I was inaugurating the Right to Read Campaign's first Indian "road show" in Loyola College, Chennai, a couple of weeks ago when i realised that what we always take for granted is often a luxury or even impossibility for many others. For example, 70 ml people in India cannot access the printed word. Not because of illiteracy but due to some disability or other--- like blindness, dyslexia, etc. Click on the title of this entry to know more.
When I spoke during the event I said something that's been with me for some time. Calling people mentally challenged or visually challenged-- things like that--- tends to separate them and dump them with insurmountable disadvantage. We are becoming so politically correct in so many things today that we are losing touch with human correctness. I noticed during the event that when the blind spoke, they called themselves "blind" while the sighted called them "visually challenged". I said, in that case we should have sugar-challenged (diabetics), size-challenged, etc. When we realise that we are ALL a blend of advantage and disadvantage, ability and disability, then we can see the vulnerability in others as easily as we see it in ourselves.
I remember, exactly 20 years ago, I was "scribing" for a blind student in MCC, the college where I once studied and was at that time teaching for a year. I was writing the student's exam answers as he dictated. All at once, he stopped and said, "Sir, are you Shreekumar Varma?" Puzzled, I said yes. He told me he'd heard me speak during a programme I'd put together for All India Radio three months earlier, and now he recognised my voice! It was a revelation. The world that we cannot grasp is a bigger world than we think.
20 years later. Here I was at Loyola, kicking off a campaign. Well, I also promised them I'd do everything I could to drive the message home. And I am--- on Facebook, Twitter and "word of mouth".
Soon after that day, I contacted my editor at Harper Collins and brought her and Ms. Nirmita Narasimhan of CIS (centre for internet & society) together. The Copyright Act, unchanged since it was born (two years after me!), still makes it illegal to transform printed works into convenient forms for the disabled. I hope my Maria's Room will be read by many who can't read other books. We are still exploring ways of accomplishing this. The novel will be out in November this year, and will be a source of great satisfaction to me: the cover design is my son's, and everyone would have the option to read it.