Thursday, January 13, 2011

Malini Chib and Khushwant Singh: You Changed Me

I am a changed man in 2011. I am a changed man not because of the New Year resolutions that I had taken on the New Year eve. Yes, of course, I believe in the saying that one needs a resolution to make a revolution. But then, one needs to do a revolution unto oneself to make a resolution too. So neither did I make any resolutions nor did I attempt a revolution on that particular night. However, I am a changed man today; you may ask why? That is what exactly I am going to tell you now.

The two books that I picked up on two different occasions from the Mumbai and Delhi airport respectively caused all those changes in me. If you are a good reader with an eclectic taste for anything written/printed, airport bookshops are the best places from where you could pick up the books that you really enjoy reading. Hence, while returning from prolonged vacation in Goa, I picked up this book titled ‘Absolute Khushwant’ from Mumbai airport. After a few days, while I was on my way to Kerala, I picked up ‘One Little Finger’ written by Malini Chib.

My life changed considerably after reading those books. Though I am not going to delve deep into the writings of Khushwant Singh, the grand old Indian writer in English, I was deeply moved by a few statements made by him in the book. When a ninety four year old man speaks, he is all transparent. At that ripe age he does not have much to hide, nor does he have too many things to defend. All what he could do is to just look at his own shrinking body and the soul that ever expands like the vision of sky; infinite, limitless and deep.

Khushwant Singh does the same. He says, ‘Work is the cure of all ills’. When a man who writes for around eight hours a day without a fail even today, one could do nothing but believe. When he faces a huge set back, he tells himself, ‘It doesn’t matter.. I don’t give a damn!’ Yes, why should one give any damn to the adversities at all! So long as you enjoy what you do, why care? He quotes Nathaniel Cotton (1707-1788):

“If solid happiness we prize,
Within our breast this jewel lies,
And they are fools who roam.
The world has nothing to bestow;
From our own selves our joys must flow,
And that dear hut, our home.”

I am deeply touched by the line ‘they are fools who roam’. When the jewel is right here, why hunt for it in the yonder lands?

Khushawant Singh tells us about his life and relationships. He does not hide his political stance. He had supported the political emergency. But in a decade’s time he became a big critic of Indira Gandhi for supporting Bhindran Wala. Then he criticized the Congress for carrying out Operation Blue Star at the Golden Temple. Khushwant Singh adores only two people in his life and they are Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. He has written a touching note on Mother Teresa in this book. And Singh is highly critical of Nehru.

This is an autobiography compressed into two hundred odd pages. He says, ‘Don’t waste time. You don’t have time’. You are reminded of Vaikom Muhammad Bashir one of the best Modernist writers in Malayalam. Bashir said, ‘It is only in the treasury of God, there resides all time in the universe’. Then as in a great coincidence one of my artist friends sent me a link with the adieu of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who is now in a French retreat, nursing his own loneliness and illnesses. As a parting note from the public life Marquez said, “If I take birth once again, I would do things better than the way I have done them in this life.”

I don’t approach books as self-help books though there are several of them in the racks. I believe any good literature is way and tool to happiness and self realization. Almost a decade back when I was down in the dumps, I happened to read ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ by Dr.Spencer Johnson. I was moved. I felt confidence. But when I read his next book, ‘The Gift’, I did not consider it any more a piece of motivational literature. Instead I approached it the same way I approached St.Excupery’s ‘Little Prince’.

Books talk of real people in their imaginary situations as well as imaginary people in their real situations. And if you are reading a gifted writer, you feel the imaginary world as real and the real world as imaginary. But when real people write about their real lives, you should be careful; you need a different approach. They are not here for literary flourish. They write these books because they want to tell the world about their lives. Writing is a performance; performance of life. When they perform in this way, they touch their own souls and they touch the souls of many others. They find friends in the virtual world of writing and reading. They motivate people in a different way. They give courage to people who feel frightened by life. If you call an autobiography the best form of motivational literature, I would say, yes, it is.

I like the lives of the ordinary people who are extra ordinary in their own ways. Malini Chib could have been another ordinary person. But she was/is different by birth. During the child birth, the umbilical cord got stuck her around her neck preventing the supply of oxygen to the infant’s brain. This incident later proved detrimental to her normal growth and she became a victim of a health condition called cerebral palsy. Those people affected by cerebral palsy have slowed down motor movements of the body if not complete disability in coordinating bodily functions.

