I am deaf and mute. My wife, too. We were born that way. For people like us, communication means much more than talking to people. We don’t talk, actually. They say we make unintelligible noises. Maybe, something like those unpleasant booms I hear while using a hearing aid. For most of my life, the sign language and lip-reading techniques I picked up in deaf school helped me convey what’s on my mind and understand others. Sometimes, when I wanted to direct someone to a location or communicate a design, I drew them out on a piece of paper and my lessons at the drawing school came in handy. At school, where I teach art to students from classes V to IX, the blackboard remains my trusted aid.
But for years, the world outside was beyond my reach. I had to take the help of others to convey my wish to marry my schoolmate, my life partner for 32 years now, to her parents. Thankfully, communication between us was never a problem because we were both on the same boat.
Around seven years ago, my world started changing, when I got access to smartphones and later to WhatsApp. Today, I don’t actually have to stand in front of anyone to convey my thoughts. More than anything, my wife and I no longer need to hunt for translators. It was a role that our daughter, who was born 25 years ago with the ability to hear and speak, has often had to perform. But even for her, it took some time before she started understanding us and our gestures. In fact, over the last four years, when she pursued an MBBS course in Tamil Nadu, we used to chat with her on WhatsApp and Skype every day.
These new apps have now become so crucial to our daily lives. We don’t have to wait any more for newspapers and TV updates to know what’s happening around us. I use my phone for shopping, too. Recently, my wife found one of her close friends in school, who is in the US now, on Facebook. Nowadays, Skype sessions with her family have become a fixture on Sundays. Then again, when a painting exhibition of mine was organised in Thiruvananthapuram, a friend in Delhi saw a news report about it online and contacted me on WhatsApp. I hadn’t seen him for years. But now, we are connected.