In our beautiful world, every single person has a different, a unique identity, a unique quality of his or her own. But one thing which connects everyone, is communication. Communication is not just dependent on the words one speaks, but also on the way one expresses herself. The thoughts in her mind, and her views, are her truth.
Even without seeing, we can often identify a person by the truth of their ideas.
Out of these many voices in the world, there is one voice struggling to be heard, to express her tale of life. That’s the voice of Rapunzel, who can hear, and express herself, but does anyone want to listen?
In Mumbai, which is the hub of media industry in India, there lived a family of a small boy and his parents. After many years, a baby girl was born. She was very pretty. Her mother used to dress her up like a princess and they named her Rapunzel, after the princess from the fairy tale of the same name.
After three years, the family found out that the baby girl was blind. This changed their lives forever.
The princess, who was her family’s pride and joy, dear friends, is me, Rapunzel. The reality that I was blind shocked them for a while, but then they went on to give me everything so that I could have a normal life. My bonding with my charismatic mom, fun-loving father and technology geek of a brother, was rock solid. Till college they were my only friends.
My family felt that I had a really beautiful, soothing voice. I wished to become a radio jockey and a voice-over artist. Voicing was my passion, my dream, my love, my life.
I was always a bubbly girl, who could laugh even in a bad situation. I loved to joke around with my friends. But by nature, I was a less confident person. Then, someone came along who helped me understand that I didn’t need to be less confident, because I was good! I was the best! Here’s how it happened.
I was in the graduate year of my degree in Psychology. It was the month of December. My best friend, Ananya and I discussed our upcoming college annual fest. Ananya is a girl with a mature voice, who, like me, loves to eat. We are not just like-minded but also like-hearted. Even after we graduated we have continued to spend our birthdays together.
Now Ananya urged me to perform something, may be an act, or may be a gig, which could showcase my talent. I was not confident. I felt nervous in front of an audience. But she made me see that this was our last year of college and hence, our last chance to participate in the college youth fest. Why not try, when you want to make your career in the field of voicing? So I decided to give it a shot.
The day I had to perform came. I wore a yellow dress and long earrings and though everyone said I looked pretty and they were sure I would perform well, I was full of doubts. But when I stepped onto the stage and Ananya had handed me the mike, my doubts disappeared and I made the audience laugh and made them happy. Or so I thought, until a boy came to me and said…
‘I hear you want to become an RJ’? I said ‘Yes, Why’? He said, ‘I thought RJ’s Do not by heart their speeches! They are more spontaneous!’ I was dumbstruck and embarassed that he had figured out I had memorized my script, and not improvised it. ”How did you guess?” I asked him. ”I just did,” he said. And so began my relationship with David…
David had a personality that immediately commanded attention – atleast my attention! He was friendly, with a heavy base voice, a person who laughed easily. He never worried about the future, though he was a realistic person. I really admired his confidence and the conviction with which he used to put his point of view forward.
He really loved the way I talk, the way I had my own perspective about life and the meaning I saw in things. After that college function, David and I became the best of friends.
Exactly one year later, in January 2015, on the day when Mumbai geared up for the 11th edition of it’s biggest marathon, I decided to let him know about my feelings for him. I loved and valued him for being a very good friend, who was there whenever I needed any help, and who had understood my blindness most of all. He advised me in my best interest just as my family did. But would he accept me as his life partner? Or would he want to be with someone with no disability?
That aside, I had just started working on my career, taking steps towards becoming financially independent. Speaking of independence, I was not even independent in terms of travelling in the city by myself. Would he always be there with me? Would I be able to support him in his endeavors? Would he accept me with not just the disability, but also with the struggles that this blindness poses? I knew that gradually I would become more independent, but would he and his family be patient until then?
I didn’t want to lose a good friend, by trying to change the status of our relationship.
Finally on the 16th of January, after running the marathon, with great nervousness I telephoned David. I chatted about the usual things and cut the call. But then I gathered myself, and said, ‘David, do we like each other’? There was silence from his end. His door bell rang, so he had to cut the call. After a few hours I received a very practical message from him, ‘Rapunzel, quite frankly I knew what was coming. If we start dating, I might lose a friend. Or it will be the beginning of a new era for both of us. But let’s take this forward only if our families are ready for it’.
He neither said that he liked me, nor did he say that he didn’t, but he showed me a tentative path. It was only after the first fight we had, in the next month, that David let his guard down, and said the magic words that everyone wishes to hear atleast once in their lives.
But my life was not like the fairy tale of Rapunzel, who met her prince finally, and they lived happily ever after. I told David that I first want to succeed in my career and fulfil my family’s hopes. He agreed to wait for me.
But everywhere blindness posed the challenge. Since I wanted to make my career in RJing and Voice-Overs, I had done courses. I applied at various FM stations. I did mock shows with them but the response that I got from all was, ‘you have talent, but we are not sure how you will be able to do a show…’ or ‘we will get back to you later’. To increase the rating of their radio stations they might say they supported disabled people, but none would give me an opportunity.