Malini Chib could have been one of those people who are affected by cerebral palsy. But now she heads the event department of the Oxford Book House, Mumbai. At the age of forty four, Malini Chib is the head of the organization called ‘ADAPT’ (Able, Disable and All People Together), which she herself founded. She holds three international post graduations in Women Studies, Library Science and Information Management. She is wheelchair bound and writes with one little finger.

I bought this book only because I saw the picture of a wheel chair bound girl in the cover. When I flipped through the pages, I found her born in 1966. It is the same decade I too was born and I felt that she also would have grown up in the same India and experienced the same in India. I wanted to know how she felt like to be a disabled wheel chair bound woman in India in the pre and post-liberalized era.

What I liked about Malini Chib is her firm belief in the saying that nobody is totally independent or fully able-d. A wheel chair bound person might need an assistant to do the daily chores. But the so called able bodied people also need other people to carry out daily things. If a flush breaks down, you don’t repair it yourself. You call a plumber. When you carry a heavy bag, you call a porter. So who said we are all ‘independent’? Malini believed in this and she waged a strong war with life and she still wages it but now she is a different woman; many times able than the real able bodied ones like us.

Malini was lucky to have born in a rich family. Once she was diagnosed of cerebral palsy, her parents took her to London where she had a very protected schooling. But all the lucky people are not determined like Malini. Once back in Mumbai, she found herself in a different place with no disable friendly atmosphere. But she got her graduation in literature from St.Xavier’s in Mumbai. Her family stood with her so were her friends. Her mother established the first spastic society in India and soon many chapters were opened in all the metropolitan cities in India.

This book tells you about how cruel and apathetic we are when it comes to the people with different abilities. Most of the public buildings don’t have ramps so that the wheelchair bound people could ‘walk’ through. Everything is meant for the so called able bodied people. Malini recounts several incidents in which a person like her is treated like a ‘non-existing’ thing or a child. People speak of her condition in her presence without heeding her sentiments. In parties they just leave the disabled person alone. The public toilets are not friendly. The public transport system is not friendly.

Malini fights for these facilities even today. What touched me most was the recounting of a few incidents. Her brother took her for a vacation in Goa and after a couple of beers she wanted to ease herself. The brother and sister had to walk to a different place to find a disable friendly toilet, where the brother helped the sister in the toilet. Malini speaks of her need for love and caring from the opposite sex. She speaks out the sexual urges that a disabled person also feels. She speaks of her failed love affair. And above all she speaks of her continuous efforts to be independent. Today she give lectures all over the world, besides heading the event department of the Oxford book house in Mumbai. Also Malini heads the activities of the ADAPT.

‘Nothing about us without us’ is the slogan of the different abled people all over the world. Everything including the urban planning should be done taking the different abilities of the affected people into consideration. Malini works for it. Malini works for the women who are double incapacitated by physical deformity and gender. One cannot read this book without the feeling of the growing sense of love, respect and affection for the author as every page is turned.

I just remembered, when I finished the last word in the book with tears in my eyes, an incident happened in 2002. I had a few friends (still have) who are differently abled. I was living in London at that time pursuing a Masters Degree at Goldsmiths College. Wherever I went I saw disable friendly conditions. Even the smallest of the galleries had a ramp and a toilet with additional fitting for the disabled people. Inspired by these sights and also agitated by the sad plight of the Indian galleries at that time, I made an email campaign (there were no social networking sites then) demanding disable friendly conditions in each gallery in India. I cited that even the public establishments like the Lalit Kala Akademy, the NGMA and the National Museum did not have such facilities.

Many gallerists in India blocked me in their mailing list. Some people asked me never to write to them at all. Only one person in Indian artist responded positively to me then. It was a woman artist. Arpana Caur. She replied my mail with a lot of pride: “Look Johny, I have made ramp in my gallery at Siri Fort Institutional Area.”

I salute Malini Chib.


winged dreams! said...

Pushed to the point, where I feel inclined to buy books and feed and nourish this brain rotting in-between mechanical life ...


Unknown said...
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Monika said...

