Deaf in Delhi
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: Gallaudet University Press
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Yes, I wrote this book, but I probably wouldn’t have without the encouragement of many people in my life. Much love and thanks to my wife Nirmala, for her patience and support; to my two children, Dheeraj and Neerja, for being enthusiastic about this project, reading drafts, and giving me honest input, some of which I even incorporated; to Cathryn Carroll, for making me believe...
1. Silent Morning
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In the early morning hours of January 5, 1952, my life changed forevermore. I was a few weeks short of turning eleven and had been sick with the mumps and typhoid for two weeks. But that night, I went to bed feeling a bit better and thought I would go to school the next morning. During the night, I woke up with a strange feeling. I shivered in the cold of the pitch-dark room I shared with my...
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The noise in my head continued unabated and, having nothing to do, I played with this pesky noise. I had an orchestra playing in there. I tried to get the noise out of my head with the belief that once I got rid of it, I would be able to hear. I decided that this noise was blocking out all the other sounds. My efforts kept my mind from thinking too deeply...
3. Looking for a Cure
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On the morning I woke up deaf, Vaid Naranjan left about twenty hand-rolled homeopathic pills for me to take. I swallowed one pill, which Bhabhi gave me with warm water, and waited. Bhabhi stood there with the glass in her hand, her face expectant and questioning...
4. Other Cures
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My Bhua Parvati, Babuji’s younger sister, was a very religious woman. Everything in the world, according to her, happened according to the pre-written will of Rama or Krishna or Vishnu or Shiva—the four major Hindu gods. Her faith in her gods was inimitable and unshakable. Her life itself was inimitable and full of faith, despite all...
5. Home Remedies
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The "treatment" for my deafness did not stop with the holy men and miracle workers. There were other “remedies” that ranged from harmless fun to pure physical discomfort bordering on torture. I submitted to these hoping against hope that something might work or just because I had nothing to do or did not want to insult the...
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While all these medical and not-so-medical treatments were being meted out to me, I was also studying. Since the discovery of my deafness, I no longer attended school. Each morning, I hoped that “tomorrow” I would be returning to school. This “tomorrow” somehow kept moving forward as days changed to weeks, months...
7. My Childhood Before Becoming Deaf
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Thanks to the British rule, the English word school is used in India instead of its Hindi equivalent, pathshala. I recall trying to decipher the sound of school when I was three or four years old and saw Narain and Sham go to school in the morning with book satchels on their shoulders and all scrubbed up for the day. I had no idea why they went to some place called...
8. Working on the Farm
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In Gagret, my family was considered rich or at least comfortable. However, being rich, like being tall, is relative. In the Gagret of the 1950s, my height of 5 feet 4 inches may not have attracted scouts from the National Basketball Association, but neither would I be of any interest to Barnum and Bailey’s. My family was rich in Gagret, and...
9. Back to Study
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Farming full time did not stop my education, it just slowed it down. I had kept up with my “former classmates” until the eighth grade. At that time, I gave up and decided to study on my own pace, using Sham’s hand-me-down textbooks. Why I was doing this was not clear to me. Neither algebra problems nor formulas nor geometrical theorems were helpful with my plowing or herding tasks. But learning and studying...
10. The High School Examination
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Mid-March came, and I was ready for the examination. I have to admit that I did not prepare much for it; reading novels took priority over studying. I felt comfortable that I was going to pass the examination in first division (equivalent to getting straight A’s). Narain had gotten first division and Sham second division, which is like getting...
11. Travels and Other Adventures
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I may be giving you the impression that I had no fun or adventures while living in Gagret. I did travel, and living in Gagret was an adventure unto itself. I traveled two or three times each year despite our limited means and the fact that no one in Gagret ever left the little village except as a member of a wedding party or on the...
12. Careers or the Lack of Them
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Farming was never my career of choice. But then, I had no other choice. It was there and was thrust upon me like the sky is thrust upon us all. It was purely physical work. You did it seven days a week, twelve months a year, in any weather. Farming just was not for me, but it was all I had. The thing I disliked about it most...
13. My First Camera
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I would be remiss if I did not mention photography when talking of my imagined career choices. My interest in photography started with the great desire to be photographed. There were two people in our family who owned cameras—my cousin Bakshi Ram and my uncle Bhardwaj, Bhua Daropadi’s husband. Uncle Bhardwaj was the richest person in our extended family, and he owned a Rolliecord...
