I am blind, not disgusting

Published: December 3, 2012
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When I entered that classroom, I had no idea; I was just as blind as these students. PHOTO: REUTERS

His name was Hamza and he wasn’t born blind. He was the only son amongst five daughters and was not very well off.

A cricket ball plunged to the back of his neck took away his eyesight but was not able to take away his desire to learn. He had a beautifully haunting yet a wise way of looking at the world and accepting it.

I was assigned as his teacher during an internship at the Ida Rieu School for Deaf and Blind in my final year of undergraduate school. He was placed in the special class, where students who weren’t born blind but had lost their eyesight as a result of some illness or accident, studied.

When I entered that classroom, I had no idea that I was just as blind as these students.

I didn’t know my life was about to change drastically. I did not know that the little boy, who lost his eyesight at the age of ten, would be the cause of this change.

I sat next to him and helped him practise his Braille, pushing him to try and understand the difficult technicalities of the Braille alphabet. We slipped into our roles of a teacher and a student and he was perfect, accepting criticism and pushing himself to work harder.

At the end of the day, we both congratulated ourselves for learning something new. Him, the Braille alphabet and me, the patience to teach, listen and teach again.

One day, when the bell rang at the end of the school day, Hamza stopped me before I could reach for my bag.

“Miss, aap mujhay meri van takk chorr deingi?”

(Miss, will you drop me to my van?)

I agreed and helped him with his bag. When we started to move towards the door, I automatically stood in front of him and offered my elbow to him to grasp so that I could safely lead the way without him bumping into things.

“Miss koi baat naheen”

(Miss, it’s ok)

I was confused. I asked him what he meant.

“Aap ko problem hogi, mein khudd aajaonga”

(You will have a problem. I will come myself)

I assured him that it was no problem at all and he hesitantly grasped my arm just above the elbow. We carefully made our way down the stairs to the parking lot where the student’s vans were parked.

I asked him the number of his van and the driver’s name. After ten minutes of futile search he said maybe the driver is running late.

“Aap chali jaeyn, mujhay koi bitha deyga van mein”

(You can go; someone will seat me in the van)

I told him not to be ridiculous and helped him sit on a bench and we both waited for his van to come.

Miss agar aap bura na manaeyn toh mein ek baat bolon?”

(Miss if you don’t mind, can I say something?)

I told him to go ahead and speak his mind.

“Mein yahan doh saal sey parh raha hon aur aaj takk kisi teacher ney mujhay unka bazu naheen pakarnay diya”

(I have been studying here for two years and till this day no teacher has ever allowed me to hold her arm)

I was so shocked that I didn’t know what to say.

Hamza smiled as if he could read my expression and said,

“Miss itna chaunk kyun gai? Mujhay toh aadat hogai hai. Khush kismat log humein achoot samajhtay hain”

(Miss why are you so shocked? I am used to it. The lucky people think of us as untouchables.)

I couldn’t help it. I reached out and grasped his hand. I choked on my words but somehow managed to swallow the hard lump in my throat and tell him that it was them who were the unlucky ones.

Hamza smiled but didn’t comment.

I looked around, desperately looking for something to say or do to make him feel better. I spotted a man who was selling corn kernels near the van. I asked Hamza if he would like some.

“Jee miss, lekin ami ney paisay diay hain. Aap mujhay sharminda na kerna mein khudd khareedna chahta hon”

(Yes miss, but my mother has given me money. Please don’t embarrass me. I want to buy them myself.)

I realised that Hamza, like every special person I have ever come across, desperately wanted to be treated normally. I agreed and we walked over to the corn seller.

I asked him for two packets of corn kernels worth Rs10 each.

When I opened my bag to take out the money, I noticed the look of distaste on the man’s face as he almost threw the packets at Hamza. He quickly retracted his hand and wiped it on his clothes.

I was outraged and asked him the meaning of his behaviour.

“Baji maaf keejiayga lekin andhon ko choona mujhay pasand naheen”

(Sister forgive me, but I don’t like touching blind people.)

He said this with Hamza standing right there, hand outstretched to pay for the corn kernels.

I was so angry that I took my packet and returned it to the man, fixing him with an icy stare I said,

“Allah tumhein mauf keray.”

(May God forgive you!)

I handed Hamza his corn kernels and we walked back to the bench.

We sat in silence as Hamza ate the corn.

