - those for and those against the treaty - and that `it is clear who we have to fight against'. Upon which the interviewer asks him just who he feels is against the treaty. And with his million dollar smile and characteristic `no nonsense' candour, he crisply answers  `the European Union and USA'.

His periodical bulletins from Geneva with the occasional video were informative and revealed the extent of his involvement in this work as also his almost childish pleasure in things like the little scooter he was using there which allowed him to travel all over Geneva, rather than just travel from his hotel to WIPO and back because he had had to travel by taxi, which was all he had been doing in his six prior visits to WIPO meetings (see\&

I had the pleasure of seeing him with this `toy' when he came to a little meeting I had organised at my institute to discuss one of the million projects Rahul involves diverse disability rights groups in. As the only really `accessible' place I know for PWD is my institute, I tried to suggest that we meet here, and most others kept suggesting alternative places like public parks and other equally unattractive sites. I wrote a slightly dejected email to Rahul and Vaishnavi saying I sensed an unwillingness to agree to a site proposed by a maverick mathematician who was an outsider not belonging to any organisation in `the movement', and asking if they could use their clout in this community to try and convince people of the advantages of holding the meeting in my place. (On an earlier occasion, the three of us had arranged to meet with an IAS officer in my institute for the same reason; so Rahul knew the wisdom in my suggestion.)

Not only did Rahul overcome the seeming resistance, but also promptly responded by saying that it took him almost three years to be accepted by the community. To get an idea of how `this community' has gathered him to its bosom, please take a look at the beautiful tributes to Rahul at and at I wish to add this tribute to a truly remarkable soul who was taken away from us too soon by cruel Fate.

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