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For those who refuse to see...

How rightly it has been said that there are none so blind as those who refuse to see. Blessed with healthy bodies possessed of five senses, the majority of us go through life completely handicapped in the matter of feeling for and understanding the needs of the differently abled. On the eve of the International Day of Disabled Persons, RANA A. SIDDIQUI speaks to George Abraham and Divya Arora, two remarkably gifted individuals who have a lot to teach us... .

GEORGE ABRAHAM may have the best of professional and personal status now, but for this 31 year-old visually impaired founder of Association for Cricket for the Blind - ACBI - life had just not been like this a few years ago.

This graduate from St. Stephen's College, who hails from a financially strong background, would always mind comparison with "normal siblings". In 1981, hence, he took a train from Cochi, his hometown, to Delhi and ran for at least nine months from pillar to post to make people believe that he was an able worker. "From Lajpat Nagar to Karol Bagh to Rani Jhansi Marg, I would walk, asking many companies for a job. I would always believe that if not eyes, I could make a good use of my communication skills for better performance," says this `Sanskriti - Leaders For You' award winner of 1993 that has the likes of Rajdeep Sardesai and Ajit Ninan in its list. Finally, Abraham landed in ASP, the famous advertising company. Since then he has never looked back.

All was going well for Abraham before he went to a blind school in Delhi in 1989 where he realised that the quality of education and atmosphere imparted to the blind were woefully inadequate. He saw the same situation elsewhere in India too. "I had the best of opportunities in education as my parents were very liberal but it does not happen to all visually impaired children in our country." The feeling led him to shun advertising as a full time career in 1989 and made him work for his other counterparts in the country. This ardent fan of Denis Lilley who wanted to be a fast bowler, thought of transforming his passion into others.

"I had seen blind children playing cricket in Dehra Dun. I decided to make it a national affair." Hence, India saw the first National Level Cricket of the Blind as the Tata Steel Challenge Cup. By 1994, the country was divided into zones and they played many state, zonal and national tournaments. The same year, they played the first World Cup at Delhi, where they lost in the semi finals.

In 1996, he formed the Blind Cricket Council and the same year, ACBI. Now they will be playing the second World Cup Cricket for the Blind at Chennai that starts on December 3.

`The need of the hour is to recognise disability sport as sport and not as an entertainment game. The Government also needs to have a policy change on the subject," says Abraham. And society too needs to have an attitude change. "Many parents of the visually impaired miss the boat by worrying what their child cannot do instead of seeing what he can do." Hence, in order to motivate wilted spirits, Abraham regularly conducted workshops for the blind all over the country where he treats them psychologically, on personality development and tells them about opportunities for them, a task that would soon take the shape of an Inofrmation Centre that he would come up with. The Centre will treat eye disorders apart from motivating visually impaired through motivating stories in various media and personality development programmes at a "subsidised rate so that it is taken seriously."

Dream, desire, discipline, dedication and determination are the five D's that Abraham tips all wilted spirits to follow in order to succeed. And that is what made him hold the World Cup that many asked him to call off for lack of sponsorship.

"If you walk in faith, God walks with you," says Abraham with a smile, triumphant.

THIS WAS happening for the first time in Delhi. A young girl was making news for two reasons. She had translated an 18th Century award-winning French play, "Le jeu de L'amour et du hazard" - the first in the world to do so - and staged it at India Habitat Centre in late September as part of The Old World Theatre Festival 2002 for the first time before an Asian audience. She played the protagonist in the play. Second, she was a victim of cerebral palsy, confined to a wheelchair. As many would know, cerebral palsy leaves the victim almost totally disabled, be it in brains, limbs or speech. But she could act, speak and move - all by will power.

"Romance by Chance!" as this girl Divya Arora, 26, named the play, based on a case of mistaken identity in love with a social angle on disability, proved to be a resounding success. After the play, Divya was given a standing ovation for five minutes in the hall. It had brought tears to many eyes and pride to many hearts. Divya had crossed one more hurdle in waging her battle, all alone.

A resident of Delhi, Divya is not just a playwright and director, she is a painter, who paints on fabric, oil, and glass, makes cards and posters and writes poetry. A graduate from Lady Shriram College in Sociology, she did a five-year course in French from Alliance Francaise, New Delhi. She is teaching here as a faculty member too. Now, she is all set to enter the world of modelling.

"Why not? I don't like the term disabled. It should be differently abled. I want to prove to the world that my disability is in no way a hindrance in my passion towards performing arts and want to open doors for others who hesitate to take the initiative."

To pursue her goal, she finds theatre "the most powerful medium" of which she is a part since the age of six. Her maiden play "Ability in Disability" as a part of an awareness raising programme performed in 25 schools, colleges and public places in August 2000 proved to be an eye-opener, followed by "Attitudes" in two parts, "Riders in the Sea" by Singe, and a commercial play "Sister Act". All her plays are based on problems hinting at disabled and sensitising people towards them.

That's not all. She is an active social worker too, attached to many organisations like CRY, DRG (Disabled Rights Group), Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People and others.

Yet for her, life has many bitter memories of problems faced in either getting a job in the hospitality industry, where she would like to go, or otherwise.

"A famed theatre person called me up after my performance in "Romance by Chance" and scolded me. She said people felt bad watching me in the wheelchair and that I should adhere to the stage decorum of not spreading unpleasantness on stage," recalls Divya asking, "which rule of the world says that the disabled have no rights to perform?" She was also rejected by an organisation in the hospitality industry for her "blurred speech."

But Divya has others to support her - the Goa Marriot Resort India being one of them that introduced the concept of Dinner Theatre with her performance in October this year. "I will go to my second home Goa next year for "Ahead - Spirit to Serve" awareness campaign next year. Here people are approachable, sensitive and treat differently abled persons as second to none. The state should be highlighted as role model in India for being the most egalitarian in terms of disability sector," she says.

Divya now heads a theatre company and an NGO, Association for Humans, Environemt and Developmemt - AHEAD - and is not unconscious of her future. "I know why people come to me and I accept it as long as it can sensitise them towards differently able persons. I want to prove that given a chance, we can do better than many able beings."

She has a point.

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