“Miss please ghussa nah hon. Usney aaj pooray duss ruppay kay daanay diay hain warna paanch ruppay k dey k kehta hai duss ruppay do aur jao yahan sey”

(Miss please don’t be angry. He gave me Rs10 worth of corn today, usually he gives me a packet worth Rs5 and tells me to go away.)

I was so upset I didn’t know what to say or how to respond.

“Miss mujhay guddi kay baal bohat pasand hain aur school kay bahar miltay bhi hain lekin guddi k baal jo bechta hai who hum sey baat bhi kerna pasand naheen kerta”

(Miss I love candy floss and they sell it outside the school but the man who sells it doesn’t even like to talk to us.)

I silently thought to myself, in amazement, about the kind of people that lived in this world, even educated people like Hamza’s teachers didn’t allow him to touch them. What use was their education to them?

After helping Hamza safely on to his van, I noticed the van driver shouting at the other blind children getting on board and occasionally calling them names when they couldn’t find a place to sit.

It depressed me to no end to see these children, who have already lost so much, to be treated like this by people around them, just because they weren’t as perfect or normal.

I silently prayed for forgiveness, for these ignorant and heartless people, who didn’t realise that if God had the kindness to bless them, He also had the power to take it away whenever He wanted.

From that day onwards, I made a conscious effort to thank Allah (SWT) for all He had blessed me with and to apologise for being so blind, ignorant and thankless.

We are the lucky ones, for God has given us the sense to see His miracles, the tongue to thank Him for it, and the ability to appreciate them.

Ironically, it took a 12-year-old blind child for me to see it.

Read more by Fatima here, or follow her on Twitter @fatimakm

Fatima Khalid

Fatima Khalid

An aspiring writer and poet, graduated from the University of Karachi, specialising in Special Education, English Literature and Psychology, interned in various special schools for children including Ida Rieu Welfare Association, Quaideen School for Special Children and Deaf Education Welfare Association (DEWA). She tweets @fatimakm

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Shah

    This article has shocked me. I was not expecting that such behavior is shown by people in our culture. My mother also once for some time used to teach disabled children as a volunteer. Over there the situation was not like you have told, teachers in that school were nice to the children.
    In any case after reading your article, it shows that its not the same every where.
    I am shocked to know that how can some one treat children doesnt matter disable or not in such a way. And people who are disabled should be treated with more respect.
    A very eye opening article.May Allah give us all the the power and patience to be nice to people in the world. Recommend

  • Javeria

    You are an amazing writer. Your article made me so upset yet so grateful.
    I have seen many people treat physically challenged people very badly, sometimes pushing them away and making a conscious effort not to touch them. Fatima, you are a beautiful hearted girl who took out the time to intern in these instituitions as well as treat those around you nicely. Very few people have that ability.
    If this article manages to change the mindset of even one person, then you have succeeded.
    Kind regards;
    JaveriaRecommend

  • Sakina Kavi

    amazing article… Recommend

  • Lobster

    Very good article. I would like to suggest that ask people to contribute to such organizations who are helping blinds. Like LRBT etcRecommend

  • Ahmed

    great article made me thankful for what Allah has given me. Recommend

  • Pessimist

    What a wonderfully written article. Well done! Recommend

  • Op

    seriously brilliantly put..Recommend

  • XARA

    Dear Fatima
    Thanks for sharing such a beautiful piece of work. I was quite shocked yet unpleased when i read about the stern attitude of teachers at the institute that they avert extending their hands to these blind students. Unfortunately, our system is so weak that we cannot accept them as normal individuals who are the part of our society but we try to snatch the rights of such individuals. We shoud try to make them as independent as possible.

    We have forgotten that at times Allah tests us by bestowing all this blessings on us and therefore we become very contented when we are given all the blessings and think that Allah likes us and therefore we are being blessed which isnt true. Recommend

  • Zohaib Tanwiri

    Too good Fatima :) i just love the topics you choose to write on. Reality. chhaa gayi ho larki, aalaa my friend !!!Recommend

  • Uzair

    In a land where “piety” masquerades as human decency and faith alone is the answer to everything, where reason and reality are not to be trusted, such attitudes are almost bound to be present. Until we let go of our ancient superstitions and treat all human beings as equals, we WILL continue to suffer the consequences – all the while blaming the “west” for them :)Recommend

  • Rizwan

    Definitely brought a tear from my eye, how can people be so heartless?Recommend

  • dude

    is this article real or fake ???? n i was shocked to read tht article :( we all should donate money for blind ppl …. atleast koshesh tw kr sakty hain in ki nazar wapas ajaye L( i pray for all those who lost dre eyesight :( ..Recommend

  • http://shahidrizvi.wordpress.com Shahid H. Rizvi

    @ Author.. A very well written and heart touching article.. I am 100% agree with you.. We are living in such a heartless society. Recommend

  • Haven’t lost my sanity….

