Rainstick, pine-cone, and reflections in Braille.

I don’t quit. Chahe kuch bhi ho jaye. (No matter what happens). If you ask me my strongest quality, well I think it is that I have done everything by myself. I am independent. I live independently. But I owe it all to my father. He has always supported me.

The biggest thing in my life has been support. I’ve always got the support I need from my family. I’ve seen friends, who don’t have support. I feel bad for them. But one friend of mine was able to gain support at work, though in the beginning nobody used to support him. He won everybody over with his hard work and his honesty.

The most important thing about me? Main kuch galat hote hue nahin dekh sakta. (I can’t tolerate wrong doing and injustice). Especially towards someone who has less money. Har cheez paise se nahin tola jata hai. (Everything is not about money.)

 

A value in experience sharing.

A value in experience sharing.

 

July has been a busy month for life stories at EKansh. We had our second group workshop at the beginning of the month, continuing the understanding and orientation to Life Stories with Vicky, Bhagwan, Tejas, Nutan and Shubham. Each person in this group of five college students is visually challenged. You can read up on the first workshop here. Then there were one-to-one sessions, with Tejas, Vicky and Nutan.

 

Groups are great when people are familiar with each other and getting introduced to a new concept. But the core of Life Story work is personal, autobiographical processes, and these work out best one-to-one.

For the group workshop this month, I took a rainstick in with me, along with some pine-cones I’d collected from Uttarakhand earlier this year. Everybody got a chance to wave that rainstick about and listen to the sounds. Everybody got a chance to sit with a pinecone and feel the strangeness of it. (Personally, I think pinecones are strange. Beautiful, but strange.) Everybody means Anita too. Just for a short bit, on hearing the sound of the rainstick, she ran in, couldn’t resist it, and waved the rainstick about! She’s the Founder and Managing Trustee of Ekansh Trust.

She was sure it was the sound of rain.
Shubham agreed, it was the sound of rain.
Bhagwan wasn’t sure, and Tejas and Nutan once they heard the word rain, said yes, perhaps that was the sound the stick made.
Vicky disagreed. He said that he had heard that sound before. It was the sound of falling gravel and stones!

Vicky’s story, one that he is happy to share, was about himself as a child, about 5 years old. The sound of the rain stick was perceived by him as the sound of gravel being dumped from a truck. He had heard this sound when the road outside his house was being built years ago. He was frightened by it, but still went out to understand what it was. Family members told him what it was then asked him to go back inside. Instead, he ran out and grabbed the stones and gravel in his hands to feel them. He flung one that hit and broke something in the front of his house. He says that he is the kind of person who has to figure things out for himself. Even if he is afraid, he will still run towards the scary thing, to see what it is, whatever it may be.

I enjoy listening to stories like these. To me, this is a large part of what this work is about. Also, the reality of a rainstick is that there are gravel and stones inside to make the sound of rain. Vicky is right.

The pinecone proved to be a bigger puzzle. In fact, Shubham and Bhagwan, thought it was a puzzle. Nutan thought it was a pineapple type thing. Tejas said it may be a diya (tiny clay oil lamp). Vicky wondered if it was a house for ants to live in. They listened closely to my explanation of it as a thing that grows on trees in the hills. They were particular about learning the word ‘pine-cone’ and commit it to memory. They asked me if I’d been to the mountains and seen the pine cones on the pine trees. I said yes. I told them I love mountains and a part of my life story is that I would rather live there than in the city. I described my preference for peace and quiet as against the sounds of honking and traffic outside the EKansh office. This made them laugh. Then Vicky said that there must be a story behind why peace and quiet means so much to me. I said he was right, that there is always a story or two, behind the things we remember and the things we like or dislike.  Speaking of hills and mountains led to Shubham telling us he’s experienced the hills too. He’s been trekking. As I listened to him telling us about the time he’d gone with a group of other youngsters trekking to some hills near Pune, I found myself fascinated by his account. I see. He experiences.