14. Becoming a Sadhu
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I was still looking for a career. My high school education had not prepared me for any jobs, and I thought you have to be able to hear to work for other people. Higher education was out of the question since I knew none of the colleges in Hoshiarpur were going to admit a deaf person...
15. Moving to Delhi
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It arrived in 1961 in the form of a photography school for the deaf and a government law offering scholarships to the physically handicapped. At that time, the term physically handicapped for the Indian government meant “deaf, blind, and orthopedically handicapped.” Bhai Narain sent Babuji a short letter explaining these developments and advised that I...
16. Why Are They Flailing Their Hands?
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The next morning, Narain went to the Subzi Mandi railway station to make some phone calls. He knew the station master, so he could make free calls. He returned looking happy; the phone call was encouraging. After breakfast, we took a train to New Delhi and walked a mile from the railway station to the office of the All India Federation of the Deaf (AIFD), which was...
17. New Discoveries
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Soon I was leading a double life. One was the old life surrounded by my family and friends—all hearing—who communicated with me by tracing words on their palms with their index fingers. The second was the new one: the Deaf world with the PID at its center...
18. Visit to a Deaf Club
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The cycle stand that Duni Chand Nagwani managed had a sign which read “owned by the Deaf and Dumb Association, Delhi.” I asked Khurana about it. He told me the association was “a bad group” and I should stay away from them. I learned slowly that there were four deaf groups in Delhi, who acted against each other’s interests. I also learned that the Deaf and Dumb Association was the...
19. Making Deaf Friends
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Meanwhile, there were other developments. Our class of three grew to five and then six. One of the new students was Kesh Kumar. His name sign was “cheek.” When he was young, his cheeks were always red, hence the name. Kesh was a very good-looking guy and very funny. He could communicate with me and was an excellent mime. Soon we became good friends. Another new...
20. Me, a Teacher!
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One of the reasons I moved to Delhi was the availability of government scholarships. I had applied for one when starting at the PID and was waiting for approval. We needed it badly; Bhai Narain’s salary barely supported his family. My tuition, food, and other expenses were an additional burden on his already overextended finances. Bhai Narain made calls to the office that granted scholarships...
21. Working in the Photo Studio
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Goyle Studio was one of the ninety or so shops on Janpath that were allotted to refugee businessmen from Pakistan. These refugee shops lined one side of Janpath, and stately shops in huge columned buildings, which catered to the wealthy, lined the opposite side of the street. These “temporary” structures were still there fourteen years after India and Pakistan were divided into separate countries. These businessmen...
22. Learning about Leadership
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My two visits to the deaf clubs that I recounted earlier did not encourage me to return to such places. However, due to pressure from Raj Kishore, who was a regular Delhi Deaf Association member, I did attend some special club events like the Independence Day picnic at the Lodi Gardens. I did not like going there; nobody paid any attention to me, and even Raj Kishore would be too busy to talk to...
23. Life Becomes Busier
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That was my initiation into the world of leadership. Suraj and I met the next day. He was serious as usual. He discussed his plans for rejuvenating the DDA. He wanted to establish regular weekly membership meetings, open the defunct library, have cinema nights, start a cricket club, and so forth. After he had shared his plans for the DDA, he told me he wanted me to start writing letters to...
24. Goyle’s Death
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On July 13, I arrived at the PID a little before 7 a.m. and found the door still locked. Soon other students, including Kesh, Raj Kishore, Khurana, and Goel, showed up. We waited in the narrow and dark corridor for Goyle or one of his assistants to come and open the door. It was not uncommon for them to be late. We enjoyed this free time by talking to each other and wiping the sweat from our brows with...
25. Changes in School and Work
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Mr. Goyle's death affected our lives way beyond what we had imagined. Suraj told us to continue practicing various skills—negative retouching, taking portraits, developing and printing film, retouching prints, and whatever else we had done before. He asked me to decide on who would do what and then...
26. Have Tongue, Will Speak!
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The president of India lives in the Rashtarpati Bhawan (President’s House). Each March, the house’s garden and grounds, known as the Mogul Gardens, were opened to the public. This particular year, Kesh and I decided to go see them. We did not own a camera and could not borrow one from the PID...
27. New Teachers
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We were also disappointed again. Mr. Lal did not know much about darkroom work and almost nothing about lighting and retouching. He had worked as an aerial photographer in the Navy, but his job had been to click the shutter while lying on the belly of a small plane. He had picked up some darkroom skills from his Navy buddies. That was all...
