Thursday, 22 March 2012

Lecture at IIT

Feelings expressed by Preethi, Ass Prof of IIT, Chennai after my speech. 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

"Differently Abled?"

There was a lecture by a "differently abled" person today on the campus. I read the notice about it - partially - the way I read emails these days. I was intrigued. I love attending lectures such as this but in recent times I have rarely managed to. The best phase of my life for this was my post-doc years in Cambridge...

The child was going to be with me all afternoon today. This person - who lost use of her legs in childhood thanks to a polio attack - was going to talk a bit about swimming. So I figured it would be a good thing for the two of us to go to, as long as it did not go on for a very long time (and started on time).

To cut a long story short. It was the most mind-blowing lecture I have been to in recent times. I am not un-used to people who are able to overcome their problems, fight the good fight, and come up on top. Sure there are lots of examples out there and I am not un-aware of those examples. But this one touched my heart so deeply...

Oh! The way Madhavi spoke! Very simple. To the point. Direct. Like an arrow. "I want to say that I like engineers - its obvious why. Its because of engineers and their designs that I have all this" she said, pointing to her walker, her wheelchair, and videos of her driving a car.

"Whats the most important thing for a person like me?" she asked a room that was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. The answer, which this room-full of IITians couldn't really come up with was, "Independence- the simple ability to do the things you guys do so routinely - climb up stairs, walk, run, go to the beach and dip your feet in the water" No, she didn't say it in a melodramatic fashion, very matter-of-fact...

And yet I sniffed into my handkerchief too many times to count. While Madhavi sat there in a little plastic chair, her laptop open in front of her, her nearly useless legs splayed in front, her quicksilver fingers flying across her keyboard. And this beautiful smile on her face the whole time. & I practically broke down when she pointed to a video where she is walking under water and said "Do you see my legs actually walking without support?"

"Tell me one thing you might design that might be useful to someone like me" she challenged us. Some person in the audience told her "Throwball would be easier"when she asked us what it would take for her to play volleyball. I almost got up and punched the guy in the face. "Oh you disabled woman, throwball rather than volleyball for you." - is that what he wanted to say? & Why?

"That might be true, but I want to play volleyball" Madhavi smiled at him. And I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if she does, and does a fab job of it. She learnt swimming at 38 years of age and won 4 golds at the national paraolympic competition recently. She says she will climb the Mt. Everest one day... if she feels like it.

"I am strong willed but being a national swimming champion has boosted my confidence incredibly" said Madhavi, "not boasting, just saying that it has changed me" To some extent, you had to be there. She has this presence. Yes, a presence. This tiny dynamo, with just two working limbs and a slightly bent body, who made this room full of "normal" people feel so very tiny and insignificant.

"I blog" she told us. I wrote it down and read it. You can find it here: Madhavi's Blog. I hope to meet her sometime soon. But before that I really hope that I have some answers for her...

Today it’s a memorable day for me. I gave lecture in prestigious IIT, Chennai. I have great regard for Engineers. I shared my experiences with the students. I explained to them in detail how technology supported me in leading my life independently. I also requested for their support in making the lives of the challenged kids active and healthy through technological support. I have shown them some examples. Professors Ms Sujatha from Mechanical Engg Dept., Mr Srinivasa Chakravarthy from Dept. of BioTech., Mr Sundar from Mathematics Dept, Dr B.S. Murthy from Metallurgical Dept and Ms. Chandra and the Students received me with great affection. They are very much impressed with my speech. They promised to arrange accessibility for the differently abled to the pool in their campus and also expressed their willingness to extend technological co-operation. Students promised to me that they would be sensitive for the requirements of their fellow beings and they told that my speech gave them new ideas to extend support for the society. Students only made all the arrangements for this lecture. They planned and executed everything in a meticulous manner. Thanks to all the professors, Girish, Vignesh, Srivathsan and all other students. I hope in future with their support we can do wonders for our differently abled kids.

Preethi, another associate professor expressed her feelings in the following blog immediately (within  minutes) after my lecture. Preethi I don't have words to say anything after seeing your feelings. I don't think they are words, I could see only your feelings.  Thank you so much Preethi.


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