Vijaya Baskaran's talent as a professional interpreter for the hearing impaired has inadvertently made her an advocate for the rights of persons with hearing impairment. In a chat with R. Sujatha, she recalls several facets of her interesting sojourn into a world dominated by silence.

Vijaya Baskaran has been using a form of sign language for the last 45 years. Now a trainer at Ability Foundation, she says it was the need to communicate with her two brothers and a sister who were born with profound hearing loss. “It is a matter of communication. There was no other way I could talk to them,” she recalls her childhood days.

When she was ten, she was invited to interpret at a school programme.

“There is little difference between the various languages. Sign language has no grammar. It only deals with feelings and emotions,” she explains. While lip reading requires undivided attention, sign language allows the hearing impaired persons to use their imagination, she says.

She trains hearing impaired candidates recruited by companies. The candidates were educated in special schools. “They tell me that they learnt English on their own by reading and not by understanding what was taught in the school,” she says. “Sign language helps them understand concepts better. I interpret prayer songs also during meetings,” she says.

Ms.Baskaran has conducted a training programme for police personnel at the Tamil Nadu Police Academy. There should be such programmes for doctors and lawyers also, she says. For the last 20 years, she has been an interpreter for hearing impaired women in family court proceedings.

As an interpreter, she has had to face the ire of persons she represents. A group of hearing impaired persons was upset when she could not ensure their passage by train from Kolkata to Chennai.

“They wrote out their appeal on a piece of paper and immediately the officials arranged for their journey. They asked me why I could not convey their request. Their assertiveness achieved what I could not with my skill,” she says, advocating for interpreters in public functions. The government should have interpreters in public functions addressed by the Prime Minister or Chief Minister.

“In schools, we must have some classes in basic sign language. It could be taught as a playtime activity. Children enjoy games such as dumb charades, and sign language could be one of them,” says Ms.Baskaran.

Her skill brought acclaim to film actor Jyothika in the film Mozhi. She also tutored Hindi film actor Kareena Kapoor for seven days for the film Chup Chupke.

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