Sunday, April 29, 2018

Train of thought - Inclusion

Working at NISH feels like I'm in another world. Where people with diverse abilities are respected and cared for. Although there, we often talk about 'mainstreaming' people with disabilities - which is often a conflict in my head. If we want to 'mainstream' them, we want to change them - that means, we are not accepting them as they are. Then, are we respecting them in the truest sense? Such idle and idealistic thoughts shrank in my head when I mothered a girl. Yanked back to the real world with the pain of healing scars, sleepless nights and anxieties riddled around caring for a newborn and dreaming of her safe and happy future. What would I want for her? Acceptance for whatever she is, of course. But I would not risk that as an expectation out of fantastic ideals. I understood what powered the mothers walking every day to NISH with their wards, sitting through the therapy sessions, picking whatever techniques they could and following up diligently at home.

What triggered this blog today? An article in DC, borrowed from the Spectator and its predecessor. Perspectives from societies which are much ahead of us in terms of inclusion and human rights always make interesting reads.
(In India, Kerala leads in human rights. In Kerala, I work at NISH which is higher up on inclusion and human rights. Being from TN and having spent some years in Singapore, this train of thought and comparisons in my head is quite crowded and chaotic).

The older article talks about political correctness and how the author values it, as a father of a child with autism. I could relate to it, being someone who completely hated the 'politically correct to the power of infinity' atmosphere in Sg... being someone from a small-town in central TN with its heat, rawness, loudness, blatancy, from the opposite end of the 'politically correct' spectrum. Someone who hated the plastic smiles and empty civilities. A brief stay at Boston, where I learnt to be alone and tough and also made some lasting friendships with people from different parts of the world- further reinforced the disbelief in 'political correctness'. My younger self's motto was : 'being raw, open and true is the way to greatness'. Or, is it, always? (What did I mean by 'greatness', by the way?) This is like the conflict between being young and loving 'Hobbit'/'LOTR' and getting older, wiser and relating more to 'Game of Thrones'. Get down to the field. Work at the grassroots. Face the complexities of how the world actually works day by day. You will understand what Simon Barnes is talking about.

Today's article by Ross Clark is also relevant to us, living in a chaotic time (and place) of majority-minority interaction. When we fear each other, whither inclusion? Some excerpts : 'focus on rewarding good behaviour, not inducing punishment for bad behaviour' ;
'Our society has undergone a fantastic transformation in attitudes, but it wasn't brought about by hovering lawyers. They might, on the other hand, succeed in partially reversing it'.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

My perception of sign language

Four continuous hours of teaching and I feel more energized at the end than I was at the start of the class. I'm teaching English via Indian Sign Language (ISL) to NISH alumni who are employed in IT companies. A few staff fairly fluent in ISL have volunteered to take turns and coach these students on Saturdays. My turn comes once a month and I usually wait with anticipation for these sessions. 

I remember seeing ISL for the first time in Oct, 2015 at the new staff induction programme at NISH. Babloo, my first ISL teacher was signing with passion, explaining to us what ISL means to the deaf and the problems they face in the society. I was looking at him, wide-eyed (leading to the sign-name that he christened me with) in fascination. My previous exposure to sign language was limited to the interpreter we see in a corner window on the DD news on TV. But this was something different. A native signer in action is a sight to behold. The words are dancing in the air and how each sign captures the meaning of the word is enchanting, to say the least. 

Something else that I appreciate is how the native signers use differentiated communication strategies. When Arun or Babloo sign to me, they use very basic syntax, vocabulary and grammar. These are my teachers and they know my limitations in ISL and they sign slower and simpler to me. When they are signing to each other, it is a different scenario. The signs are flying to and fro rapidly and I'm totally lost when trying to decipher the conversation. This happens with the students who are native signers too. Their signing is plainer and much less exciting when they are communicating with the non-native signers than when they are signing among themselves. I pause to reflect that if only the hearing world was equally empathetic to their limitations in learning an oral language, things would be much better. 

I started learning ISL two years back, while doing some weekly volunteer-teaching sessions for the fresh students at NISH. They learned English from me while I learned ISL from them. I could almost see the chain of instinctive communication that linked us. I would convey a concept to them through broken ISL or with some basic English words in writing and ask them to translate it into perfect ISL for me. The joy of seeing that my explanation has reached them and they could translate it correctly is beyond measure. They are not like regular students when it comes to learning an oral language like English. They rely heavily on visual learning and I have the time of my life figuring out the best way to reach them. Thanks to my technical background, I end up using a lot of graphs to teach language (Yes! :D ). They relate to it instantly and then the session just speeds up and we are reluctant to end it. Along the way, I also try using some technology aids for teaching and they love it. 

