METRO PLUS

Words are not enough

A new life together: Couples who met their match at the swayamvara  

SOMETIMES WORDS are not enough, or rather they are unnecessary. When Joshua met Rajini, he knew even without exchanging a word with her that he had found his soul mate. For Rajini, it wasn't quite as dramatic, but she did realise within a few hours that she wanted to settle down with Joshua. He in a suit and she in an off-white silk sari looked great on their wedding day.

And hundreds of people congratulated them the minute they exchanged garlands. Some clapped, others thrust their hands above their heads and waved — a normal mode of applauding adopted by the hearing impaired. The marriage hall teemed with people who had come from all over the country to participate in the second Swayamvara for the Deaf, conducted by the Swayamvara Trust. Over 580 people registered, 72 marriages were being negotiated over the three-day event, and 12 marriages were solemnised on Friday.

"Amma, how are you going to talk to the people at the Swayamvara for the Deaf?" asked my daughter, and it struck me how much I had taken my speech and hearing for granted. How would I communicate with these children of a lesser god? How would I `hear' their signs? How would I understand their sense of frustration or hope? Even if I knew the international sign language, how would I communicate with people who had not even been taught the sign language? "At first it was difficult, but in the past two days we have been able to understand each other very well," `said' Rajini in her trained voice.

Oblivious to the loud film music being played, hundreds of people rose above their communication impairment to interact with prospective brides or grooms. A stray visitor to the SBN Hall on Bull Temple Road may be forgiven for thinking that a great, stock-market bidding was in progress, so frantic was the sign language being used. "Can you imagine just how difficult it is for hearing impaired people to find partners?" asks C.N. Vijayraj, the man behind the success of the Swayamvara Trust. "Especially uneducated, untrained, economically weaker people?"

Widowed 15 years ago, young Padma was left to fend for herself and her eight-year old boy, Suresh. "Till he was five, I did not even know that he was deaf. Elders in the family just said that some children begin to talk late. When we did realise that he could not hear, the doctors said it was too late to do anything about it," says the spunky lady who has successfully battled with life. Forced to earn, she started working in a garment factory, taking her son along. Today, 23-year-old Suresh is a tailor himself.

His new bride Jayalakshmi, whom he met at the swayamvara, is a couple of years older, but they obviously understand each other. The SSLC-passed girl works in a leather garments factory and is keen to help Suresh in every way possible.

But the swayamwara does not have a storybook ending for everyone. "On the first day itself so many members decided on their partners," reveals Mr. Vijayraj. "But many of them dropped out after family members brought up issues of caste, looks, and background, even though in each case the boy and girl liked each other. I just had to console a 42-year old man and a 32-year old woman who think they have found the perfect match in each another. But the parents are against the match because of the age difference."

At the entrance to the hall, I met a group of boys having a whale of a time. "We've just come to help my friend get a wife," `said' Sushant, in his trained voice. His punk ear stud shines in the sun as he gesticulates furiously to convey to his friends that he is talking to a reporter. "But we're sad because so many people here have refused to get married on trivial grounds."

I'm amazed at his enthusiasm to speak, because the words come out with difficulty. He even takes the trouble to tell me how he was taught to speak at the R.V. School and the Lingarajapuram Institute for Speech and Hearing. He snatches my hand, places the back of it at his neck and asks me to feel the vibrations of the throat muscles. "This swayamvara is of great help to hearing impaired people," he says.

The genesis of the swayamvara is inspiring. Mr. Vijayraj, who is also the CEO of Match Yours, a matrimonial service, was invited to a school for the hearing impaired. Seeing their plight, he promised them he would offer free matrimonial services to the handicapped — for life. On his website, registration is free for the disabled; it is also free for normal people who choose to marry disabled people.

Membership is subsidised for orphans and those who opt to marry orphans registered with the site. At his own cost, Mr. Vijayraj has enrolled many people in beauty courses and in denture mechanism, enabling some 150 of them to get jobs. So infectious is his zeal, that wife Revathi has taken on the duties of the President at his Swayamvara Trust, while daughter Ananthalakshmi has learnt the sign language to communicate with speech and hearing impaired people. "I want to continue the good work that my father is doing," says the second PUC girl, even as she oversees the proceedings at the swayamvara.

Another busybee is A.K. Umesh, table tennis champion and winner of the 1988 President's Best Employee Award. With experience in conducting cricket matches, kite-flying contests, and cultural festivals for the hearing impaired, he is eager to help people like Mr. Vijayraj. "I'm lucky to have a wife who can hear," says this employee of the Geological Survey of India. He was also lucky to have progressive parents. They took him to the best doctors when, as a three-year old, he lost his hearing following an electric shock from an old radio. His wife, a high-school teacher, volunteers in all the events he organises. Inspired by an article in a magazine, she had decided she would marry a disabled person. When she met Umesh over 12 years ago, her dream came true in a number of ways.

"He didn't teach me the sign language, but has taught our 12-year-old daughter," she says, pride for her husband evident in every look she gives him.

In spite the spirit of bonhomie in the air, several old parents `burdened' with hearing-impaired wards, were disappointed that they could not find a suitable match. But with people like Mr. Vijayraj, and organisations like Swayamvara Trust, there is hope yet for them.

If you want to know more, you may contact Swayamvara Trust by calling 5364680 or at Match Yours (Matrimonial Services), #29, 1st Floor, Old Madras Road, Ulsoor, Bangalore 560008. You may also check out their website at www.matchyours.com.