Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Beautiful, special people enrich my life

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

Most of us ‘normal’ people take our own abilities so much for granted that we keep demanding achievement from ourselves. So people with ‘special’ needs are perceived as ‘beautiful people’ because they put the few abilities they have to such fantastic use that we are astounded by how much they can do – with so little.

Though I will be talking about a sensitive and delicate topic, I reject the ‘politically correct’ (PC) usage that has been devised worldwide during the last few decades. To describe the ‘poor’ as the ‘underclass’ is as much a cover-up as it is a sham when ‘failure’ becomes ‘under-achievement’ or the ‘blind’ are glorified as ‘visually challenged’.

I shall go along with common sense: “Call a spade, a spade”, but avoid any derogatory meaning that lowers the dignity of the human being – disabled or challenged.

Enter: the first and second beautiful persons in my life

When I was doing my B.Sc. in St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, during 1967-71, I used to ‘read’ to a blind student who was doing a brilliant second M.A! Let us call him ‘Dilip’, because I have forgotten his name. We generally recognise people by their names or faces; some of us can distinguish between voices on the telephone. Dilip could identify who was coming up behind him!

Such an unusual ability, I wondered. Till I asked him how he did it. Dilip told me it was hard at first, till he began to listen intently for the small sounds that people made as they walked: from the scraping, stamping, stomping and shuffling of footwear; whether they dragged their feet, hopped lightly, or glided along on their toes.

He described to me his girl-friend who had a slight limp, so she dragged her left foot making a soft, rustling sound, like dried leaves lifted by a breeze, as she brought it up.

Dilip was the first of the beautiful people to enrich my life. The second was ‘Kate’, again a blind girl in Leeds, England, who taught me how to type, when I was 40 years old. She boosted my self-esteem by telling me simply that I could do anything I wanted – only if I desperately wanted to.

And shall I tell you how desperately I wanted to learn how to type? In July 1990, when we went abroad, I worked as a sub-editor in a Pune daily with paper and pen. The local copy was keyed in by our reporters on manual type-writers; the agency copy from UNI or PTI came on the ticker wire.

Then, we subs did the editing by hand and the type-setters re-typed the subbed copy. Even the editorials, I wrote out long-hand or dictated them at one go to our editorial secretary, Duru “ho ja shuru” Tejwani.

That was how I used to work in Maharashtra Herald, Pune, before I noticed in Leeds, England, that in all the Yorkshire newspapers, the subs used computers and knew how to type. I could see no way out but to learn – typing. The dread of what could happen to me, if I did not learn how to type was so strong that one night I had a dream.

In my nightmare, I saw myself standing outside Pune railway station with a begging bowl in hand crying out to passers-by, “De re Allah! De re Ram!” Because I had lost my job as a sub, since I did not know how to type!

That is when Kate came to my rescue. I had learnt simple keyboard skills using a Typing Tutor, due to the kindness of Peter Coltman from Leeds University. But where would I practise my novice skills? Kate used to come daily -- led by her Labrador guide dog -- to manage a Braille centre on the Red Route and she gave me the task of typing out an entire book on South Asian history for the reading pleasure of blind students. And so I learned me how to type diligently.

The art competition for Beautiful People in Dubai

Meanwhile, another ‘beautiful’ person was growing up far away from Pune in my native Mangalore: Adrian Terence D’Souza was born in 1983 to my sister Flavia and brother-in-law Michael. My sister had noticed he was unusually quiet as a baby and the shape of his forehead looked different from the two older sisters he had. Soon he was diagnosed as a child with Down’s Syndrome (DS).

Today Adrian “Manu” D’Souza is 26 years old and I had the wonderful opportunity to be with him during our stay at my sister’s home in Dubai since 17 June. (We will be here till 29 June.) My sister tells me Adrian has taken to painting during the last one year at the JamJar, Dubai, an activity organised by START, one of whose founders is the Al Madad Foundation.

The gorgeous evidence of Adrian’s slow and steady learning is not only scattered around their home but his picture has also been selected as one of 38 artworks as part of a Beautiful People competition. (Hence, the words "beautiful people" in the title of this post). Ms. Wemmy de Maaker introduced Beautiful People to my sister and other parents of children with special needs and is actively involved with the project in Dubai.

But at the outset, I declare a conflict of interest. Since Adrian is my ‘special’ nephew, I cannot be impartial in judging his ability. But I say he's good. Look for yourself and please vote for Adrian.

Adrian Terence D'Souza (26), my beautiful, special, different nephew

But there are 37 other special, beautiful and different people there too -- all of them already winners. So if you like them, you may vote for them. But remember one vote only. A vote will encourage beautiful people like Adrian immensely in the long journey of a crore miles.

Fortunately, his father, Mr. Michael D'Souza, Managing Director of Humaid Al Suwaidi, and a native of Puttur near Mangalore, is one of Dubai’s esteemed businessmen in real estate. So Adrian is well cared for.

Drums and soccer with Adrian & friends

What else am I doing in Dubai with this nephew of mine, Adrian, who is swimming against the tide? On 20 June, we go to see him learning the drums and kick football.

(As I write this, he comes up and tells me that I have not finished drinking the water in my mug. I have told him I am writing about him and he reads his own name “A-D-R-I-A-N” out loud.)

