I thought today would have been like any other day. I woke up to the boisterous cacophony of crows, who had taken refuge from the pouring rain under the parapet of my window. They were creating an orchestra of discordant noises with the dedication and genius of Mozart himself. I gave them a quizzical look through my sleepy eyes and curled back into the solace of my warm blanket. Only moments later, or so it seemed, I was woken up by the urgent voice of my roommate “Get up! You are late.” I looked at the clock; it read 9:30. “Damn!” I swore to myself before jumping out of my bed. I went about with my daily rituals and dressed up with lightening speed and was out of my home at 10:00. Like every other day I caught a rickshaw to the local railway station.
As I made my way from the entrance of the station, with the rain beating down on my ridiculously pink umbrella above me, along the pathway towards the platform, I heard a recurring, sharp sound behind me, cutting through the humid air. “Tap… Tap… Tap…” It came in perfect rhythm. I turned to find a 30-something man looking straight ahead with his unseeing eyes. He was adeptly maneuvering himself amidst the crowd finding his way with the aid of his walking cane, each step of the way, tap by tap.
He held a black umbrella in one hand and his cane in the other, holding it in front of his waist and tapping in cadence from left to right as he walked, clearing his path ahead about 2 paces ahead and splashing water lightly in all directions from the puddles on the ground. His slender shoulders were erect, probably with a lifetime of fighting his way through every step of the way. All his senses were alert and his ears were grasping the minutest of all sounds and voices. He used all his sensory inputs to construct a picture of his surroundings before is mental eyes that would otherwise have been perceived visually.
Tap… Tap… Tap…
I walked on, with him a couple of feet behind me and the sporadic taps in the background as if making his presence known by gently tapping the very ground he is about to step on. I took the turning; but I suddenly stopped in my tracks as I wondered if he would know the road would turn. Oh yes. He turned along the turning of the road almost with the perfection with which a bee spots a honey-rich flower lured by the sweetness of its fragrance. I marveled at his ability to move through this crowded environment.
Tap… Tap… Tap…
I continued walking. I mounted the steps of the bridge that connected to the platform. I listened to the rhythm of the walking stick behind me. ‘Tap… Tap… Tap… Tap tap…’ The rhythm faltered. His cane must have discovered the first step. He climbed the stairs as his cane encountered each step. When he reached the level ground on top of the bridge his cane retained its original rhythm. I had not realized that my steps had begun to follow the same rhythm. We walked along the bridge and then down the stairs towards the platform, our steps in perfect synchrony.
When we nearly reached the end of the stairs an incredible thing happened. The taps seemed to have multiplied. I realized that the multiplicity of taps that seemed to fill the air came from somewhere ahead in the platform. As I walked ahead the sonance grew louder. What I saw touched and amused me all at once. In the section of the platform where the compartment for the handicapped would come, there stood a group of blind people. They had heard the taps that announced an approaching blind person; the taps which perhaps have grown to be more of an identity for them. All of them began to tap at the ground in unison with their walking canes to inform the approaching man of their presence and cheering him towards them. And all of them had this huge grin on their faces. It brought a smile on my face as well. The man made his way through the crowd to the group and started chatting with them as they waited for the train.
For quite some time, long after the train arrived and I pushed my way through the blatant crowd into the train, long after the train whizzed me past the slums that have mushroomed along Mumbai’s railway tracks, long after I stepped out of the train only to be swallowed by the dissonance of honking vehicles, shouting hawkers, and the murmuring rain, long after I entered my office to feel the cool air hit my face, the taps were with me; its echoes rebounding within the walls of my mind, as if trying to find its way to knock at the corners of my heart.
Imagine living a life in nothingness, where you cannot even see darkness, let alone light. Friends we have a lot to learn from these people – the art of independence, dignity and above all, the tenacity of the spirit to survive, surmise and strive above all handicaps.