    One of the most touching blogs that I read on ET. Thanx for sharing with us.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/896/ayesha-pervez/ Ayesha Pervez

    :-( ! Thank you for writing on these important topics! Recommend

  • Sunara Nizami

    I have been to Ida Rieu and saw a totally different atmosphere. The way those kids are taught to be independent is amazing. I cannot negate what you claim as you taught there and I just visited once, but the Ida Rieu I saw had children singing together and confidently, walking on their own as well as with the help of teachers. Those kids know how to walk from their dorms in a straight line down to their classes with just one teacher leading them. They were more confident than I am and some also work proper jobs (met one alumni at Standard Chartered).

    The thela walas that I have seen are much more courteous towards handicapable children than many educated, English speaking people. It takes all kinds to make this world. Generalisations are unneccessary. Maybe some choose to look at all the bad in the world and others, all the good.

    PS: Usually the handicapable are much more capable than us and most do not feel imperfect or abnormal. If Allah deprived them of their eyesight, he chose to make them better at other things including being better people. It is ironic that you say they want to be treated normally and in your blog call them people who “have already lost so much”.Recommend

  • Hira Khalid

    It is truly heart wrenching to see how heartless our people are. I can’t say anything about schools but i have personally seen how disabled childern are treated so harshly by the general public.Recommend

  • MMK

    Very nicely written. I enjoyed reading it.Recommend

  • MMM

    I hope that articles such as this get translated into Urdu and published in print so that the general public are also made aware of the trials and tribulations of the less fortunate.

    I may have cried a little (from the inside) as this piece successfully encapsulated a lot of emotions. Damn you, Fatima, for making an old man cry (I kid).Recommend

  • Saad

    Poorly written and awful grammar and punctuation, but a touching story it is indeed. Articles with a sense of purpose are much appreciated.Recommend

  • Sheeraz

    They behavior you mentioned is completely ridiculous and contemptible. How can anyone even think about being rude to special kids. @”Hamza’s teachers didn’t allow him to touch them.” I don’t believe this, teachers can’t behave in such manner, to be frank, I’ve never seen any teacher behaving so ridiculously to any student either normal or special, the special ones are treated with more love and care. I strongly condemn this article as i don’t believe our country can have such teachers. For a wile one can consider that some teachers don’t teach the students properly and are ignorant in studies but disrespecting the special kids is completely a different issue, only a heartless person can do so.Recommend

  • Dude

    Amazing, Allah may bless you for sharing your experiences with us.
    Keep up the good work. We need people like you in Pakistan who are willing to identity the issues in our society and do something about these issues by sharing with general public.Recommend

  • MB

    beautiful article, brought tears to my eyes. May God teach the ignorant people how to show respect to the special needs people!Recommend

  • sajid

    Thanks for this wake up call. Some of us are blind, others are indifferent to condition of such people. We, as a society, are facing breakdown of our values. Recommend

  • Khalid Nazir

    @Shah:

    You should not be feeling shocked on this kind of behaviour in our culture because you know you have seen worst than this so be a reason of change in yourself.

    No disrespect of your feeling sir.

    From,
    Pen of justice.Recommend

  • GhostRider

    @author: if you go to Ida rieu again and happen to see that corn wala tell him that he should be grateful to people like hamza who help him feed his family because he is nothing but a cornwala on the other hand Hamza is getting educated and in a few years he’d be able to turn things around while he ll still be a corn wala.Recommend

  • Dhanesh Kumar

    Heart touching article make me cry and realise to say every day “Thanks God for every thing” Recommend

  • Sumbul

    beautifully written.
    what im shocked at is how crude and inconsiderate people can be… ive seen these same cornwalas and candyfloss sellers bring their own children along if theyve gone through a silmilar tragedy or have some sort of impairment.. and then they use them to gether sympathy money.. i wonder how the poor children feel.Recommend

  • El Duderino

    the truth of the society we live in, self imposed puritans! this is the main reason why we are induring such problems of hate and violence in our society, when we treat innocents as animals!!! humanity in our society is getting very bleak even in this so called enlightened age!Recommend

  • shehzad sadiq

    my eyes are wet in the office ,next time Inhsallah i will try my best to give extra importance to disabled kids,
    amazing article ,,,keep up the good work Recommend

  • ahsan

    Love your article and really appreciate the message.