I feel liberated when I'm signing. I feel completely at home with my deaf friends. I have often mused upon why I feel this way. Facial expressions and body language are an integral part of sign language grammar. If you signed with a rigid posture (like the interpreter I used to see as a kid on DD news), that is incorrect ISL. Your body has to exude what you want to say. On on hand, this is an art form like dancing. On the other hand, it is hard to pretend when you are communicating in ISL. You can't feel sad and sign that you are happy. It is very difficult to do that. Signing is like laying your heart bare out. It is addictive. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Baby-talk and mom-brag

The second most wonderful thing about having a baby is to see her learn a language. The first is to blow bubbles on her tummy and see her giggle helplessly :D.

Nila's first syllables were 'pa' and 'ba', when she was around four months old. She would look at me and say 'ba'. After four months, there were some occasional 'Amba's. She would say 'akka' , 'athai', 'chithi', 'ayappa' - any word without 'ma' in it. It was an impatient wait for me to hear her say 'Amma' properly - she did that only when she was nearing her first birthday.

She is now a year-and-a-half old and trying to make sentences. Every new sentence combination that she makes is a surprise to me. How did her brain come up with that? When did she hear us say that? She loves talking and expressing herself. Here are a few examples.

1. She creates situations so that she can use the words she knows :D.

Nila takes a toy elephant. She looks at me and says, "Idhu enna ?" (What is this?), hinting that I should be asking her that question. I comply and ask, 'Idhu enna ?". She instantly replies, "Kutti yaana" (Baby elephant). She puts it under the table, looks at me and prompts, "Enge pochu ?" (Where did it go?). I comply again and repeat it. She bends to point at the toy and say, "Adeela irukku" (It's under the table). She would take it back and say, 'Indha irukku' (Here it is).
The above conversation would go on a loop (literally, again and again!) until she gets distracted by something else.

2. When she tries words for the first time - words that she learns by incidentally listening to us talk in the house.

Praveen is pretending not to notice her when she is jumping dangerously on pillows. She does that just to grab attention and see him react worriedly.
"Appa, pesu" (Dad, talk)
"Appa, vilayadu" (Dad, play)
She was using these verbs for the first time and we were so delighted.

3. Her train of thought. As a mom, I'm always trying to get into her head and guess what she is thinking.

She has the habit of asking "Amma enga?" (Where is mom?) whenever she is upset, even when I'm holding her. I guess it is because she misses me when I'm gone for work and associates that sentence with that feeling every time. She also asks, "Appa/ayyamma/ayyappa/maammai enga?" (Where is dad/grandma/ grandpa?), depending on who she was with, minutes ago, in the next room. She would know that the person is in the next room and still ask the question, on a loop, until she sees the person she is asking for.

This is our conversation yesterday. I was getting tired of her 'enga' questions and tried something different. Seldom do our conversations get so long and meaningful like this one.

Nila : "Ayyappa enga?" (Where is grandpa?)
Me : "Theriyadhu" ( I don't know).
Nila : "Ayyamma enga?" (Where is grandma?)
Me : "Neeya poi thedu" (You go and search for them by yourself).

At this point, I was waiting to see her reaction. I know that she understands the words 'thedu' (search) and 'neeya' (by yourself). I was using these in a new context.

Nila looks at me and says falteringly, "Amma thedu" (Amma, you search).

I laugh hard and repeat, "Neeya thedu. Amma thedamatten" (You search by yourself. Mom won't search).

All this is made even more hilarious by the fact that she knows that her grandparents are in a room a few feet away.

Nila goes halfway towards the room, turns back to me and says, "Paakka mudiyala" (I can't see them).

:D :D Really? Did she just say that?

I say, "Innum thedu" (Search more).

She takes a few more steps towards the room. A step more and she would be in view of her grandparents.  But the girl stops there, turns towards me and says, "Amma, kaanom" (Mom, they are missing).

I had to run, scoop her up in delight and share the 'conversation milestone' with everyone in the house.

May be you are now rolling your eyes and saying to yourself, "Moms!". I can slightly understand why my mom loves bragging about me and my sister (to our embarrassment) to cornered relatives.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Why blog?

Why blog?

I remember asking myself the same question and answering it, 8 years back. My first blog post.

My last blog post was from five years ago. I find a few incomplete, unpublished drafts in the cache. But even that stopped three years ago. Right now, my blog feels like a dilapidated, haunted house from the past. I did write some lengthy posts on facebook - may be I should compile them all here to spruce this place up.

Why did I stop blogging? Somewhere along the way, I lost the interest to express myself. I felt I had to do a lot of introspection in quiet. I felt I was falling into the trap of 'All talk and no do'. I wanted to reach some goals and then return to my blog.

Did I reach anything? May be a few. But I regret having paused blogging. Nothing is worth sacrificing the joy of expression for.

Five years older and a little bundle of joy in hand. Seeing the world through her eyes is just what I needed. I'm older but I feel younger - what a paradox!

