My Silently Meaningful Journey…
By Bhavini Modi
When I was young, my hearing family constantly worried about me. My inability to hear and communicate was looked upon as an impairment; something which needed to be altered. Thus, in my early years I was largely confined to my home. I did not go out alone nor mingle with friends. My family was forever focused on my inability to hear.
Most hearing people tend to believe that cochlear implants are the only solution to a deaf person’s problems. Many hearing families thus force their deaf children to undergo surgery, without realizing the pain and angst which the deaf undergo. They fail to understand that after the implant the person has to be careful forever. S/He can’t go to noisy or crowded places for fear of being injured on the implant location. The implant, thus, not only causes extreme discomfort for the deaf but also alienates many from their loved ones. They go through a deep sense of resentment against their hearing family for having put them through this pain, for nurturing negative thoughts against the deaf, and above all, for not accepting them the way they are. My family also asked me to go through the implant but after much resistance I was finally able to convince them that this would not be for me.
School was never easy as well. Our classes were conducted by teachers who did not sign and we, the deaf, were expected to understand our teacher’s ‘speech’ (through lip reading). This was very difficult given that I had never experienced sound. As a result, I rarely understood what my teachers in the deaf school tried to teach me (right upto S.S.C). As a result, I became more and more dependent on the people around me.
Meeting deaf friends and sustained interaction with friends from deaf families opened up a new world for me. It gave me an intimate glimpse into the lives of the deaf as well as a chance to understand their history and culture. I learnt to communicate and express myself without spoken language. Communication is all about conveying emotions and feelings and can be done equally effectively using simple signs. I started exchanging general news and information with my deaf friends. We talked a lot about life and its gravity and the confusions in my mind, which had by then started to clear out. This also helped me take my own decisions and find answers to many problems. Emotions and feelings, which I had so far been suppressing or was unable to express, were now easily shared with my deaf friends in sign language. In my mind, I was also angry with my family for not having allowed me to sign and express myself earlier. That would have made me so much more confident and secure.
Despite the importance of sign language for my deaf friends and myself, universally, there is still a huge resistance against sign language, amongst hearing people. They feel people who sign look like monkeys with bad manners. Thus deaf children of hearing adults are often expected to fluently understand speech and be able to communicate with the hearing through speech. Little do they understand that the DEAF are most comfortable using signs for communication. When I communicate with deaf people, we communicate easily and smoothly using sign language. But communicating with hearing people (who do not know Sign Language), is not only difficult and uncomfortable, but also stressful. Very often when I attend social gatherings with my family, the hearing continue to talk while I feel isolated and leave from there. They do not even realize that I am not a part of the conversation. If I share this with my parents they get angry and say that I could understand the hearing well enough before I learnt sign language. But I must speak. In so many years, my family has never made an effort to learn sign language. If hearing and deaf people have difficulty communicating, is it not better to call an interpreter who knows sign language and can support communication between the deaf and the hearing, rather than have no conversation with them at all?
My CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) friend, who happens to be hearing, and some other deaf friends played a crucial role in my life. They not only taught me to communicate through signs but also played a huge role in helping my hearing family understand me better. My CODA friend played an important bridge between their beliefs and the challenges faced by us on a routine basis. She helped them understand that inability to hear does not imply that the deaf are dumb. In fact, they are extremely capable and CAN do things as effectively (if not more) than their hearing counterparts. Initially, my family was reluctant to let me go. But as I started doing well and thinking positively about myself, they allowed me more and more freedom to do things on my own. The confidence I gained in the company of my deaf friends and my CODA mentor along with unending support from my family have helped me become the confident, independent and brave person I am today.
When I became an adult, my family said, “We will get a HEARING groom to marry you.” I was not comfortable with this because hearing people have their means of communication while deaf people have their own and both are different. I explained to my family, “Priyanka Didi (name changed) is hearing. Will you all try to search for a Deaf groom for her?” They said it was impossible and Voila! I had made my point. They understood what I meant and have agreed to find a DEAF groom for me. However, they still have so many conditions—he should be from the same community, have good social status, be a vegetarian, be well educated and must have a job, should not be from a deaf family, lest it passes down genetically, etc. With all these conditions I sometimes worry if it would be possible to find somebody they and I both like.
Many a time my decisions have clashed with those of my family, but I have held on to those I believe in. I have tried on multiple occasions to explain to my family a deaf person’s way of life. Sometimes, they have understood, but often I have been unable to make them see reason. I have had to give in to their opinions despite not agreeing. Sometimes I have also been stubborn and followed my own heart. This constant struggle between my family and what I personally believe in have shaped me in so many ways. I have gone from being a shy and quiet person to become someone confident and expressive. From being dependent on others, I have moved to being responsible and independent. I started in a small way by teaching English to the deaf at Ishara Foundation. Today I work with v-shesh, a social enterprise which provides employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. I am pursuing my Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) through distance education. I have also worked in different challenging roles, such as being the treasurer of Yuva Association of the Deaf, Mumbai; treasurer for the Deaf Expo 2012; and organizing and participating in multiple deaf events both in India and abroad. Most of all, I have broken the mindsets of my family and am helping my father part-time with his garment business. With help from my sister- in- law and CODA friend, we have also organized many apparel exhibitions and I want to have my own garment business in future.
I really wish all hearing people could think positive thoughts for the DEAF and believe in their abilities…. THE DEAF CAN DO!!!!
What is the meaning of “IMPOSSIBLE” – “I (DEAF) M POSSIBLE”
[Bhavini Modi, a deaf woman, has been working in v-shesh as an Executive in Mumbai, for past one year.]
You have been able to so eloquently express what so many other Deaf people feel. I wish you continued success in your journey. Thanks so much for sharing your feelings!
I am astonished that Bhavini who has had a poor education, has been able to express herself so eloquently. None of my deaf friends who have had similar poor educations have such a good command of the English language, she must be exceptionally clever and a fine role model for any deaf children.
This should be a must read for everyone. Well written, clear points and impassioned speech. I wish you much success and happiness in all your future endeavors.
Inspiring one Bhavini and best wishes to achieve your goal of entrepreneurial instinct.
I am very happy to know Bhavini met v-sheshi, Raja and Shashaank. Best wishes to all of you.
A similar, yet different story was told me of a deafened guy from a rural Brahmin family, who moved to New Delhi for a vocational training. He entered the Deaf World for the first time, and one year later he fell in love with a Deaf artist, who was featured on the cover of a national illustrated magazine in India. But she was from the lowest caste. He announced to his family that he was engaged to her. But his mother was violently against it and put herself in hunger-strike. He was forced to abandon her fiance and follow his mother and agreed to marry a Brahmin daughter from the next village. Since he was to go abroad for a university education the next day after wedding, he hoped that with years abroad and living separately from her, the marriage could easily be dissolved, and his mother started to realize the incompatibility between Deaf and Hearing in a marriage. Now, six years later, his Brahmin wife appeared at the door of his flat. She simply scribbled on her palm in Hindi, “I can learn sign language”. He was still uncommitted to anyone else, so he let her in. Now, they are still married after 40 years of marriage with two CODA children.
What a twist! Worthy for a film?