Wednesday May 27, 2020   |   Shefali Tripathi Mehta

This week Bookaholicanonymous is privileged to bring to you a book that touches your heart. The book is about Arushi—a voluntary organisation that empowers people with disabilities, especially children. This organisation based in Bhopal is doing exceptional work. Gulzar sa’ab and author Shefali Tripathi Mehta are closely associated with the organisation. The book published by Manjul is in an interview/conversation format which will keep you engrossed. Do buy the book, in this pandemic season when everybody is going out of the way to do everything for the welfare of others, here’s another chance to contribute. On the way learn about the extraordinary journey of this beautiful organisation.  


About the book: With a Foreword by Gulzar, Ek Koshish traces the genesis and journey of Arushi, a Bhopal — based voluntary organisation. Gulzar has been closely associated with Arushi for the last three decades and in conversations with the author, he talks about his relationship with the children of Arushi and the numerous ways in which he works with the organization. Light and humorous, sombre and uplifting, the narrative captures the various moods and emotions of Gulzar as he discusses a wide range of issues. Along with Gulzar, the author chronicles the work of Arushi in the words of its two founders. Ek Koshish is an attempt to bring to the reader the inspiring work of hundreds of volunteers spread all over the world who come together to make the world 'one bit better', as they say at Arushi.


The interview:


Since when have you been associated with Arushi? How was the idea of the book born?


I moved out of Bhopal in 1993 around the time Arushi was taking shape but I’ve been a volunteer since the beginning, taking care of Arushi’s marketing and communication material – brochures, presentations, website, translations and later, setting up and managing the Facebook page.

Almost 10 years ago, Anil and Rohit bhai, the two founders of Arushi, who I knew from my college days, started talking to me about a book to document the work happening at Arushi but I wasn’t getting a good peg for it – we didn’t want to bring out a book for the sake of it. They had discussed it with Gulzar sir too, so when I finally sent him my proposal suggesting a question-answer format with the three of them, he immediately asked me to start work.   

Why was it important for the story of Arushi to be told?


Every time we spoke on phone or I visited Arushi, I came to know of so many new initiatives, so much work happening in diverse areas – physical accessibility, awareness, training – from film festival to car rally and audio recordings to outstation trips with the children. But a more compelling reason for me to tell this story was because of the manner in which things are managed here – the spirit with which Arushi runs. Most people who have been to the centre know that it a very cheerful place ringing with the laughter of children who are completely at home in its completely barrier-free building with their teachers and therapists who they love and trust. And the way the volunteers just seem to materialize when there is a dire need for something is nothing short of magic.


Tell us about Gulzar sa’ab, since when and how deeply is he involved?

Gulzar sa’ab has been associated with Arushi from the beginning. Like everyone else, he calls himself a volunteer. How deeply he is involved is perhaps the most difficult question to answer because I wouldn’t know where to begin. I hope your readers pick the book and read for themselves. The disability awareness posters, the annual car rally, the work on accessible monuments…most of the initiatives bear his imprint. But above all this, is his care and concern for each child at Arushi. He knows them by their names and meets them when he visits Arushi and invites them to his home in Bombay.   

What are the pioneering programs that Arushi is doing? The blurb says, ‘blind children reading out to sighted children or whether it is them showing the way, as navigators, to drivers in a car rally.’ Tell us more.


At Arushi, children learn to push the boundaries set by teachers, parents, society. The point is that these children can do everything that other children can. What they lack are opportunities. This is what Arushi strives to create – an inclusive society where the first thing that you notice about a child with disability is not their disability but their abilities, their talent, the amazing people that they are. As for the two examples from the blurb that you mention, these initiatives are meant to turn our mindsets around completely. These are meant to empower our kids. But you’ll need to read the book for this, I’m not giving out more 😊


Arushi also prepares children with disabilities to attend regular schools, isn't it? How successful has it been?

Arushi has a school readiness program for children below the age of 5 who have never been to school. Therapists and special educators work on the needs of each child to prepare them for regular school and then, once Arushi gets them admitted to a school, they continue to support these children with academics and therapy after school. You’ll be amazed how well these children are doing in school – they participate in all activities and some of them excel in studies and become class monitors too!


