Theater: Laughter at the Expense of Those With Disabilities

We attended a drama, Anubhav, by Ramaprasad Banik, being put on by the Theater Group of Nehru Children’s Museum at the Academy of Fine Arts.  It was presented as a play about the emotional sensitivity of children, and it took place in a school for boys.    I took the five big girls, Kalpana,and Ganga (in her chair).  Seema Gupta, on our Board met us there.  She had friends whose children were in the play, an she had gotten the tickets for us.  She had also clarified in advance that we had one child in a wheelchair, and it was agreed the chair would be next to us in the aisle.

We were on the early side and went right in.  We found our seats in the second row, up to the aisle, but the aisle was so narrow, the chair totally blocked the aisle.  So I moved forward temporarily to the front row and put the chair in front of me, leaving a very wide area for people to pass.

“Madam, you must move.  This (the child in the chair) is blocking the way.”

Me: “Well there is still a lot of room for people to pass, but there is no room in the aisle for anyone to get past.  I have a seat just behind me, with the others.”  He looked back and figured out  we were a group.  I added, ‘We arranged all this in advance.”

“Madam, you can move her to the back of the auditorium so she does not block the aisle.”

“You mean where she can’t see as much?  That wouldn’t be nice to treat her that way just because she is in a wheelchair!”    Iwas being as sweet, dumb sounding, and immovable as I could.

“Oh yes, well then move her over to the end of the row, by the exit.”

“Oh my, but then she can’t see the full stage.”

All this happened over about ten minutes, with different men coming to replace the ones who had been unsuccessful in moving us.  Seema Gupta was wonderful in trying to help negotiate, knowing I wasn’t moving, and as upset as I was. I talked to Ganga as this was going on.  I asked if she was OK, and I said we were doing this so people would have better places for people who needed wheelchairs.  She smiled, grinned, and seemed to get it.  I asked again if she was OK, and she grinned.

A compromise was reached, wherein Ganga would be in the front with me before the play and when it started I would move back into the second row seat on the aisle and she would be in the aisle next to me.  All I could think of was the fire hazard of this arrangement now that we WERE blocking the aisle.

The play was in Bengali but I’d heard that it was about emotional sensitivity, and there was an orphan in it… and I could follow some of what was going on.  There was slapstick… I kept noticing that.  Early there was slapstick about a boy who couldn’t speak.  He would open his mouth and words wouldn’t come out.  The others would yell at him to talk.  His mother hit him over the head.  The whole place burst into laughter, including Ganga.  But then Ganga couldn’t stop laughing, couldn’t get herself under control.  Because it was fastest way, I picked her up out of the chair and left through the exit.  I sat with her in the lobby, just soothing her.  She calmed down.  She was upset.  We just sat, her head against my chest.

The theater group director happened to come by and said hello.  He had no idea what had gone on.  He was proud of the production, and said it was good our children were here “because it’s about these things.”  He talked with pride about his school, and the boys… (he then quickly added girls) who were in it.  But the play was a boy’s play.  There were NO good parts for girls.  They either were girls who giggled, or mothers of the boys.

I tried once to carry her back in but she started uncontrolled spasms of laughter as I opened the door.  But during intermission we did go back in.  I carried her in and sat with her on my lap, which is where she wanted to be.  Usually she would rather be with the big girls.  She didn’t laugh.  She was somber.   In the final scene the boy who can’t talk was being goaded by another boy.  Just another happy ending.

I just kept thinking how glad I was that Sudip wasn’t there, my Secretary with CP, who lives it all.

A few days ago we visited an NGO, which is part of an international group that serves the poor and those with disabilities.  Sudip had visited them seven years before as part of his activism with Ankur in Disability Awareness and they remembered him fondly.  We visited all their buildings and grounds and then they took us to the meditation room, a beautiful architecturally designed brick structure, but inaccessible to those with disabilities.  This had not changed in the seven years since Sudip had been there before.  I asked what they did with people in wheelchairs, whether they just carried them in.  “No, they sit outside the building.”

From inside this beautiful meditation room, I took a picture of Sudipendu Dutta standing outside.

Sudipendu Dutta on crutches standing outside inaccessible meditation building

Sudipendu Dutta Outside the Ashram’s Inaccessible Meditation Room

June 2013
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