    I shall try my best as others mentioned above to give extra care and affection to the less blessed people of our society. BUT

    i do agree with one commenter above that these special children have move power and feel to do things even people like us can do. As per the kid, hes been studying there for 2 years and he should be fully aware of how to fulfill his everyday routine.

    Anyway, the sole point is to let the society realize the importance of these kind of realities of life. And charity always begins at homeRecommend

  • Sher Khan

    My eyes are wet, it touched my feelings. We live in a society where most of us don’t understand humanity.Recommend

  • Omer

    I have a firm belief that this society of ours is extremely sick. Exceptions are there but a vast majority is unwelcoming, mean and rude. There are no ethics and moral values. The article reminds me of my school time syllabus- Hindus having castes and how they used to think lower castes were untouchable and how we muslims are different. People respect others because of money and their stature only. Our society requires high dosage of ‘humanity’, the sooner, the better. Recommend

  • http://tribune asif

    fatima your blog is really awesome… u r really a goof writer and have ability to manage word in sentences…. turning on ur issue which u discus in ur writing yeah mostly people ov da world are so cruel ans selfish… but u have really kind and nice heart for special children….as u have kind heart i wish all persons ov dis world have kind and soft heart….. well raise a big issue….there is a need to do at government sector for betterment dis issue…there would be gud n soft heart teachers in special education school… and also as nation we have need to purify ourselves….. thanks………….Recommend

  • shuja ul islam

    zabardast..why cant we come across more articles like this..simply aala.!!!Recommend

  • Super Heroine

    Dear Fatima, May God Bless You and Lead us all to the right path and forgive our mistakes … Aameen…. The article is very well written….Recommend

  • Rizvi

    You are generalizing !Recommend

  • qzj00

    @GhostRider:
    Of course, this particular corn wala was an idiot, but I see nothing wrong with being a corn wala per se. We have idots from all walks of life . . . . Doctors, Politicians, Teachers, Judges . . . you name it! Recommend

  • Patriort

    My country and its people never stop to ashame me. Recommend

  • Nafees

    This article must not be shocking if any one living in this society keeps his/her eyes open… because this is daily behaviour in all walks of life, we experience, I don’t support here the behaviour by CORN wala OR Other people who make such differences in this world, Just want to say that.. these are things we experience in all walks of life on daily basis, and instead of getting things better and changed, we hardly comment on them.. This is great article, depicting the feelings of a child who is treated as achhooot in our so called world of Literate AGE… and we must get ourselves involved in trying to omit these behaviours to special ones.. and Thank To Almighty Allah for all he has blessed us with.. which did not deserved at all..

    Thanks..Recommend

  • Anum

    This just about broke me heart. You’re right- Hamza’s not the unlucky one, it’s people like the corn wala and van wala who’re unlucky. Unfortunately, the number of people like them is way too high. Especially in Pakistan. May we learn tolerance and empathy. Ameen.Recommend

  • http://Www.google.com Saeed swabian

    Such topic,one rarely comes by,Well done fatima.Recommend

  • LalaLand

    I applaud you for writing about this very important issue. It will certainly open some people’s eyes to the reality of our society, and be a reminder to us when dealing with people with different capabilities.Recommend

  • Nishant

    this is so sad.
    I work in an office where we have people of various nationalities working here (we have foreign language process)
    we have people from Turkey, Eastern europe, germany, russian, malaysians and a big group of french speaking Africans from Congo and Senegal
    I worked with the african group for a project for almost a month, and I never realised how racist people can be.
    just a small incident can show the entire character
    an old co worker of mine who joined us after her maternity leave
    i was eating with an african girl who became sort of friend after working with in my team.
    my “colleague” came with her plate to looking for space, i called her to come at my plate and she immediatly made faces , in rejection,
    WOW that was shocking, the african girl, from her experiences realised what was going on, she offered to get up, i asked her not to, and told that co worker of mine to find another place
    .
    later when i confronted her for being rude, she replied simply-“i cannot sit with “these” people”….no reason, no justificationRecommend

