October 19, 2012

A car rally with a difference

Sunday, 14 October 2012. Tara and I participated in a time-speed-distance car rally conducted by the Dialogue in the Dark and Madras Motorsports Club. This rally was unique because the navigator was blind. Our navigator -- Kamruddin -- was given the navigation chart in Braille, and, in a role reversal, he was to lead the way by reading it to us.

 The rally went on quite well, but as I drove, there were moments of extreme helplessness because we could not ourselves read the tulip chart. We had to depend so totally on Kamruddin. Since he did not know the city well, he struggled to read out the route to us. And, because the sheets given to him had not been stapled, he once in a while read out from the wrong sheet. Tara's role was to quickly note down what he was saying and then we would interpret the notes and go from one point to the other. We took many a wrong turn, struggled to follow what Kamruddin read out. There was frustration at not being able to interpret what he was trying to say. Yet, we knew we had to be patient and not lose our cool.

It was a very humbling experience, and we realised what it is to depend on someone for our movement -- something that the blind live with all the time.

The best part of the drive was that we made friends with Kamruddin, a student, in the third year of a 5-year integrated course in Hindi, in Central University. He belongs to a village near Vikarabad. He has always lived in hostels. When I asked him what he did in his spare time, he said he liked to 'watch' movies, and when he was in the village, he liked to spend time in the fields where there were a lot of birds. Kamruddin thought the number 39 that was assigned to our car was a lucky number.

It was also wonderful to see normal people mingling with the blind, making friends, walking with their hands on their shoulders. The children who volunteered, also handled the blind very well, making them sit in the cars, taking them to the toilet and for lunch, and making them cross the road. These interactions, for me, were the touching moments that made the rally worth every minute. Thank you, Dialogue in the Dark and Madras Motorsports Club, for making this happen in Hyderabad.

Some criticism: While the rally itself was meticulous and very well organised, the 'entertainment' (unnecessary, in my opinion) and the prize distribution  were handed over to an event management company, and that was when the sincerity of the rally took a beating. Frivolity set in as the loud compere made the blind among the audience sing, dance, and do mimicry...it was a rather pathetic turn to an otherwise enlightening event. It would've been great if someone from the National Association of the Blind spoke to us, or if the people from Madras Motorsports recounted anecdotes from 24 years of 'blind' rallying.

Hopefully, these issues will be addressed next year. I will be there with Tara and Kamruddin.

Note: I deliberately use the word 'blind' and not 'visually challenged'. I believe in plain-speak. Saying 'visually challenged' does not make their life any easier. 

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