Standing On His Own Legs

October 29, 2019 at 9:15 PMOct (Activism, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Lokesh (29) who sells sim cards outside of Government Degree College, Ananthapuramu in Andhra Pradesh is an avid Telugu film viewer and unlike the larger mass of Telugu film viewers, Lokesh prefers romantic films over action films. Prior to the digital revolution Lokesh would regularly visit the cinema hall but now prefers downloading films on his mobile and watch them on his handset. Neither his taste nor his preference of viewing is inseparable from his polio affected leg which at the age of three left him orthopedically handicapped (OH).

Born in Guntapalli, a small village adjacent to a forest, Lokesh was affected by Polio since his, “Parents were not aware of the mandatory polio drops for children.” Both his legs got affected “because of ignorance.” Coming from a family of farmers Lokesh was, “lucky to have kind parents,” who he says did consider sending him to school despite him being an OH.

Education began quite late for Lokesh mainly because of him being OH. It happened also because the government school was just half a kilometre away from his residence. His father, he remembers, would carry him to school and also bring him back carrying. For class three Lokesh was made to join an English medium school in Gorantla a nearby town, where he had to stay in the hostel. The hostel experience at Gorantla was not a pleasant one for Lokesh. The rest of the students would be busy in sports and other physical activities which made Lokesh feel left out and out of place. But more of a trouble was the using of washroom in the hostel. “The washrooms were not designed keeping in mind people like us,” tells Lokesh before explaining how people like him have the lower part of the bodies are weak which makes him and the kinds of him difficult to control urine and motion for long. “Someone or the other would help me in the morning time but at night the matters would be nightmarish,” he recollects. Since hostel life was making him dependent quite a lot on people he was “not very close to,” Lokesh would frequently go home. During exams he would avoid staying in the hostel and travel to college from home. Lokesh’s father on those days of exam would ferry him on a bullock cart to the college and bring him back. These inconveniences made Lokesh shift back to the Government school in Guntapalli for class four.

“These inconveniences were not just a physical hurdle in day to day affairs but also a hurdle to my studies,” says Lokesh and explains how most of his energy and time would go on these things and would leave him with less time for studies. “Also, it creates a dent in the morale,” he says, which in his opinion is more crucial in affecting his performance in studies.

Lokesh had to drop out from studies after class five since the school was far from home and his experience of staying out of family had been no good. Also ferrying him to school every day was practically impossible for his father who is a farmer. For a year Lokesh was at home. During that period when he had to get his “disability certificate” done, he was told about a hostel for the specially abled in Ananthapuramu, a district head-quarters, where many like him stay and also pursue studies. The following academic year Lokesh enrolled himself in the Government High School, Anantapuramu and started to live in the Govt Hostel for the specially abled, specifically for those with OH.

Shifting from Guntapalli to Anantapuramu was a major turn in the life of Lokesh. “With around 90 people like me,” he says he felt more belonged and less left out. “A sense of community,” was formed according to him in the hostel. The helpers in the hostel being trained to assist the OH people made a significant difference for him and his fellow hostel mates he recollects. Also the washrooms being friendly for the specially abled brought in a new confidence in him, he says, by making him feel he can be less dependent on others and more independent. This boost of morale and new found community helped him focus more on his studies and his performance in studies also started to improve he says.

In comparison to his life in Guntapalli and Gorantla, says Lokesh, in Anantapuramu he felt less lonely. From the classmates of Guntapalli or Gorantla nobody went to became friends with Lokesh. He had his first set of friends, he says, only when he moved to Anantpuramu. The classmates and hostelmates he had in Guntapalli and Gorantla were kind of to him, he remembers but the ones in Ananthapura loved him and treated him with affection, he explains.

On being asked what kind of conversations he has with his friends in the Anantapuramu hostel, Lokesh very casually says, “normal talks like normal people.” The hostel is a space for Lokesh where there is no possibility of any insensitive comment being passed at him. In all other places he can expect an unwanted comment being passed at him and it does happen occasionally. “But this insensitive attitude is more in the villages than in towns and cities,” he says. Recollecting his own experiences of being humiliated for his state of being, he says with teary eyes, “Nobody should be born as disabled,” and stresses again, “Nobody.” As he says this he adds, “But what I had to face is nothing in comparison to what some of my other friends have had to undergo.” On asked if he and his friends in the hostel make fun of those considered abled, he says, “No,” in a tone which is dismissive of the idea of making fun of anyone and demeaning them.

After his high-school and intermediate schooling Lokesh got himself enrolled for B.Com. He opted for distance education so that he can also work and earn to meet his small expenses. He started to work at a mobile shop initially and after a few months on the insistence of the shop owner he started to sell sim cards outside the Govt Degree College, near the gate that is adjacent to the bus stop.

Lokesh since three years now has been peddling the special cycle (he got through the Government scheme) to the gate of Govt Degree College every day and working there between 10:00 and 17:30 hrs. In these three years he has completed his B.Com degree and now is preparing for competitive exam. When asked if having to work outside a college make him fee complex or make him uncomfortable, he answers in the negative. Within no time he says, “There are people who see me and tell me that in comparison to me they feel useless for they do not work hard the way I do.” That, he says, makes him happy. With an ear to ear smile he repeats, “Very happy.” Such “encouragement,” adds to his strength says Lokesh. He goes on to say that there are also people who try to be cocky with him and at such moments he avoids confrontation. “All I expect,” says Lokesh, “is people to speak with love.”

One of the troubles Lokesh faces while working is that of a comfortable public washroom. The public washrooms being constructed in the last one to two years have been taking into consideration old people and that has made it relatively easier for people like him, he says, and hints at our idea of space not being inclusive of the specially abled. This is seen, says Lokesh, also in the way the buses are designed. “There are reserved seats for us. But to get to the seat is a task in itself because nobody has given a thought to design the stairs of the bus in a way that it is easy for us to get in,” he says. In comparison to buses, says Lokesh, trains are friendlier towards people like him. “There are wheelchairs available in railway station but not bus stations,” he points.

In his free time Lokesh loves to read novels which are “Love stories.” Even in films he prefers love stories the most. As an avid film viewer he earlier used to go to the cinema halls to watch films. But now prefers to watch them on his mobile phone. Partially the reason for this shift he says is the difficulty involved in navigating the space of cinema hall, which are not friendly towards specially abled ones. “Earlier there was no other option. But now I can download the films and watch them,” he explains.

When asked if he has been in love ever, Lokesh blushes saying he wants to be in love and feel loved. But, he claims, that hasn’t happened ever. He says that he wishes to get married within a year from now. “To marry I need to have a good job with a good salary. I am waiting for that,” he says and asks “How can I get married without being economically stable and independent?”

Speaking of love and marriage, Lokesh recollects a wedding he visited recently of a friend. “The friend is also OH and so is the girl he married,” says and his eyes light up when he says, “It was a love marriage.” The parents of the girl objected to the marriage but the girl stood her ground, says Lokesh appreciating the girl. The marriage was held in a nearby village and attended by around 70 his friends all who are OH, he recollects unable to control the joy the memory of that event brings. On asked how 70 of them travelled to the nearby village, Lokesh in a matter of fact way says, “Among our OH friends circle, there are six of them who run autos. They drove all of us to the wedding.” Showing some photos of the wedding, Lokesh says, “We enjoyed a lot there,” repeats a couple of times, “It was fun. Great fun.”

(Interview conducted on 19 Nov 2018. Special thanks: Sandeep Nayani)

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