Disability and the city Part I
I broke my leg three weeks ago. I cannot walk till end September. But I hope to get around the city a little bit during that time and I hope to record that experience. This I hope will be a multi-part series and here is the context:
I will be getting around either in a wheel chair or with my walker where I will be hobbling on one leg. Otherwise, my appearance right now is a bit ragged as my hair isn’t getting combed every day, primarily because I am lazy but I look like I am from a relatively well off family. And I look fair enough to be a Brahmin (a dark one) but can’t tell for sure immediately. Oh, and I am a woman. Visibly so.
I am in Chennai. A vastly spread metropolitan city. A city I spent my childhood in. Like any other city, Chennai has many cities within it. I will not be traversing through much of the city. It’s not like I find myself in north madras (not so elite) even when both my legs are functional! But won’t definitely be venturing to crowded parts of the city right now. This then means, the spaces I am writing about then are primarily elite, malls, fancy restaurants, book shops and the like; or just simply spacious like the beach!
Please read all following pieces in this series with this description in mind.
‘Hating luv storys’ in a wheel chair while mall-ing
When ‘City Centre’ first came up in Chennai, there was a buzz in the city. It was to be one of the biggest malls in the city. The building itself is rather intimidating. It has humongous pillars that are so broad that 3-5 people would be needed to hug them. It has one of the largest book stores in the city- landmark, large clothing shops and so on. At the top of the mall, like all good malls, is a multiplex. It’s an Inox. (Just as an aside, even an Inox in Chennai is cheaper than any Delhi multiplex and still has the front row ten rupee ticket. phew!) Either way, after rigorous research by my near and dear, we find out that Inox (and later I found out, the mall itself) provides wheel chairs. We arrived at the first level in the multi level parking lot. I hobble over a few steps to the lift. I stand and in a few minutes we reach the third floor. A man with the bright red City Centre or Inox uniform with the ID card hanging around his neck (the mark of many in an IT city like Chennai) comes over with the wheel chair. The promptness was almost shocking. My kith and kin here are not known for their promptness or punctuality. So the wheel chair: no pads to put the foot on and the wheels are rickety, seat visibly uncomfortable. In short, am not too excited about trusting my bottom and the rest of me with this chair. Either way, we proceed. I need to go to the loo. We head over to the disabled people loo and are told in a very kind and almost guilty voice that the loo remains locked till someone comes and asks for it. Thank god it wasn’t too urgent for me! The absurdity of this only disappears from my head when I enter the loo and realize it matches top notch standards of disable-friendliness, or at least from where I am sitting, it seemed to be. As I roll out, we see S.Ve. Sekar sitting in the lobby. For those uninitiated, he is a famous comedian in Tamil TV and cinema. He grins at me broadly. Not at my friends who are with me but just me! I wonder, why me?? This is the thing with temporary disability; you have the luxury to sometimes forget that you’re in a wheel chair. So, anyway, we wheel past the semi-celebrity’s warm smile to the ‘poor young(ish) girl in a wheelchair’. I am taken into the movie through the service door! Yes, right after the mops and pans that clean the hall and the people carrying them. Was a good opportunity to get a peek into the ‘behind the scenes’ at multiplexes! There is the ramp. By which time, I am totally impressed. My friend tries to wheel me up the ramp. One push and she realizes it’s too steep. She can’t push any more. I don’t even scream. Images of possible repeat injury flutter by. I close my eyes and time comes to a standstill. Another friend jumps over and they push me up. Phew!
I watch a rather mediocre bollywood flick (I hate luv storys) with my leg up on another chair the whole time. I am wishing I still had my cast on because people are walking by so close to my ‘foot chair’ and I am convinced one or many of them are going to knock it, because on the outside, my leg seems fine. I was quite amazed by the fact that there weren’t many who noticed that there was someone at the theatre with her leg up on another chair. One would think that is a strange sight. But on the other hand, they would have assumed I am a ‘ten rupee ticket type’ as we were sitting in the front row. Of course we booked the expensive tickets the day before but sat in the front row for convenience. But that’s irrelevant. So yeah, ‘the ten rupee types’ and the strange things they are expected to do might explain the lack of surprise or disapproval or any reaction whatsoever to my ‘foot chair-ness’. Movie done. I hobble down the ramp not wanting to risk my life and limb on the wheel chair, then wheel out to the lift and off we went.
There were so many conflicting things to consider. In Chennai, a city of cinema lovers to the extent of obsession, where apart from the stray progressive type any average person in this city/state takes popular cinema very seriously. Watching movies is part of our lifestyle. Of course all this was for the two-legged Chennai-ites. If you didn’t have two functional legs, temporarily or worse, permanently, then cough up the cash, because Inox is the place to be.
While being impressed by the facilities they could provide, it also reminds one of how low our standards are. Here I am instinctively celebrating the locked bathroom, the unwieldy ramp and a hazardous wheel chair- just because it’s a miracle that they exist at all. And the most fascinating part was, intentionally or not, I was taken in through a ‘special’ door. Thus other customers, if they didn’t look specifically wouldn’t see me or the wheel chair.
Audience reaction to my little wheel chair show ( because it is a show whether I want it to be or not) ranged from the kind smile (S.Ve. Sekar being case in point), to genuine ‘oh you poor thing’ sad face, to the ‘why do you want to watch a movie in this state? ‘. The last one was by far the most troublesome to me. If I were not to walk in September, I would soon have to master a not murderous and reasonable response to that reaction on a daily basis. For now, I still have the luxury to keep that in the theoretical realm.
There is more to come. Look out for ‘flying first class’ and ‘a hobble on the beach’ and many more!
Further reference: http://www.disabilityindia.org/pwdacts.cfm