 

Reflections on a rainstick, in Braille.

Reflections on a rainstick, in Braille.

Later during the workshop, I requested each one to make notes for themselves. They recorded key words, thoughts and reflections, in Braille. I wanted to collect and store those sheets with the pin pricks painstakingly made in them, when Nutan told me something I didn’t know, and would never have thought of if she hadn’t told me. She said that the paper they used for this is easily corruptible. The dots they have made will lose shape, and become un-feel-able, undistinguishable.

 

She said she’d read them out to me soon, at another session so I could write notes for myself.

The one-to-one sessions reveal personal stories. These are not all for sharing. But all three who spoke to me at these individual sessions, are happy to share small bits of what was said, because, as Vicky put it, if these stories can help make things better for somebody else, then it is worth it to talk about this. Among other things, we discussed the pros and cons of experience sharing. One of the three asked me what the big deal about experience sharing was; how does it make a difference hearing someone else’s experience or telling someone else about our own? How does it matter? I gave my perspective, of the importance of stories, of learning not just through our own experiences, but the experiences of others.

Support is a big theme in the stories of these young people. They have all experienced having it, and not having it. One of the stories speaks of lack of care, insensitivity and harassment of children with special needs, by their carers. The strength of these stories lies in the description of how a group of young children witnessing these things, also with special needs, stood up and spoke up to defend the others. They had to face consequences. They heard abuse, they were told that they were worthless, that nobody would consider them of any value in the big world outside. ‘Yahaan se bahaar jao, toh kutte bhi nahin poochhenge’. (Once you leave here, even a dog won’t care about you.) There was just one person, a teacher, who cared and showed some kindness, trying to make up for the absence of these things in the lives of these children. Having heard the abuse, experienced harassment, and attack on self-esteem and self-confidence, this young person telling me this story fought back in the only way possible at the time. Studying night and day and achieving incredibly high exam scores, well into the 80s. Believe in yourself, no matter what. Could do it as a child, can do it as a grown up. Don’t let them get to you.

Another theme is persistence and determination despite seemingly insurmountable challenges. What happens when you are diagnosed with a chronic and debilitating illness just before your Board exams? When you are in and out of hospital, weak and disoriented, and everybody around you is telling you to give up the idea of sitting for those exams? What happens is this – you stay in the game, you fight your illness and you take that exam. You get a score to be proud of, right there in the 70s!

School and education have provided a strong anchor to work with, a goal for self confidence and achievement. But there are other stories too.

Stories of learning to be independent and live independently, away from family. Of aiming for financial independence. Of learning to prioritise between things you want to do – such as pursue classical music, or a career as a radio jockey or a program anchor – and between things you need to do, such as learn how to be a banker, sit for your banking exams, get a job, earn a living. Then pay for your music lessons and pursue the dream alongside. There is so much to do, there are so many dreams.

 

Questions of identity.

Questions of identity.

Too often when working with a young person who is dealing with an impairment or a challenge to ability, we tend to focus on just that aspect of their lives, either from the education and skilling angle, or therapy, or counseling.  This is an excellent approach to deal with those sets of priorities. It achieves certain purposes. However, when you focus on the self, on the story of me, you work at a different level, with the heart and soul, the experience, of a human being.

 

 

You take a couple of steps beyond impairment and ability. You meet the person.

Shikha Aleya

(With thanks to Anita of EKansh, who supports this work, calls me up to give me straight, no-nonsense feedback and suggestions, and joins rainstick  and pine-cone activities with enthusiasm. Thanks also to Aparna at EKansh, witness, observer and occasional commentator at these workshops, her presence gives me great confidence. She takes cool pics of proceedings and mails them to me to use in these blog bytes. Gratitude to this group of five, for taking time out of very busy life schedules, to share these stories.)

The first workshop at EKansh

Key Principles of Life Story work

Why do Life Story work?

Who can facilitate the Life Story process?

Preliminary work with Life Stories at SRCF

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