11.30 this morning seemed like a nice time to take a walk through Nariman Point. Work done,I sauntered back to office,very pleased with having a chance to take a walk in the middle of the day.
As I stood at the junction near the Air-India building waiting to cross, I noticed a blind man on the pavement, frantically waving his hand about in front of him, trying to guess if there was anybody ahead or not. There were a few men at the bus-stop looking at him and giggling at his struggle. The chanawala had a smile on his face. The man’s struggle was perhaps,a source of comic relief to them.
I walked upto him and asked him where he wanted to go. He said ‘I want to go to VT. Where does this road go?!’ I told him that this road went to Marine Drive and it was not the road to VT. He said that people keep giving him wrong directions and nobody was willing to show him the way. I offered to put him on the correct road, took his arm and we crossed the road.
As we walked, he told me that he didn’t have a cane – the school for the blind at Worli charged 350/- for a cane and he didn’t have the money. He comes to Nariman Point to follow up with his former employer, a nationalised bank, about a 20 year old court case. He lives in Andheri and has fallen off trains frequently, trying to travel. He survives on hope.
As we passed the Mantralaya Bus depot, I told him that he could take a bus instead to VT instead of struggling to walk. He said he didn’t want to. I gently asked him why not and he said he had just one rupee with him and that the BEST would not allow him to travel without his cane as proof of his impairment. I felt so sorry for him at that point – the man didn’t have three rupees to take a bus ride! I just had papers with me, no wallet, no money; there was nothing I could do except continue walking with him further.
I left him on the pavement outside my office, in the direction of Churchgate.He said he preferred to walk on the road as pavements were uneven and he would fall. I watched him walk away gingerly, holding his hand out for taxis and oncoming people. A taxi driver waiting for a fare asked me if he wanted to go somewhere – I asked him if he’d leave the blind man at VT. He said, “Paisa hai kya?” I said no, the man has no money. The taxi driver just shook his head.
I hope the man reached VT in one piece. I felt so bad about ‘abandoning’ him just like that.Surely there was more I could have done. Perhaps I could have asked him to wait and borrowed money from the security guard or the receptionist at work and put him on a bus…perhaps I could have paid a taxi to drop him at VT..perhaps….
On hindsight, anything I (or anyone) could have done today would have been just a temporary solution to a morning’s problem. What happens tomorrow? The same story would play again, unending. What can we do about people who are ‘different’? Call them what you will – impaired, differently-abled, handicapped… Terminology cannot hide the fact that for most of them, there’s not much place for them in the mainstream and they are often left to fend for themselves. But surely we can do more?
I wish this world were a gentler place to live in… for everybody..