Language of the Lens

Sep 27, 2013, 01:54 IST | Neha LM Tripathi

During the International Week of the Deaf, we meet a photographer who is helping deaf and mute youth get a fresh perspective on life through the camera

Amidst news items about people ending their lives due to difficulties and obstacles, it is a refreshing sight to see a set of young people who treat disability as merely a stepping stone towards living life to the fullest.

HELPING HAND: Rajen Nair inspires his photography students. Pic/Amit Jadhav

These are people who are not privileged with all of the basic senses that we take for granted. Being speech and hearing challenged makes life difficult but their will to do something unique has not only made them capable of being independent, but also makes them stand out. With the help of a friend and guide, they have developed their skills at photography, and produce stunning images of the world around them.

GREEN SCENE: Mother Nature is a source of inspiration for the young photographers. Pic/Anup Jha

The students said that they often feel upset at people’s attitudes towards them, but photography is one of the things that has helped them come to terms with a world that is sometimes unjust. Maitri Shah, a bridal mehndi artiste, says, “I used to feel bad earlier and have cried several times before my parents, but since I have learnt photography my attitude towards life has changed.

BRANCHING OUT: The fruit of their labours. Pic/Anup Jha

Disability is a gift of God and I have happily accepted it. Being deaf and dumb was my fate but God has given us sharp eyes and strong hands, which we are using to take the best pictures. Photography is the world to us and we are happy with our world.” It is more than a hobby; these youth want to make photography their career.

WEB OF HOPE: Looking through the lens helps the youth deal with a world that is often cruel towards disabled people. Pic/Anup Jha

Helping them on this route is Rajen Nair, a freelance photojournalist and writer, who has been teaching them photography over the last four years. The students have not only learnt photography theoretically but also have been taken for outdoor shoots for practical knowledge. “It becomes very difficult to coordinate with them when we meet at a place for outdoor shoots. They cannot speak, hence explaining them the way and landmark is not possible. I have to be in constant touch with them through text messages, yet assembling requires a lot of coordination and becomes difficult,” explains Nair.

Nair himself has no hearing in his right ear. After an unsuccessful stapedectomy operation, he realized the pain of a disabled person in the world and decided to teach photography to the disabled children in a non-formal setup.

“The affection I receive from these children is incomparable and nothing can give you more happiness than being with them and helping them grow mentally. These children are very talented and all of them are great photographers,” he says.

Vasai resident Anup Jha says the most important thing is to accept the fact of being born disabled. “It takes a lot of courage to live and lead life like any normal person. It isn’t easy to achieve a state of mind wherein one has to behave in a mature way, when he is of an age to enjoy and relax. But after learning photography life seems more colourful and musical. Even after working as a chef, photography brings me mental relaxation. I want to become a renowned photographer and I am ensuring that I give my heart to the training I receive.”

Reactions from their families are varied. Some are pampered, others feel stifled by over-protection. Their families feel that it is a harsh world, and as a result the children feel they are denied the freedom to move around freely. But they feel very much a part of the world and photography, they say, is the way in which they want to express their love for Earth.

The group meets once a month for practice, and conversation on other days takes place via WhatsApp and Facebook. Photography is what brings them together in a positive way, although not all of them intend to make it their career. The students have made their careers in the food industry, in animation, and in performing arts. 

Nair says, “The government should make 3G services free for deaf and mute people, as sign language is the only way they communicate. But most people cannot afford the service.”

International Week of the Deaf
The International Week of the Deaf is celebrated annually by deaf people worldwide during the last full week of September. The theme for 2013 is ‘Equality for Deaf People’, celebrating the linguistic, artistic, social, political and cultural contributions and accomplishments of deaf people. 

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