After a series of rejections, I started my own YouTube channel to reach a wider listenership. I would record shows on a topic of my choice and upload them. However, as time passed, I lost confidence, my courage, my strength to fight with an uncaring society for the job I wanted. It is said that, “Hope denies reality”. But what was the reality that I was being forced to accept? That I don’t have talent? Or that my blindness will never get me a job? Will I have to get a job in which I don’t want to make a career?
It was hard to digest. Then the hardest part was David’s opinion. He said, ”If you keep sitting around waiting for your voice to get you places, you won’t get anywhere.” That shocked me into trying content writing, but I was not good at it.
I became more and more frustrated and this led to fights between me and David. I eventually lost my charm – the ability to look at life differently, my bubbly nature, the smile that solved every problem – all the things that had attracted David to me. With opportunity becoming scarce in my life, only one thing grew – the differences between David and me. I still loved him, but I was angry with the world and with him for his changed behaviour. We fought a lot. Words are powerful knives. They can ruin a relationship and finish a person from within. Those kind of words were exchanged, instead of the words that would foster dreams of togetherness.
One day he finally said, ‘Move On, Rapunzel’! And he left me.
Move On! Two words that left me with questions and no answers: Why did David leave me? Because I has become so negative. Society ignores my ability, labels me as disabled and so, forces an attitude of disability on me. Was this my fault? Anyway, after that day, David stopped talking to me. My life had slapped me hard, for fighting for what I had wanted.
I stopped working on my YouTube channel, and stopped applying to various production houses. I did not want to work with my voice since my personal life required me to stop expressing myself, whereas my professional life wanted me to express as much as possible and not be fake.
Then, most crucially, I stopped talking to my family. Like the fairytale Rapunzel, I moved into a tower of silence… I stayed isolated in a place where no one could reach me. I had stopped going out of my house and even stopped going out of my room. Each day felt like a year, where I had to force myself to get up from bed and try to get back to work, try to accept my life – a life without hope. I was imprisoned by my blindness. My blindness was the Witch who had caused me only failure. In my tower, I was no more the girl in the yellow dress with a voice. Instead I was the blind one, dressed all in black, silenced.
.On my birthday, I put my phone on silent, avoiding as many calls and messages as possible. I wrote a poem, named “Love Never Dies”. I planned to record the poem in my own voice, just for myself. But just as I finished reading it out loud, a familiar voice said, ‘Awesome’! I was shocked, I hadn’t wanted anyone to hear it. But that voice belonged to Ananya, who never ever missed any of my birthdays! She hugged me tightly, and wished me a very happy birthday! The moment she hugged me, I broke down and cried. When I had recovered, I didn’t tell her about David and me. Instead, we chatted about old times.
After a day or 2, I started receiving messages on my phone. ‘Hey you have started writing poems’?, ‘Nice poem’, ‘What a wonderfully expressed poem, and it seems that the words are from the heart’, and more compliments like that. Confused, I checked my mails, my Facebook page, and my whatsapp. Then I saw that Ananya had recorded my poem when she came down to my house on my birthday, she published it on my YouTube channel and posted the link on Facebook. I was angry and embarrassed as I had wanted to keep that poem to myself. I phoned her.
As soon as I spoke her name she told me not to say anything more, as she knew everything I had been going through. That day changed me in many ways. Then she said, ‘Rapunzel, I have never seen you behave so selfishly’…
I said ‘Ananya’???
‘Yes Rapunzel, you are selfish. Here you are dying for one person, ignoring those who are dying to be with you, who are just dying from within, waiting to see a single smile on your face? Do you realise anyone’s worth in your life? You see only your loss. Do you even realize what your family has lost during this time? They haven’t had a proper night’s sleep, worrying about you. You even forgot me! You blame David, you blame your blindness. Why couldn’t you find other ways to vent your emotions instead of bottling them up? You have been ill-treating everyone who loves you, exactly the way the world has ill-treated you.”
I cried and cried and finally, I spoke openly to her about my problems.
From that day, I started talking to my family, going out with them, and most importantly, started applying at various places for a job. This time, not with any hopes, but with the clear intent of taking things in my stride.
My mother helped me to learn how to play the keyboard, so that I could keep myself engaged, so my emotions could be channelized. Because just as our energies needs to be channelized, our emotions too need this. I worked on shows for my YouTube channel. After many months of applying, I finally got an opportunity to do voice overs for a small company. This has instilled some confidence in me, confidence which I desperately needed.
I think back on the months I spent in my tower of isolation. I realise that the Disability which is a Witch in my life, can’t be totally avoided. But I have found ways to live with this witch since she will only die, with my death.
Written by Kriti Banga
*This story was written as part of Rising Flame’s One Billion Rising Campaign where we rise for the rights of women and girls with disabilities.