It is an interesting read, motivational too ... but we have not got much insight into your thoughts or what exactly has changed in you or your life, and we sure are curious to know.

Would these changes be seen in your writings or in you as a person. Of course, I know both are interwoven but even then what has undergone or will undergo more transformation.

Have you been inspired to be more transparent when writing about your own life or to not to give a damn and keep writing against all odds.
Or your quest for happiness, which you had been searching outside has turned inward and changed you as a person.

I really like and relate to the paras,
" Books talk of real people in their imaginary ...I would say, yes, it is."
"I bought this book only because ... in the pre and post-liberalized era."

Has Malini's book inspired you to be more independent or in believing that it's okay and only human to depend.
Or has it re- awakened your sensitivity for differently abled people that got diminished over the years.

The example of how able bodied people also need help, unsettles me as I believe disabled people need help for their survival and basic necessities unlike the more fortunate ones like us.

Hope I get my answers.

Keep writing ... as we love to read! :)

JohnyML said...

@ Monika....thanks Monika....that's such a long and analytical reading. :-)

Yes, I should say, reading of these books have changed me, though I have not analysed how I am changed.

I was talking to a close friend of mine once I came back from vacation and he asked me why I did not call him or greet him. I told him that there was a deep silence in me and with each passing moment it was getting deeper. I was not able to talk to anyone during the first few days.

I don't say that I have not read books like this before. For example when I read Randy Pausch's Last Lecture, I cried. When I read the autobiography of A.Revathy, a man changed his sex to become a woman, I had thorough pains around my groin. But i was not transformed.

Yes, I became a bit more transparent and tolerant. My love for human beings has increased from the petty pleasures it could provide to a more compassionate approach.

Yes, this would reflect in my writings. And definitely in my outlook too.

Malini's book did not increase my compassion for the differently abled people. This book told me how insensitive I was all these days. Here 'I' means all including you and me.

I may not be able to explain all what happened to me while reading this book. But I am sure that it moved me a lot. I thought more about the courage of Malini. The odds she faced in her life.

I don't know whether you are happy with these answers.

I remember you asking me to explain what is bad art and bad artists, in another context. I don't have an answer.

May be I write a lot when I see bad art. :-)


Monika said...


I am happy that you responded and that you replied to my earlier queries as well, thanks for the same!

I think its important, both to acknowledge and analyze whatever changes occur in us because only then they help us in our growth as an individual and in understanding our own selves better. We become more aware.

I understand that at times we, especially the thinking lot, like to become a recluse ... and its important too, we get an opportunity to re-connect with our own selves and our souls get enriched.
But then, it's also equally important to come out of it soon, otherwise the very purpose of transforming our selves into more sensitive and compassionate human beings stands questioned. As people who are close to us get affected by our behavior and remoteness.

I guess, it would be hard for anyone to describe bad poets and bad artists and thats why I was interested in knowing from you as it was a very strong statement you made there!

But, hope you get to see a lot of bad art (whatever that means to you) if it makes you write more! :)


winged dreams! said...

Inspiration and the innate inclination to create categories of we humans is what rots the entire "good feeling" of mere reading. I am sure Malini wanted more than to inspire.
To bring those eroticism innate in us . If the grand Old man, Khuswant Singh
writes then he writes to say "age hasn't restrained me from speaking my desires". Disabilities and abilities are few terms created to restrain some from certain sexual desires. Universality and ubiquitous presence of this feeling is what conveyed subtly or whatever medium. Post-independent India is rotting with following words and terms: inspiration, nationalism etc. People write to say "I feel"... and "I am angry". And our tendencies to categorize novels into clich├ęd categories: inspiration, spiritual etc, s something that takes away the "beauty of reading and literature". Its similar to categorize every damn "material" in our life. There exists a deep connection between both author as have been mentioned by Johny, i.e., Age and physical abilities and disabilities do not shrink our expand your desires. At the end, we all tend to look for that compassion devoid of sympathy, but enriching physical urges. So, there is just one simple point to unlearn
, I assume (although strongly),

"Nobody wanna inspire, every soul wanna feel special.
I wanna have fun, clink glasses and sing my soul out, and laugh out loud.
And, then a shoulder to lean upon and banish my sympathizers away."

JohnyML said...

@Winged Dreams...

:-) thanks for that comment..