I love my job at NISH. It is a pleasure to wake up everyday in the morning and plan the day's tasks. I meet amazing people and learn something new everyday. Working in Assistive Technology (AT) has inculcated in me a deep sense of respect for technology. I'm no longer worried about gadgets taking over people's lives. I'm more anxious to train people to control their gadgets and have a better quality of life. I think that's a big change in perspective. I have a lot of things to share here. For now, I'm doing quite a bit of writing at the Fab academy webpage. May be that's also a reason why I'm back here. The writer's block is gone, thanks to the compulsory weekly documentation.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Gadget sensibility

A short trip in the Singapore MRT can leave one wondering at how much the 'new gen' depends on gadgets. Most of them are used for listening to songs or watching videos or playing games. There is rarely anyone in conversation with the person sitting next to them. On one hand, it seems very dull and monotonous to me. I quickly jump to what I know best - I think of a similar situation in India and conclude that life in India is filled with much more energy and emotions than in Singapore. Of late, I have been training myself to get rid of the bias and think more objectively. In Chennai, the train atmosphere would be clamorous (mostly the engine noise and the rest from jostling, gossiping and griping) and interesting (to observe the antics of beggars and peddlars).  Hardly anything to be proud of.

Coming back to gadgets - when I prefer loneliness to company, I depend on my Ipod. We now have a stable relationship that can almost always rescue me from any 'soup' mood. Here are some albums and playlists and what they mean to me...

Ilayaraja playlist - It has been growing ever since I created it a couple of years ago. It started out with just 10 songs and now it has 155. I belong more to the ARR gen than to IR's. My appreciation of IR's genius can only stem from the musical sensibility that I've developed over years listening to the likes of ARR, Vidhyasagar and YSR. When I listen to Ilaiyaraja's oldies, I have to put up with a below-average sound-recording quality from the ages. But of course,  it's more than a fair tradeoff for the lovely Tamil lyrics ringing with such clarity in my ears in the purest of tunes - not much ado about them. This playlist is a perfect platter of simple and yet delectable songs. Just what the mind needs when the nerves are wrecked and when digital hullabaloo would be the last thing I would want to hear.

Jogging playlist - all the favourite upbeat songs that can make the legs move faster.

Mariyaan - I was hooked on to this album during my Europe trip. It sounded more divine as it linked me to home from that other world. When I listen to it now, it takes me to Barcelona and my beloved friends there.

ARR's Coke studio Magic : 'Zariyaa' and 'Naan yen pirandhen' - These were on loop when I was resting in the tent or awing at the view from 2700m on Rinjani. ARR weaving together talents from different parts of the world, making new sounds with exotic instruments. I felt on top of the world. When I listen to the 2 songs now, I can almost relive those moments.

Why am I rambling pointlessly now? Well, going back to gadgets - if this is the kind of relationship people develop with whatever gadget they are addicted to, I don't blame them. However, I can work on the most serious experiment/analysis or even reading and writing with the Ipod gently playing in my ears.  It more often pushes me to work than not. The same does not hold true for other gadgets. Addictions to games and videos suck ones time, weaken relationships and are ultimately depressing.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Peehechdee: Acknowledgements

On behalf of many like-minded grad students….

1. Coffee
            For all those times (more often than not) when the feet feel leaden and there isn’t one iota of motivation (not even last-minute panic!) to do an experiment or analyze a data – coffee is the only way to trick the body into motion and the brain cells into thinking. O Magical Concoction, we bow low to thee!

2. Ipod
            To shut out all distractions and concentrate on the most boring experiment/analysis that needs to be repeated for the umpteenth time; to blow all negative thoughts of impending failure out of the tired mind ; to get high on favorite lyrics and music ringing in the head - we need ipod blaring into the ears. Even if it irritates fellow labmates trying to get in a word. Ipod, our love.

3. Youtube
            You help us regain our sanity every time. Often overtaking Pubmed in ‘Most visited website’.  (Special thanks to TR and the ‘Annoying orange’).

4. Facebook
            For being the best way to escape reality. When all that remains to cheer about is attention from fb contacts. To browse the timeline and make misplaced judgements on anybody and everybody.

5. Adobe PDF reader
            For all the pirated versions of gripping novels, which are easy on the pocket; save paper and space; make falling asleep much easier and can be nice lunch/travel buddies.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Growing up with Grandparents

My ayamma and ayappa...

Took a giant,brave leap for all the future generations in our family when they moved from Perapatti(a village near Sattur) to Madurai to set up a business that has prospered - with it, the owners as well as the scores of employees.

Took a big share of my parents from me - but gave me back much more than that.

were another pair of parents - but sans all the expectations and with much more blind love to drench me with. I believe that they will still take care of me now even when they are in another realm so far away - perhaps with supernatural powers. ( Is this how faith is born?)

brought to our home scores of relatives as well as a lot of history and values that would have otherwise drifted away from the family.

lived the full circle of life. Can't thank my mom enough for taking good care of them, at the cost of her own desires and freedom - I have had the luxury of feeling carefree like a kid - till 26 years of age, near my ayamma.

I love them. I feel too small - I can only look up to my grandparents with gratitude for being with us for so long and with admiration for all that they did and have left behind.