From confusion to confidence, the Mumbai effect. – Guest column by Turab Chimthanwala
Our guest columnist this week is Turab Chimthanawala. Turab, who is visually impaired, is a company secretary currently working in Mumbai. His hobby is to blog about his experiences and learnings from his tryst with visual disability.
The advancement of the ‘Persons with Disabilities’ and their contribution to national and global development, to a considerable extent depends on the environment in which they operate. This includes physical infrastructure as also the attitudes, beliefs and perceptions of the able-bodied (jargon for non-disabled) towards their disabled colleagues and peers.
If the able bodied are open-minded, patient and considerate, the disabled, basis their abilities and qualities, can achieve extraordinary results. On the contrary, a conservative, regressive and inconsiderate environment would spell doom, however skilled or motivated disabled people may be.
I grew up in a small town where, people with disabilities were perceived as objects of charity. They were considered incapable of contributing to self or national development. As a consequence, despite a supporting mother and studying in a top CBSE school, I hardly made heads turn in my professional and personal life. After completing two degree courses with excellent grades, I severely lacked the wherewithal to stand on my feet, forget impacting others.
In early 2017, I got an opportunity to intern under an acclaimed solicitor at the Bombay High Court, Mumbai bench. When I arrived in the city, I had only hoped for some confidence and direction for the road ahead. However, over the past two years, the optimistic, supportive, encouraging and open minded people here have transformed me professionally and personally. From a submissive, confused and dependent boy in early 2017, I have become a responsible, independent and confident adult.
Recently, I completed one year in my current engagement at a renowned company secretary firm at Andheri.
Thus, on this International Day of Disabled Persons’, I chose to pen down some of my experiences and learnings derived in the City of Dreams. These lessons would be of great help to anyone (disabled or not) who wishes to make his/her life more meaningful and purposeful.
The whole package matters – The principal reason behind my inability to hit top gear before Mumbai was my visual disability becoming the ‘be all and end all’ of my identity. Such a mindset greatly restricted rapid progress. My stay in Mumbai awakened me to two key ideas. First, disability is only a subset of my character which also includes positive attributes such as excellent cognitive ability, photographic memory, decent communication skills and the like. Second, in the professional and social spheres, work matters, not the worker. For instance, if I can make enriching PPTs as part of my job description, or help organise engaging events at Rotaract, my disability is of little significance..
Each person has his/her own set of challenges. So, remember, the whole package matters.
The show must go on – The most fascinating thing is the spirit of Mumbaikars’. Be it heavy rains, traffic congestion, train delays, technical breakdown or personal tragedy, they keep sailing. During the recent Ganesh festival, I was astounded to find that despite heavy rains and flooded streets, the celebrations did not stop. The chanting, singing, dancing, and partying was hardly impacted.Thus, to succeed, even if all hell breaks loose, the show must go on.
Concern is shown by Deeds, not words – During my childhood, I heard a lot of criticism about Mumbaikars. They were considered impersonal and self-centered, rarely enquiring about the well being of their friends or colleagues. Thus, it was advisable that I remain in my home town, where people always had time to enquire about other’s well being. My stay in Mumbai made me recognise that genuine concern is expressed by deeds and not just words. The following experience is an excellent example.
Mumbai on the night of 24 July 2019 was a frightening scene. Relentless rain over the past 24 hours had left the city stunned. With the weatherman warning of more showers, shops and offices began to shut. All roads and trains were jam-packed. I too was in a spot of bother. A technical glitch had caused the Uber driver to abruptly end my trip. While I anxiously contemplated my options, my co-rider volunteered to help. Ignoring her own safety and well- being, she ensured I was dropped home. Thus, mere enquiries about a person’s current engagement or future plans or using glorified jargons like ‘specially abled’ hardly make sense. To really impact there must be concrete action.
These are just a few lessons taught by this amazing city. The icing on the cake was being able to ‘find myself’.
The annual observance of the “International Day of Disabled Persons”, on 3 December is one of the many efforts by the United Nations to create international awareness and acceptance for the unique needs and abilities of the disabled community.
The theme for 2019 is ‘Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda’. The theme focuses on the empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as envisaged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which pledges the principle, ‘Leave no one behind.’
To conclude, on this International Day of Disabled Persons, I express my heartfelt gratitude to Mumbaikars for their key role in my professional and personal progress. I hope people in smaller towns take a leaf from their book. This would spiral rapid progress of the disabled community and make them equal partners in India’s development.