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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Disabled? Hardly!

The general trend among most well-meaning people is to treat disabled persons with kid gloves. If they meet a blind person, they generally end up shouting every word out, presuming the poor guy cannot lip read therefore they must shout to get their message across. When they are thrown into close proximity with a deaf person, they wave their arms frantically trying to dramatize every word and end up making complete fools of themselves, leaving leave the deaf person either amused or frustrated.

It has been my experience, so you know I am not talking out of the back of my head, that disabled persons have one, sometimes two super talents. Way, way superior to able persons.

I know a deaf artist who paints beautifully, and sculpts even better. His sculptures and plaster models are stunning. He’s a stickler for perfection and can throw a proper tantrum when he does not get what he wants.

I remember Cosmos a college friend who was born with a spinal deformity. He was very short, very thin and had a twisted body. That did not stop him from grabbing a hockey stick and joining a game, lurching this way and that, whacking the ball when he could and other players’ legs when he couldn’t hit the ball.

He had the naughtiest twinkle in his eye and was quick to poke fun at anyone, even people three times his size. Cosmos, or Cozzie as everyone called him, could play any musical instrument exceptionally well, except the drums. “My legs are too short,” he would laugh. When he played the guitar, people stopped what they were doing and listened in wonder.

He used to ride a scooter with a side car and thought nothing of breaking traffic rules in Bombay where the beefy RTO police used to slap first and ask questions later. Cozzie decided that it was pointless going all the way down the flyover at Peddar Road when all he needed to do was cross the road divider and get into the south bound traffic lane. Of course his two wheeler which was actually a four-wheeler with the sidecar, got stuck on top of the divider. Of course the RTO came riding up on a huge motorbike. He looked at the slightly worried Cozzie perched helplessly on his scooter trying to coax it over the divider. The inspector’s head sank into his shoulders and Cozzie quickly scrambled off his scooter and pathetically said, “I’m handicapped”. The Inspector, saw the barely concealed twinkle and said gruffly, “I’ll make you more handicapped! Don’t you ever do this again.” He helped Cozzie over into the south bound traffic lane and sent him on his way.

Cozzie was brave. No challenge too tough for him to face. He lived off one of those quiet lanes with pretty cottages and gardens in Bandra close to the Bandra Fair. He was returning late one night dressed in a black suit, because he used to play at the Taj Intercontinental twice or thrice a week. The Bandra Fair was going on but since it was so late about 2 a.m., there were hardly any people on the road. A man walked up to Cosmos, pulled out a knife and demanded money. Cozzie looked at the knife, then at the man and calmly asked him why he was robbing people when he was strong and healthy. “Look at me,” said Cozzie, “I am handicapped but I am earning my living.” “Stop talking and give me your money,” said the thief poking his knife at Cozzie’s suit. Cozzie pulled out his wallet and told the man, “Okay, I’ll give you the money, but I need the wallet, because it has my telephone book and documents that I need.” The thief tried to pull the wallet out, but Cozzie’s grip was pretty strong. Just then a crowd of young revelers came by. The thief stepped away from Cozzie and said, “Okay, okay, you can go away.” But Cozzie did not walk off with the revelers and his wallet. He stood there and earnestly tried convincing the thief of the error of his ways. As soon as the crowd was out of earshot, the thief pulled his knife out again and demanded the wallet. “Don’t waste my time, or I’ll kill you,” he said. Cozzie sighed and handed over his wallet. The thief took it away, telephone book and all.

When we heard about it my first reaction was annoyance at his foolishnessness. “What happened? Your brain wasn’t working?” He grinned, “I don’t think so; I wasn’t even sitting on it…!”

In one of those obscene twists of fate, Cozzie died of a brain tumour. I lost a good friend, but the world lost a little of its beauty when he was no longer in it. I never considered Cozzie as disabled, or differently abled, or “handicapped” as he liked to refer to himself when he was up to no good. In music he was a genius. In spirit he was a giant.

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