Saturday, 28 December 2013

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings


Let me shift gears and toggle from pessimistic to optimistic and report on a couple of things I experienced not too long ago.

The first such happy event occurrred a few days before I got to Bangalore. I had been invited to lecture at an event (Anusandhan 2013) organised on the occasion of the bicentennary celebrations of Presidency University (nee College). Attending this event would mean my going to Kolkata for just a couple of days and directly fly to Bangalore the evening before the conference that was chronicled in the previous posts. But what made me accept this invitation was: (a) the entire event was being organised by students - including deciding on the programme, getting sponsors to fund the event, etc.. and (b) their responding to my announcing the need for `reasonable accommodation' in order to account for my mobility problems, by promptly changing the originally planned reservation in Calcutta Club (probably unchanged since colonial times and full of steps everywhere without a sign of a ramp) to the `Peerless Inn', a hotel in Esplanade with ramps, elevators and other modern amenities, and (c) their promising to have the SUV-type Tavera (large enough to easily transport my wheel-chair and our luggage) at my disposal from the time of our arrival till our departure at Kolkata University. And every time we traveled anywhere, we were escorted by a a bright young student, often even younger than our daughter; and when I said they did not have to inconvenience themselves on our account as there must be plenty of other work that might need them, I was sweetly told that they always accorded this hospitality to all their guests. We would be escorted through routes in the university which were accessible to my wheel-chair, and served lunch in the office of an equally hospitable assistant registrar. Here is one shot I managed to get of an idyllic garden in the college


 as we went from that room to the lecture hall - and these kids had made sure there were ramps wherever needed and never gave me an occasion to feel part of a traveling freak show!

And just yesterday, we had gone to meet and have lunch with Siva who had come from Bangalore where he (i) had been a student of some Master's level courses I taught long ago at ISI, (ii) joined ISI as a faculty member almost a decade after (i) above; (he sought my advice from UBC at Vancouver where he was a Post-Doc. then, as to where in India he should apply to, as he was ready to come back home); (iii) continues to thrive in ISI after having followed my advice to turn down a job offer from IISc a few years later (when they made him an offer at exactly the same level he was already working in at ISI, expecting him to take up the offer purely because of the location and `prestige' of IISc!) (iv) still was, was when we collaborated on a book, which has been very well-received, if I may say so myself; (v) was recognised for his work by being awarded the Bhatnagar Award last year. Anyway, he is now married and has a daughter, the apple of his eye, a three or four year-old, who has him twisted around her little finger. The point of this story is this: the last time she had seen me was when I was in my wheelchair, and she remembered me as the `thatha (grandfather/old man) who had given her some fish', when Siva tried to explain to her who they were going to be meeting for lunch, And as they entered the restaurant, after climbinng the  mandatory number of steps, she apparently asked Siva the obvious question troubling her: `But Appa, how will Sunder thatha come up these steps?' Maybe there is hope for future generations of people with disabilities, after all!

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