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

I Did Laundry and Cleaned the Kitchen While MaaDurga Slay the Demons

We are in the midst of the Pooja Festivals.  Today is Maha Navami, the ninth lunar day of the holiday.   As per Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga killed Chando and Mundo, two asuras (demons) at the confluence (Sandhi) of Maha Ashtami and Mahanavami.  In Kolkata the holiday is both religious and secular.

Today we were very short on help.  The big girls were invited out.  So we made do. I did laundry.  Many times in my life when stress was high, so much on my mind, doing laundry grounded me.  There is something about the simple work of cleaning, the repetitive necessity of life, attending to the basics.  Wash the clothes, spin dry, hang to dry, and fold….. appreciate that we have water, electricity, a washing machine, and sun in the garden…

I cleaned under the refrigerator.  I don’t think this had been done for months even though we have a schedule.  I just had a feeling it would be bad under there.  I bought a refrigerator with wheels so I could move it easily.  I vacuumed with my little hand held that I use mostly for around computer wires.  I poured detergent and scrubbed with a green ScotchBrite pad.  Then I cleaned the freezer, and then the refrigerator doors.  Feeling really inspired I cleaned the doors of the steel pantry, and then went after the shelves where water bottles and pitchers are kept.  I filled a garbage can with stuff to go out.

Pearl, our house supervisor was here and pitched in.  I called Gibi and told her we were without help and she came.  Between us, we really did fine.  I bathed the little ones.  I think for Bono, this was the highlight of her festival, that Mummy gave her a bath.  She did not stop squealing with joy.   I’m “special” to all of them so having me taking care of them really made their day.

I downloaded another iPad program to try with Rani, Bono, and Sonali.  You had to get little circles together so the fish would eat them.  It’s a math game but they loved following the action, and their touching the screen didn’t shut down the program.  The iPads are a wonderful addition, partly because the programs are also fun for the teachers.  I had fun, so the kids had fun with me.  I did have to remind myself once to keep them in the game as I suddenly got too focused on winning.

Laundry, kitchen cleaning, and slaying dragons.  All are necessary for our existence, and at different times we play different roles.  For me as a woman, especially one who faces demons, the daily activity of taking care of children anchors me and gives me strength.

Tomorrow, on Dashami, we are all invited to a community lunch put on by a local club that has been very supportive.  The girls will all pitch in, and we will all go, walking,  in wheelchairs… our little family procession…

The lives of our girls are not simple, nor are  they without scars, and wounds that are not yet healed.  We try to live three steps ahead of  demons within, looking for hope and light and promises we can believe.

Maa Durga has come to Earth with her four children, Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi, and Saraswati to visit her parents. She stays for four days to eradicate all evil from the earth before returning to her husband Lord Shiva at Kailash on Dashami. 

As every woman knows, you must first do the laundry and clean the kitchen if good is to overcome evil in your home.

Sending Food for Aunty’s Children

Aunty sent an auto-rickshaw for supplies yesterday morning.  That’s it parked in the lane in front of Shishur Sevay.  I sent Bijoy to the store and we bought rice and other staples that should last about five days.   

We sent rice, Maggie Noodles, Dal, Chana Dal, eggs, powdered milk formula for babies, neutrala, a soy product, chira (flattened flaked rice) potatoes, and sattoo (powdered chhana).  The cost was Rs. 3889, or USD about $80.

I’m planning to visit there tomorrow.  I’m bringing someone from a home that is considering taking one of the severely disabled boys.  It’s a good home, like ours, and we do this by keeping the number of children within our resources. Knowing our limitations is one of the most important components of success.  Saying no is painful.  So, we live with that, and once in a while we find reason to stretch a bit.

The biggest obstacle to feeding the children is an attitude by the staff that because the children are so starved, you cannot give them much food of they will vomit and have diarrhea.  So, they let them be hungry.  I cant’ seem to get past this with anyone!  I’ve tried to de-worm them but so far it hasn’t happened.  I’ve suggested frequent small meals but that hasn’t happened.  I brought two dozen bananas the day we took the sickest ones to CWC, and the bananas were still in the office at night.  One day I was told that the boys have an “emotional” problem over food.  I said it’s called starvation.

I know it is painful reading this, as it is painful living it.  There are problems with the government and problems in the home.  And no one cares!  The best chance those kids have now, the ones I can’t place, is in that home — if we can manage the problems.  If we can’t, I still don’t know.  Over the weekend I talked with friends here and heard terrible stories about other places they knew.  One friend said, ‘The government doesn’t care if they live.”

Lots of thoughts in my head, and probably some of the same in your heads.   Tomorrow is another day.  I’m so totally swamped with work at Shishur Sevay, but I’ll go to see the children at Aunty’s.  Balance in my life? Nope, and not yet time to rest.

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