Imagine others complexly

One day at Sanvedana is such a flurry of events, emotions and characters that I’m finding it difficult to distill all the feelings I’ve had over the last week into one blog post. There are three students that I want to talk about in particular. Vedant, Faiz and Prathmesh.

I met Vedant on the first day. He came bounding into the physiotherapy room with his big curious eyes locked onto me, “Aap khon he?” (Who are you) he asked without missing a stride. The physiotherapist, Dr. Mayuri introduced me to him and we started talking in a broken mix of Marathi and Hindi. The boy reminded me of my own 12 year old brother – playful and loud.

I met Faiz later on in the week when he ran up to me and grabbed my hand during assembly. The 7 year old is a real troublemaker in class but is really sweet at heart (and, honestly, he’s too small to be very much of nuisance outside of class). I remember playing an Indian version of “It” or “Tag” on Friday with some of the teachers and students. Faiz came to hide with me and when he was caught, I picked him up and helped him chase down other teachers.

Prathmesh is someone who I’ve only really gotten to know over the last few days. He’s a creative boy who really hates studying. Instead he loves cars and motorbikes. He has big eyes and ears and he loves to repair little things that break around the school. The 14 year old is extremely expressive and whenever he sees me, he’ll stop what he’s doing to come and say hi.

Vedant has learning disabilities, Faiz has down syndrome, and Prathmesh is mute.

I think knowing their disabilities really colours peoples’ perspective of them. It easy to look at Prathmesh and say that the incredible pseudo-sign language system that he’s created for himself (e.g. the sign for Dr. Mayuri is stretched fingers because shes a physiotherapist) is a direct result of his disability or to say that Faiz is very active and mischievous because he has Down syndrome. It is very easy to see only one dimension of these children – their disability – but in reality, there are many mute kids who keep to themselves and many kids with Down syndrome who are well behaved or even lazy. Prathmesh is creative by nature and Faiz is active by nature. These are facets of their personalities and sometimes, it is very easy to forget that disabled people have personalities at all.

As harsh as that sounds, it is one of a handful of truths that I’ve come to realise over this last week. I think that this experience will change how I view disabled people for the rest of my life. Today, as I was showing Prathmesh a cool text-to-speech app (a story for another blog), I thought about how long it took to me to see beyond the students’ disabilities and to really get to know them. If someone had told me “you know, disabled children are extremely complex, just like all people. They experience joy and fear and excitement just like the rest of us”, I would’ve seen it is as a very obvious fact but in reality, many of us are guilty of characterising disabled people through their disability alone. To imagine them as complex people is something that takes time and effort.

John Green, the famous YA author, has a motto that is quite reminiscent of my experience in Samvedana over the last week – “imagine others complexly”. It is, I think, our duty as humans to overcome the basic urge to stereotype and judge people through their appearance and to instead try to recognise that everyone is a complex amalgamation of thoughts, ideas and intentions.

Further reading: A fantastic essay on imagining others complexly

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