T r e a d Softly... YOU MIGHT TRIP ON TEXT

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Option To Read

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.


drbabu said...

Brilliant blog Shree as always. You look very learned and philosophical as well. Here is a link to someone who can make your talking book.
Regards, Babu

rcmsw said...

nice write-up.all the best shree!!


thanks so much, babu, i knew you would be interested since you're doing so much in this area already.

thanks, kishan, and especially for forwarding it through the club. your enthusiasm, as always, is inspiring. this needs some mileage for raising awareness.

tna said...

hai, sreekumaran, as I am used to call you ever since I knew you. This is really fantastic. Your thoughts are really great. Only people with consideration for the less fortunate can think the way you do. Keep it up and I will definitely try to put something of my own, in the days ahead..........aniruddhettan

Amitabh Mitra said...

A beautiful blog, Shree
You must find a way to get your books to the visually disabled
You are doing a great job
Proud of u


Sabita Radhakrishna's blog site said...

As usual Shree it is a pleasure to read the written word by you. Amazing how you find the time to do all the things you do, reaching out to people in need.

We support your sentiments

Sabita Radhakrishna

robert said...

Meaningful speech, so true, I'd touched on the same in a column a few years ago. When you speak from your heart Shree you're incredibly powerful.
Keep it up!

kerala said...

Yes, Shree. The option to read should become the right to read.

srivatsa said...

The aim of every author is to be "read". To read for one's self would be a pleasure, pastime or professional compulsion, but to read for the benefit of those who cannot is a noble task indeed. I wholeheartedly support you on this.

With warm regards,


BHARGAV said...

Dear Mr.Shri Sreekumar
Bravo!I endorse your view; more so when I wonder what will they try to calling me....with soooo many disabilities...!!They are soo confused...they call me Swamy Bhargav...now!!!
yes...True maturity and humility is in accepting people just as they are and more importantly let thme KNOW that.
Proud of you? No...This IS YOU...so carry on SREE!!

Best Wishes
Bhargav Mehta.

leosbald said...

I totally agree with you. Also, we need to read more sensitive articles like this one, if only to be aware of our own "challanges."

Warm regards,



thanks, anirudhetta. this time, when i'm there, we'll definitely have more time together, without events or formal lunches.

thanks, amitabh. i used to do a bit once upon a time. this event has refocussed my priorities. if SA is anything like this, you have your work cut out too!

thanks, sabita. maybe we could even have a gym 3s meet to explain the concept to members. i'm sure people in various fields, including writers, would show interest.

robert! since we already spoke on the phone, i shall just thank you. anyway, good to see you reading my blog, robert!


raghu--yes. do you know that everything converted into braille or any electronic medium for the blind is patently illegal because that's what the copyright act of 1957 says? 1957, for god's sake!

srivatsa--something i did in college. but the loyola principal told me it isn't necessary to read to the blind any more because there are so many devices available for the blind to read.

bhargav--swami bhargav, save me from my sins and keep me safe among my friends.

rumjhum, actually there's a lot we can do. even if it's to keep the awareness alive. there's a move to alter the antiquated law. it will happen soon, i feel.

varun said...

bull's eye. hypocrisy has permeated into every cell of our being. what's in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet

annie said...

How true and how powerful. I had the same experience with a blind student when I had to teach Milton's 'On His Blindness'

drudhay said...

I had always admired you whenever I had short conversations and started to read your articles which are too high for my standards and now these thoughts of you which are different from routine are thought provoking. we will be glad to here more from you.


varun, the thing is, the more words you use to cloak it, the more you're moving away from the spirit of it.

annie-- we had two blind classmates and a blind lecturer in our literature class. this helped to us to see their world. it has stayed with me.


i know. whenever we met we were both too high for anyone's standards!

as for these present thoughts, we should all try and make a difference together, if we can. and i think we can.

Vinod Varma said...

full marks buddy. a mission with a vision. thats excellent. jai ho


thanks, vinod. and that's a very catchy slogan. but it sounds too tempting not to have been used before. i'll ask them. if they do decide to use it somewhere, you hold the copyright, buddy!

Shuvra said...

Happy Diwali!

It was pleasantly refreshing to hear someone of your stature speak on an issue on which very few "mainstream literary figures" or the media for that matter, devote time and attention to-- keep up the good job. Also, all the best for your upcoming book "Maria's Room"- who is the target audience? Kids or is it a novel?



it's a return to an old concern. we had blind students and teachers in college, and what we did for them was natural & unthinking, definitely not a "service". this is the required attitude--- from one human to another, not from an advantaged to a disadvantaged.
maria's room is for adults. the magic store of nu-cham-vu is for kids. that will be formally released on oct 31 in bangalore. maria will be out in dec. both will soon be accessible to all readers, hopefully.