For a city that thrives on noise- angry crimson, persistent parrot green or just arbitrary plain white, there is a secret twilight zone, right in her heart, that puts her on a much needed detox diet. It is a tiny nook that goes about Zen-like in its daily business, where you get to ‘listen’ and ‘be understood’ rather than be judged by the words you speak or choose to leave out.
This is the Oral School for Deaf Children, set up fifty eventful years ago, which continues its uphill task of schooling the hearing and speech impaired children, in a way that is heroic and awe-inspiring.
There couldn’t be a greater oxymoron in the city, when just beyond the gates of this educational institution, lies one of the city’s oldest schools, replete with its over thousand plus students emanating this constant buzz of noise that one associates with any school.
But within these walls, the hum of minds creates a steady vibration that is intriguing to say the least. Tuning into its frequency was one of the most exciting adventures for me. It is a gentle, unchanging flow of thoughts, moving back and forth, which uses gestures, sight and wave length- yes, the vibe that naturally exists amongst all living, thinking, feeling beings, which is so easily smothered by the juggernaut of habit and expectation.
But let me tell you about the children! Their eyes- I remember their eyes- I remember the diamonds in their eyes- the shimmering prisms in them as they associated one more visual with a gesture or sound; or the sudden pall of an opaque curtain when meaning was not forthcoming and then again the dazzling radiance of the perfect ‘Eureka’ moment, when the pieces just fit in, and the world made a little more sense.
And, yes, I have seen their dreams in those eyes… Little wisps of their yearnings to be understood, held close in hearts and be loved; simple joys of asking questions, listening to replies; grandiose plans for tomorrow that defy the cruel voice of doubt heard in the silences of their thoughts- I have seen glimpses of them in those eyes and known them to be mine, yours and of this city’s as well.
That I have not posted even one of the photographs of the children that I had taken that day, is perhaps due to this one reason- I do not wish to draw our attention to their faces, but to their souls… the people who lie beneath these apparent differences or disadvantages,as you would want to opine…
Calcutta spoke to me once more through these garrulous silences that conceals countless tales of heroic achievement against all odds. She spoke of the sure but noiseless breaking of walls of denial and dejection of parents, often shell shocked at having to re-configure their lives; the quiet hours of teachers toiling endlessly to teach the children how to connect with the world which seems harsh and unfeeling; the deep silences of friendships forged over sharing of sandwiches at recess, and of the quietude of life breathing, growing and coming into its own.
My city encompasses all-and that is why I love her. She holds this beautiful silent secret closest to her soul and reveals it if we care to listen. There is no pity or sympathy for the children- there is undiluted awe and admiration. They are much like the city they inhabit- strong, resilient, apparently a little broken but be you not fooled by what you see or fail to hear.
Like them, Calcutta’s silences speak the most vociferously. Both are endearingly articulate. And so I keep tuning in, and listening for, (to cite a cliched song), they do ‘say it best, when they say nothing at all.’
Discover them at http://www.theoralschool.in
I would like to sincerely thank the Principal, staff and students of this school who allowed me a glimpse of themselves as they went about their schedule.