Get-hooked,Lifestyle June 13, 2021
A tribute to Javed Abidi by Tanay Chaujer
I remembered that I had a meeting with Javed Abidiji for the first time after graduating from the College of Art, New Delhi, in 1994.
With the Diploma of Bachelor in Fine Arts in hand, I was applying to various advertising agencies for a job in Delhi and Mumbai. My parents had met Javedji earlier and they took me to meet him for guidance. I was so impressed by his conversation. He was so confident, full of positivity and one who, sitting with ease on his wheelchair, by his mere presence filled the room. He spoke to me directly looking at me to make sure I could read his lips. At that time, hardly anybody besides close family members would keep in mind my requirement for face to face conversation, when talking to me. One thing that he told me has remained with me forever. He emphasised the importance of standing up for myself to move forward.
I met him a couple of times. After that, it was always a pleasure and a learning experience for me. Just by being around him, one learnt a lot. I even went to Agra for the ramp issue at Taj Mahal, I was volunteering to help and support wheelchair users who had problems visiting Taj Mahal due to lack of proper facilities.
I had gone to the US in 2001 on a tourist visa to visit a few Art & Design Institutes to see how I may benefit from a professional course. I wanted to learn more to be able to be on par with my colleagues in the Ad Agencies I worked with. I was able to find such an Art & Design Institute, The Creative Circus in Atlanta that gave me assurance of Individual interaction with the professors and extra support for any difficulties I may face due to my disability.
I came back after the visit and met Abidiji to let him know about my experiences and described the accessibility facilities for the disabled persons that I witnessed there.
At that moment he was organising a disability conference to create awareness on the importance of Accessibility. He asked me to present my views and share my experiences in the US at the conference. A huge turnout of persons with disabilities and media was present at the Park Hotel, Connaught Place (Delhi), the venue for the conference. He asked me to be the opening keynote speaker without letting others know that I am hard of hearing. I was a bit nervous but his confidence in me pushed me to do what I thought I couldn’t at that time.
After I finished my speech, the audience asked me some questions and luckily, I was able to grasp what they were saying and answered them accordingly. It was only then that Javedji announced that I was hard of hearing and many were taken aback and surprised!
This is how he injected confidence in me and I am sure many others experienced the same with him. At the moment, I don’t shy away from making speeches on stage.
After my application to enrol at Creative Circus was approved, I managed to enrol for an Art Direction Course for one and a half years in the US starting in October. Unfortunately, my student visa was rejected by US Embassy twice, because of my disability. I had faced problems, unable to hear clearly during my interview with the US immigration officer. My sister was assisting me to understand what the officials were questioning through a glass counter. My visa got rejected without any proper reason. I was upset. The second round was next month. I never gave up and I was persistent. Next month, I spoke to the officer politely and clearly so that there wouldn’t be any miscommunication however I was rejected again. I felt very dejected and was questioning myself as to why this was happening to me.
My parents approached Javedji for help. He immediately called his friend, Ms. Majorie Harrison, a senior officer at the American Embassy. Javedji directed me to take my portfolio and meet Ms. Harrison. She introduced me to her colleagues in a conference room. They were impressed with my work and I shared with Ms. Harrison the difficulties I faced with the Immigration Officer. Thanks to Javedji’s advice, his confidence in me and knowing the right person to approach, my student visa application was approved without any interview. Also, thank Ms. Harrison for her effort and understanding.
The Art Direction Course at Creative Circus in Atlanta,US, boosted my self-esteem many folds. I was recognised for my creative skills and was awarded Gold/ Silver/Bronze certificates in various categories along with Creative Excellence in Advertising from the prestigious Institution. After having been discriminated especially where the salary was concerned even after getting promoted to Art Director at a famous Advertising Agency in Delhi, I had approached Javedji who had advised me to polish my skills further and hone them with more professional courses. His attitude of- “never say no, never give up”- seeped into me. I would not have pushed myself enough without his firm advice to prove my worth.
I will never forget what Javedji did for me and my parents. He was a great person, passionate and determined to help the disabled community. His confidence in us helped build our confidence too!
He had fought many a times with the Government to raise issues to solve problems and help people with disabilities and fight for their rights. I always supported him during those times.
There was one incident I had with the media. The reporter was asking me questions about disability rights and I tried to make him realise that he’s disabled too as he’s wearing spectacles and without it, he won’t be able to see. Similarly, I am using a hearing aid, without which I won’t be able to hear clearly. So why should he look at me and other people with disabilities indifferently when he has visual impairment himself and is one of us.
On the occasion of Javedji’s birth anniversary, I would like to humbly request the fraternity to” let the light of rights for the disabled lit byJavedji” continue to lighten up our lives and we collectively must never let it extinguish. The mission must continue to fight for rights with more zeal and enthusiasm as more challenges continue to crop up.
Author Tanay Chaujer is a Creative Consultant (advertising and design) He lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with his wife and two sons.
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