There is no benchmark for such success but even if the life of one child is transformed with Arushi’s ‘koshish’ its worth a lot, isn’t it? One human being who would grow up in a household, always dependent on parents and when parents grow old, on siblings and live just because they are alive, versus, the child receiving help with their specific needs so they become independent and may even be able to earn their living and become contributing members of the society.


See, how so many of them are out on the streets these days, making and distributing masks and food items and our physiotherapist, Ramu, who is on crutches, donating blood. If they can find something to contribute to, each one of us ‘normal’ people can too.

Why is the book called Ek Koshish and who is the target audience?


There is some confusion in the minds of people about this – the book is in English and it is named after the school readiness program of Arushi, called, Koshish. The name was given by Gulzar sir who made the film Koshish in the 70s about a couple with speech and hearing disabilities played by Jaya Bachchan and Sanjeev Kumar. Also, this book follows, ‘Ek Prarthana’ (2011), a coffee table book that showcases 50 of Arushi’s most-loved and popular posters on disability awareness.


The book is written in the form of conversation and is peppered with anecdotes and the friendly banter among Gulzar sir, Anil and Rohit bhai. It’s an easy and inspiring read and I say this because of how I felt while researching and writing it – absolutely motivating, eye-opening. Whichever field you may be associated with, the learning is the same, isn’t it?  The basic principles of operating with integrity and fairness; of having empathy and love for others.    


What did you learn while writing this book?


It is an amazing and inspiring story that I have enjoyed and felt very humbled writing. More than anything, the conviction that if the intent with which something is being undertaken is right, nothing can come in the way.


Here is an excerpt from the book…

SHEFALI: You have spoken very often on public platforms against daya or pity that most people feel for people with disabilities.

GULZAR SIR: Let me tell you about this little girl, Sargam—andhi maiyya meri, I call her that. (The glow of affection is clear on his face.) She came to me once and said, ‘Everyone calls me “andhi maiyya.”’ I said to her, ‘You are my Laadli maiyya.

What if they call you “andhi”? It’s a fact—you cannot see, so you are blind—it only means that. There is no shame in it and no need for self-pity.’ If one cannot hear, one is deaf; if one cannot see, one is blind. You must use the word that clearly denotes it. But the deaf and the blind are certainly not ‘bechara’. People use adjectives like

‘differently-abled’, ‘speech-impaired’ and ‘hearing impaired’—it is out of pity that they use these. Don’t do it. Call the deaf, deaf. And remember, the deaf will be deaf no more when they start hearing—give them the voice, that faculty to hear.

A lot is possible now. See how Dr Kirtane has made a child born deaf, hear. It’s amazing that you can give a voice and teach a child who is born deaf, to speak. And this should be the purpose of this interview. Through this book, we have to remind others that nothing is impossible. That the blind can be made to see. If we cannot provide them with eyes, if it is medically not possible, then, they have the stick that can ‘see’. These little girls of mine—Sargam and Phalguni—their eyes are in their mind, in their smiles and in their voices.

SHEFALI: You mentioned Dr Kirtane, you have very closely monitored Prarthana’s5 progress through her cochlear implant surgery to her first tentative steps into the world of sound and hearing.

GULZAR SIR: I can never forget the day Anil called me from Bhopal and said, ‘Sir, Prarthana could hear the ringing of the phone.’ He was obviously crying at the other end and here, I too could not hold back my tears. What happens is that after a cochlear implant, the child starts to hear sounds but because he or she has been deaf from birth, it is difficult for the child to associate the sound to its source. It can be very frustrating—the child cries and hears his or her own crying but does not know where it is coming from, which makes them cry louder. It takes a lot of patient training to help them learn the associations. So, one day, four months after the implant, when the phone began to ring, Prarthana got up and flung it on the floor. She could make out that the sound was coming from the phone! It was like a miracle—a child born deaf could hear. The very next day, I took the flight to Bhopal, I wanted to be there with them, with Prarthana. The entire process has been very painful but look at her today, such a delightful child of eleven—she plays badminton so well, lives a full life as every child should.


Bookaholicanonymous thanks Shefali for this heart-warming interview and book…


About Shefali Tripathi Mehta: She is a writer and author based in Bangalore. She writes on social issues, travel, parenting and disability awareness. Her most recent book, Stuck like Lint, a collection of stories was published in 2017. She volunteers at Arushi and curates Gond art to support tribal artists.

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