He knows the drums already and has a drum set at home, but practice is constantly required as DS kids (like many of us) can forget skills that they have learned. The teacher is Atsu Dagadu from Ghana, who belongs to Dubai Drums, and the session is free, held at the home of a gracious local Emirati lady, Mrs. Hanne Al Gurg.

The 12 kids along with their parents take active part drumming. What strikes me is how attentive the children are, stopping at exactly the point where the teacher tells them to finish off – every time!!! Since Adrian already knows the drums well, he is happy to play along.

Then we go to play soccer at the Hayya Club Meadows. Again a bunch of 10-15 kids are being taught free. Like the drumming this session too is coordinated by All 4 Down’s Syndrome Dubai, a voluntary support group, and the Soccer Kids Club (James Masterman, Ben McBride and group member Ingeborg Kroese)

In soccer, Adrian does not take part as much as the other kids, since he tends to watch the other kids play with his hands on his hips. Only occasionally does he get excited, when the ball is kept in front of him and he is asked to kick – at the goal. Then he gets really charged up.

But I recall there is this little scrawny girl – all so eager and bubbly – who would shoot a goal at one end and then turn the ball around to shoot a goal at the other end, oblivious of the side she belongs to! How she plays the game and scores goals for both sides, a virtue we have abandoned as normal people.

Activities like the soccer and drumming, which I witnessed, is mainly coordinated by the devoted and ever-energetic Sally Pearson, who strives tirelessly to keep the support going in Dubai. Her son Robin too is part of the group.


Sunday in Dubai is NOT the weekly holiday it is in Pune, India. The weekend here starts on Thursday evening and people are back to work on Sunday morning. So on 21 June, I went along with Adrian and his mother (my sister) to the Oasis Court, a hotel of furnished apartments, which is managed by the D’Souza family, especially Ms. Rochelle Lobo, Adrian’s eldest sister.

Adrian has been meticulously trained by his counsellor Ms. Meenakshi Kumar to perform various functions, one of which is working at Oasis Court as a ‘trainee’ in Guest Relations from 9am to 12 noon, five days a week. In the near future, Adrian will also train at Dunes, another hotel of furnished apartments managed by Ms. Nisha D’Souza, his other sister.

Adrian greets the guests with a shy, “Welcome to Oasis Court!” then hands over the keys, TV remote, and other service cards, which familiarise the guests with the amenities available inside the furnished apartment and the facilities offered by the Oasis Court hotel. Finally, he leaves them with a cheery, “Have a good stay!”

To cast your vote for Adrian, please click here.


Dilip in Mumbai, Kate in Leeds, my nephew Adrian in Dubai – three beautiful, special and different people who have enriched and are enriching my life. What can you do to enrich your lives?

Search out with all the compassion in your heart for the support groups in your local area for any beautiful and different people with special needs. Volunteer your knowledge, skills, time and energy to make things happen for them. "We give but little when we give of our possessions. It is when we give of ourselves that we truly give," said the mystical poet Kahlil Gibran of Lebanon.

And then surprise yourself; discover the secret well-springs that you never imagined could be hidden deep inside you.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Monday, 22 June 2009, Summer Solstice.


feddabonn said...

nice post, joe. i agree-it does seem like a lot of PC is a pile of trash. however we change the words, it just takes a well placed smirk or a slight tonal modulation to convey what we 'mean'.

cheers to adrian!

Rujuta said...

I really enjoyed reading this post.

At present, I'm looking into teaching dance to the visually impaired or the hearing impaired (I haven't made up my mind on whether I agree with you regarding PC.)For both I would require different set of skills but I'm doing my bit of reasearch and let's see how it goes.
A couple of years back I took up a course in sign language and wrote about it on my blog. Do check it http://people-n-places.blogspot.com/2007_04_01_archive.html


Joe Pinto said...

Feddabonn - Fast response there. The sun rises earlier in NZ, doesn't it? How's your work with the beautiful, special and different people in NZ going on? Keep us up to date about that work on your blog. As for PC, mine is a strong and deliberate over-reaction to what I am convinced is a wishy-washy attitude.

Rujuta - My mother-in-law (now 83, but unwell) is one of the pioneering teachers of the deaf & dumb in Pune. I will take you to meet her. Keep up the good work. I am proud of you and Paul.

Warm regards,
- Joe.

Gauri Gharpure said...

the beautiful people come alive on screen with your thoughtful writing. waiting to hear more from you

Joe Pinto said...

My dear Gauri,

Our holiday in Dubai to my only sister's home was refreshing and immensely relaxing. I had been planning to make the trip for four years; and the urgency became pronounced after my illness.

My sister has three children -- two married daughters Rochelle (with one daughter and one son) and Nisha (with three daughters) and the beautiful, special and different son Adrian, whom I've written about here.

A high point of Dubai, higher than the skyscrapers, was my meeting with Adrian again. But I've written only about the tiny tip of the iceberg that he is.

Have you voted for him? If you wish, you may provide a link on your blog, so that all your wonderful readers may know about the Beautiful People competition and vote for Adrian or any of the 37 other beautiful, special and different people.

Keep in touch,

Peace and love,
- Joe.