As a tension releasing change of tone, I thought I would not write on the grim realities of getting government officials to do something to alleviate the lot of PwD. Instead, I shall talk of something refreshingly positive.
This whole series of events started with a not very encouraging visit that some of our group (we call ourselves `Disability Rights Alliance') made to the Pallavan House - which visit I chronicled in an earlier post in this blog. As mentioned in this post, we were told that part of the reason for buses not being more accessible was such considerations of the of bus mnufacturers as a desire to get rid of unsold stock. As also mentioned in the above-mentioned post, I offered to help set up a meeting with a senior executive of Ashok Leylands who had been a friend of one of my brothers in school. So I dashed off an email to Mr. Seshasayee (the senior executive mentioned earlier). As a result of our individual itineraries this summer, we could not manage to find a common time to meet until a few months later.
That particular meeting took place in the head office of AL located not far from Raj Bhavan in Chennai. As it turned out, he wrote saying he was officially no longer as closely related to their buses as before, and that he would arrange for my group to meet the concerned person. It was pouring cats and dogs that morning and I had taken care to leave sufficiently early. I was waiting in their (very accessible) lobby, waiting for two of my friends to also come. As luck would have it, Seshasyee walked in just as I was waiting in the lobby. He greeted me warmly and said he would try and make it a point to at least briefly drop in on our meeting.
When Vaishnavi and Amba came along and we went up, we were received most cordially by Mr. Saharia (Exec. Dir. Mkting at AL) and Mr. Rajesh (in charge of the buses there). They answered many of our questions regarding `low-floor' buses, thier economic feasibility, etc. When we left after a very cordially conducted meeting of a few hours, Mr. Rajesh promised to send us pertinent literature as well as offered to take us to their Technical Centre a few miles from the city where we could examine things first-hand. As our meeting was nearing its end, they made a call to Seshasayee to inform him as such (since he had apparently asked them to do so). And sure enough, he came down, quickly got the gist of what had transpired thus far, and made some really innovative suggestions, promised to give any other help we may desire, and then dashed off to other needs clamouring for his attention.
A few days later, Mr. Rajesh was true to his word and sent the material we had asked for. I, in turn, asked him when we could go check out their Technical Centre and he put the ball back in my court by asking me when we would like to go. I asked for some time to contact our (scattered) DRA team and get individual responses as to a suitable time. When we finally got our act together and informed the AL people of the dates suitable for us, he sensibly asked me how many people would go on this trip. Several phone calls and e-mails later, it was decided that they would arrange suitable modes of transportation to transport our team of 5-8 people plus 3-4 wheel-chairs.
They sent their `fun-bus' (along with an air-conditioned car, which was not really needed and sent back) to collect our team from Vidya Sagar at 9 am on the agreed date. I got to Vidya Sagar at 8.45, while the bus came 5 minutes later. The bus had a sort of lift which a very polite and friendly bus-driver operated, and all present, with some four different kinds of wheel-chairs, got into the bus without any mishap. I learnt from one of my colleagues, on the long bus-ride, that Ashok Leylands apparently mkes its bus available for such usage to anybody who asks for it provided only that they pay the driver (what Indians call his `bata' or) per diem expenses).
When we finally got to our destination, we were spared the high security regimen that has to be undergone by anyone entering the premises, and were driven to where we could access the building via the ramps that are as ubiquitous in the AL buildings we saw as life-size pictures of Mahendra Singh Dhoni (presumaably their brand ambassador), both of which did much to heighten the general feeling of being welcome. To top it off, there were displays on monitors `welcoming Mr. Sunder and his team'. And not only did they make various presentations as well as take us down to where they had their later models of `kneeling buses' etc., they even served all of us lunch in a special room of their canteen, during which our discussions continued and the senior officers present made promises to implement various suggestions we had made regarding the gradient of the ramps in their buses, etc.
At the end of the day, one had a satisfactory feeling of having seen genuine corporate social responsibility in action!