Dialogue in the dark
Mukund was here in Hyderabad. He is one of the closest friends I’ve ever had. I’ve known him for more than four years now. Yet he has not ceased to amaze me; he can be anything – the coolest friend to spend an evening with, the pain in the neck, the flirt, the know-it-all fellow who takes less than a second to guess what I’m upto, a punch bag that serves as my vent and a non-judging friend I can always always confide in. And justifiably, I was excited.
The weekend finally arrived and so did this guy. Then dawned the realization that with Ganesh Chaturti, the Telengana bandh and Gandhi Jayanthi, this was unarguably the worst weekend for anyone to visit Hyderabad.
Quite typical of all my plans, this was quite a dud. It was an almost completely boring weekend, at least for him who traveled quite a distance hopeful about seeing the best of a new city. I spent every second, hunting for some way to turn things around. Soon I gave up.
I settled for a typical dally-in-the-mall-and-watch-a-quick-movie Sunday. We went to the only mall in vicinity – Inorbit – only to realize the movie tickets were all sold out. So we grabbed a quick snack and walked around aimlessly looking for some way to pass time.
We came across a small crowd next to a counter in ‘Dialogue in the Dark’. The curious side of me could not walk past without knowing what it was about. We enquired and got to know it’s an exhibition that takes you through 6 scenarios – Jungle, Super Market, Shaking bridge, Boat ride, Cricket game and Café – in complete darkness. We were to make best use of our other senses through the exhibition. We paid and waited, solely because there was just nothing else to do in this city that day. We waited till our names were called out; we deposited our phones in the locker and we were given a walking stick each. Secretly I was very apprehensive about what was ahead.
We entered the first scenario – jungle – and I could see just black space. Nothing more. Not my hands, or my nose. Not even my bright red chappals. I felt uneasy in the gut of my stomach. I was too scared to move, I could see nothing. I held Mukund’s collar from behind and tagged along like a toddler. Every time I lost him I called out for the guide who was there to help. I was afraid of getting lost or being left behind. It was some comfort to know that the guide will take me back to the group if I yelled. Obviously the guides could see somehow. Not me, and worse, my brain’s wheels stopped moving like they always did when I needed them the most. After a while I realized I was holding my stick half way up in the air instead of using it to move around. I felt ashamed for a minute. But that was blanketed by a much stronger feeling of paranoia that was setting in. I can’t even recollect how the jungle scenario was; I was too afraid to notice. I felt the floor with my foot cautiously, checking for a change in level, before every step I took. I felt handicapped and helpless. There was no beauty in the jungle; Just darkness and fear.
The supermarket scenario lay ahead. We had to move along the racks and shelves to identify objects by smelling or feeling them. This was fun. In the line, Mukund was ahead of me and behind me was Shipra – a tamil girl I met in darkness. This was easier.
While walking to the next room for the next scenario, I had to walk bending down just a bit. I felt too tall, the corridor had a low ceiling. I walked this way a few seconds. When this got uncomfortable I shot my hand forward to make sure there was someone there I wasn’t lost. The person ahead wasn’t bending. I shot my hand out, this time upwards. And there was no ceiling. I was imagining it all along. I felt like I was being fooled. I was hallucinating. I didn’t know how to feel – stupid or more scared. Surely I could no more trust my senses.
We played a round of cricket with a ball that was filled with something and hence made noise. I swayed the bat randomly in the air and I wasn’t surprised when I heard the ball hitting the wall behind. I was so pathetic that the guide joked about my skills. While I was fielding the ball hid my ankle with a hard thud and I jumped up for a second in pain. I think that was Mukund’s four and I ‘m certain that he was beaming in pride. While I was waiting in the corner hoping I do not get hit a second time, Shipra dropped her crocodile hair clip and despite the darkness pervading, the guide walked across and found it in no time. That just confirmed it for me, the guide could see. God knew how, but he could.
We were led to a table in the café. There had to be some science behind the guide’s vision. Mukund supposed that they could have some type of infra-red glasses on. We handed over a currency note which the guide identified it as a twenty rupee note. We sipped some hot coffee enjoying the comfort of the chair. It was such a relief to not feel lost, to not be afraid every moment. It felt so good and safe to just stay seated. For the first time ever, I appreciated something that simple.
The exhibition was over, we were going to be led out of the dark world. The guide politely thanked us all. We cheered, mostly in relief that it was the end. The guide wasn’t done, he went to give a short speech that inspired me like nothing else ever has. It left me with a feeling of awe.
He told us that ‘Dialogue in the Dark’ was an initiative to make it possible for people to see a world that you can’t see. It’s done so that people learn to appreciate the other four senses. And behind the darkness, facilitating this is a group of visually challenged people who’ve taken it up to show the world their aspect of the world. He went on to tell us that he was not born with the disability, he was blinded by an accident. And life after the accident began the way the exhibition began for us.
I was hit by some massive force. I couldn’t say a word, nooone could. We all sat in the darkness, in silence. I was more than inspired. It is inexplicable, how much I respected the guide in front of me, at that instant. There was no pity, no sympathy; pure respect, nothing less. The whole time during the exhibition, I was at peace knowing he was around; I looked up to him, like all of us did. He was our guide, he guided us through when we felt helpless and lost. All this, when every moment of his life, he feels every emotion I felt that one hour.
Mukund and I, we got back after that. Not a word was spoken on the way back.