28. Adventures in Signing
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My fluency in signing increased as I made more friends and used it on a regular basis. However, I was still shy about signing in public. The main reason was that signing was not a common sight in India in the early 1960s. Every time my friends and I signed in public, we drew a crowd of curious onlookers who behaved...
29. The Interview of a Lifetime
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I was comfortably settled in my new routine as a teacher at the Photography Institute for the Deaf (PID) and was feeling good about myself. As the joint secretary of the Delhi Deaf Association and a teacher in the night school operated by the All India Federation of the Deaf (AIFD), I held a prestigious position in the Deaf community in Delhi. My workdays were busy but brought numerous...
30. Getting Engaged
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Working with deaf people had given me a lofty goal—making things better for us all. My friends told me horror stories about the deaf schools they had attended. The teachers did not care about them and did not even know how to sign. My dealings with Mr. Nigam had also shown me that deaf adults needed to be united against tyranny and manipulation. We needed better schools, better organization...
31. The Air-Conditioned Darkroom
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On July 1, 1969, I started working as an assistant photographer for the Indian National Scientific Documentation Centre (INSDOC), a new department of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL). The agency made copies of scientific journals and books for scientists all over India. This was before photocopying machines were common...
32. Working with Hearing People
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Slowly, I began to learn the routine at the INSDOC. We started to work in the darkroom at 11 or 11:15 and then continued until 12:30. The official lunch hour was from 1 to 2 p.m., but our unofficial lunch hour stretched close to two hours. We worked again after lunch for a little over an hour and then stopped for the day. During the seven-hour workday—from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., we...
33. What Is Gallaudet?
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Mr. Nigam asked Suraj to assign me the task of escorting the deaf American woman around Delhi. The reason for my selection was my knowledge of English. Onkar Sharma could have done it, but either he was busy or Nigam did not want to bestow this honor on him. Serving as an escort for the American visitor was indeed an honor...
34. Working at the NPL
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Working at INSDOC was fun.We had little to do, and the companionship was just wonderful. We joked a lot and found different ways to enjoy life. Life at twenty-three could not have been better. Sunny and I began to go to the cinema during the workday. Leaving the office undetected was easy. One of us would ask Mr. Krishnamurthy for permission to leave early “for some urgent work.” He liked us both due to our...
35. Looking for a New Career
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After getting the job at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), I thought I was settled for life. Other deaf people looked at me enviously for having such a well-paid and secure job. None of my friends who had received training at the All India Photography Training Institute for the Deaf (PID) had a job like mine. Kesh, as a teacher at the PID, made half what I did. Raj Kishore made even less. I should have been happy with and proud...
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Three years earlier, when I had decided that I was going to remain a bachelor for all my life, a wise cousin from Delhi told me: “All of us want to avoid getting married, and all of us get married!” He was right. Some of us are more vocal in our refusal; some more submissive. Two of my childhood companions, Vishwa and Madan Gopal, married when they were seventeen years old and had...
37. Wedding Ceremonies in Lohara
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As the sun was setting, we made quick work of the last leg of our journey and arrived at the inn in Lohara on time. The inn was a small house with mud walls and a grass roof. It consisted of one large room surrounded by verandahs on three sides. My in-laws had gathered spare cots from all over the village, and about forty of them were lying there in the room in several piles. Bhai Narain had...
38. Back in Delhi
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My "honeymoon" was a two-day visit to Dehra Gopipur where Sham worked as a sub-inspector of cooperative societies. The village was about twenty miles from Gagret and situated right on the Beas river. We were chaperoned by my two sisters-in-law—Bharjai Krishna and Ram Kumari, Sham’s wife. The trip was not a...
39. The Elusive Visa
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The P Form was an assurance that I would have full financial support in the currency of the host country. India had no foreign exchange reserve at that time, and its exports were horribly below its imports. Thus, the government did not allow Indian subjects to travel abroad without making sure the necessary foreign exchange was available. The U.S. embassy...
Epilogue: Life in America
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It was a crisp fall day in 1967 when the TWA plane I had boarded in London landed at Dulles Airport in Virginia. The excitement of coming to a new country and attending a college excited me greatly, and I had not slept since leaving New Delhi. I had a splitting headache and my eyes hurt. The bright fall sun made them water. I lined up behind the other passengers for customs and immigration checks. I was not sure what lay...
Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 15 photographs
Publication Year: 2006
Series Title: Deaf Lives Series