My guide, Janaki

Dialogue in the Dark and Taste of Darkness are an experience that will change the way you see the world

Updated - March 20, 2017 04:39 pm IST

Published - March 20, 2017 04:38 pm IST

Chennai, 18/03/2017 : Sudha Krishnan and Krishnan, founders of "Dialogue in the Dark" restaurant in Chennai. Photo : S. R. Raghunathan

Chennai, 18/03/2017 : Sudha Krishnan and Krishnan, founders of "Dialogue in the Dark" restaurant in Chennai. Photo : S. R. Raghunathan

World over, people have called a visit to Dialogue In The Dark a transformative experience. Despite that, I walk in with some cynicism. What could possibly turn you into a believer — in your abilities that have been shoved to a corner over the years, and in the fact that someone could actually look out for you.

In many ways, this was a leap of faith. I used to be myopic, and the world was a daze, before spectacles, contact lenses and a laser beam corrected it. Why would someone who’s always yearned to walk towards the light turn back to a world where you live without it?

To understand the life of someone who “sees” differently. Where imagination is coloured not by vision but by smell, sound and texture. This is what has triggered millions of people to walk into these spaces in nearly 40 countries.

Four others and I are escorted into the dark by my guide. “Hello, welcome. We are Radha and Janaki,” echo two voices. Janaki takes over and asks for introductions. Then on, she’s spot-on in addressing us by name, just by our voices.

So, we walk, a white cane in our left hand tapping the ground ahead, our right hand on the shoulder of the person before us. At first, it’s terra firma, before I sense an uneven surface — pebbles. There are some poles on the wall. Akbar Khwaja from Bengaluru and I sense nodes — bamboo it is. We then get on to an old, wooden bridge that rattles vigorously every time someone walks on it. The maximum squeals can be heard here! And then, we sit.

“Feel the surface you’re sitting on. Is it wood? Metal? Or something else?” asks Janaki. We are on a wooden bench. “Where will you find this?” she asks, as the audio system comes alive with the chirping of birds and gurgle of water. “Is it a park?” everyone asks. Janaki sounds pleased.

As a treat, we are asked to walk up to her voice and touch and identify a painting. My hands feel something that resembles an inverted V. A mountain? “Very close, Ma’am. Shall I give you a tip? Seven wonders,” she whispers. The pyramids of Egypt! We all miss the next image — we feel roundish ears, eyes, and prominent teeth and despite her telling us it belongs to the cat family, the tiger eludes us.

Soon, we are off to play cricket with a ball that’s filled with beads and rattles as it rolls on the ground. I’ve been terrible at cricket; here, I manage to score two sixes, and some more runs, gauging the direction of the ball by its sound.

Through all this, the one question everyone asks Janaki is how she identifies us and knows our every movement. “I’ll tell you sir,” she laughs. Night vision goggles, we suspect, smugly.

By now, there’s a peace that surrounds all of us, within and outside. I don’t know how Mr Gopal looks, but I know his voice sounds affectionate. I know Akbar, and that Tashifa Sultana, who’s behind him, will hold me if I fall.

Suddenly, Janaki appears, and tells us it’s time to return to our regular world. Strangely, the 45 minutes of darkness made me feel more connected than ever before to my every sense. Again, we persist, how can you see us?

Janaki, so confident and reassuring as we floundered in the dark, escorted us from her world to ours. As she stood outside to bid us goodbye, some hugged her, others wept, at this brief introduction to how life is for those who cannot see, but who guide those endowed with all.

New perspective

Dialogue in The Dark began in 1989 when Andreas Heinecke was asked to develop a training module for a journalist who met with an accident and lost his vision. That inspired him to start a space where the lights would be turned off, and where visually-impaired and sighted people would meet. The first such space was set up in Germany.

It came to India in 2011. Two years before that, Krishnan SV missed a flight in Frankfurt and went to a Dialogue in The Dark space to kill time. He returned, a changed man, keen to begin something like this in India. His wife Sudha went through a similar experience in Atlanta. The first space in India was opened in Hyderabad. Now, they are also present in Chennai, Raipur and Bengaluru.

The couple has also started Taste of Darkness, which was launched in Express Avenue, over the weekend. Here, diners eat in darkness, and bank on their sense of taste and texture to appreciate a meal. The guides in the dining area are visually impaired too. They offer a surprise menu every day, and it is a pre-plated meal. Sudha says they attempt to infuse distinct flavours, so that people can enjoy the experience and not merely go through it as something different.

And so, you eat a meal, little knowing about the décor or space. “It is as big or as little as you imagine it to be.”

@Express Avenue

Experience tour: 10 am to 10 pm

Lunch and dinner: 12.30 pm to 9.30 pm

Vegetarian meal: Rs. 299 plus taxes

Non-vegetarian: Rs. 349 plus taxes

Tel: 28464870

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