  • http://www.wisepda.co.uk Yousaf

    Indeed a though provoking article. I am dealing with blind and vision impaired people since 2006 and provide IT support and teach them computers in the UK, i am also owner of a Navigation system which is UK copy righted, (www.wisepda.co.uk), No doubt we are ignorant people with eye sights but with less in-sight. If anyone is interested to share knowledge with me, it will be a pleasure. Allah has blessed us with everything, more than we deserve. Recommend

  • Deendayal M.Lulla

    Being blind is one of the handicap. People are ignorant about the meaning of visually-handicapped,and this I learnt from my own experience. I am blind in the left eye,and with low-vision in the right eye. A fully-blind person in India is eligible for railway concession on express trains. One has to go for eye check-up in a state government hospital,or central government hospital,and fill the form in front of the dean of the hospital,and you are granted this certificate (you get 50 per cent concession in rail travel in air-conditioned compartments). I went to the Central Railway office at V.T. station,and told the clerk that I was visually-handicapped. He did not understand it,and he thought that I may be physically-handicapped. Then I told him,that I was blind in one eye,and wanted to know about rail concession,if I was eligible. After listening the word blind,he understood,and gave me the form for rail concession. I was developing cataract in the right eye,and my vision was going down day by day. I am only 30 per cent blind inthe right eye,whereas the law says that 40 per cent blind people are eligible for train concessions. The laws are not user-friendly for people who are blind in one eye only,and have low-vision in the other eye. Even the judges are not sympathetic to people with handicap. My wife left me just 17days prior to my right eye surgery,and filed a divorce case on the ground of cruelty. She was granted divorce by the family court. She was not able to prove even a single charge of cruelty against me,even though she alleged 15 grounds of cruelty against me. Yet,she was granted divorce. Who was cruel – me or she? Is this not cruelty in the worst form,when a wife deserts her husband just 17 days before an eye surgery,and the husband has already lost eye sight in the left eye. Had my cataract surgery in the right eye failed,I would have become fully blind. What use is a blind husband to his wife – so the easiest thing is dump him,and get the legal stamp,by filing a divorce case on the ground of cruelty. Judges are notorious for not applying their mind in delivering judgements,as they are not accountable for judgements.Recommend

  • usman bukhari

    what a heart-touching article written!
    cant express out whats on my mind and heart after reading this …. :(Recommend

  • reader

    heartfelt article indeed
    my sister’s kids (2 of them) are special too. their mental growth is impaired. but they are a blessing for us and the happiness they bring to our family .I hate it when i take them to the park and the ignorant people around us look at them as if they are animals of some sort and specially the women telling their normal children to stay away from them coz they might hurt them…i actually beat up a guy senseless once when one my kids kissed his baby and the baby started crying and he said ” band ker k rakha karo in ko ghar mein”. these are the people who are literate but downright ignorant.
    i applaud you for this article because this might bring some sense into people who dont respect the creation of AllahRecommend

  • shocked (former) pakistani

    I can absolutely relate to this article. The people in Pakistan have a great deal of animosity against disabled people. I can give my example- I was born with a slight defect- my right hand does not have four fingers. It does not hinder any of my activities like driving, carrying weights etc. I was brought up in Africa and people there were very carefree and treated me like everyone else so much that I never thought of myself as any different from anyone else. When I was 20 I moved to Karachi with my family and stayed in Karachi for 3 years. Almost every day at office people would ask me about my hand- from the Peons to the Directors. Some showered their pity on me, other retracted and showed their disgust. Thankfully I moved over to Europe and in Europe (just as in Africa) I am treated as normal as anyone else. Recently my mom took me to Pakistan to get a Bride and I was surprised that all families (we went to about 8 or 9 families through a rishta aunty) rejected me. Some even showed their displeasure that we dared to go to their homes for a rishta!! Despite a slight defect, the Pakistani society never accepted me. I am lucky that I dont live in Pakistan and do not have to cope with the ‘pious Pakistanis’ but really feel for those who are disabled and are stuck in the pakistani society. But my message to all the Disabled people, who are hated by pak society is that there is an authentic Hadith of Prophet (saw) that on the day of resurrection when the people that went through trials/calamities are rewarded, the others that remained safe will wish that their skins had been cut off in this world.Recommend