With a stick in our hand and eyes blind-folded, we ventured into central Delhi’s popular shopping hub, Khan Market. “Hold it at an angle and tap right, left and centre, making a semi-circle, to get an idea of the area,” Baldev Gulati instructs. “You should tap constantly and then you’ll be able to tell if there is something close by or a dip in the road,” he said. To our partners, who had to give us minimal instructions, he said, “Do not hold their hands; if you hold them, the purpose of the walk is defeated and you won’t experience anything,” he adds.
Gulati, a visually-challenged entrepreneur based in Paschim Vihar, was leading the “blind walk”, as a part of Delhi Walk Festival held last week. “We’ve been doing this for the past one year in conferences and workshops, so that people can experience how life is with blindness. Then an idea struck me — why not do it in the heart of Delhi?” he said. The aim of the walk, said Gulati, was to make its participants understand the challenges of Delhi’s streets as faced by people who cannot see.
We walk past a temple and some hawkers, navigate through the pavements, the lanes, and a park. While the park provided a larger space for wandering around and the risk of bumping into something was less, walking on pavements was difficult as it was narrow and teeming with people. “Too many cars parked on the roadside is a big challenge for us. If it is difficult walking in Khan Market, how would it be in, say in Laxmi Nagar? We are trying to experience that,” explains Gulati. He wants to hold similar walks in crowded markets in west Delhi and the Capital’s malls.
Halfway, we took a break. Before we switched roles with our partners, those participating shared their experiences. Bharat Burman, a chef by profession, shared how he lost the sense of alignment — he didn’t know what straight meant. Gayatri Florence, an HR professional, said that she held onto her partner like it was a matter of life and death. “Even though the cars were far, the sounds of the traffic felt like they were coming onto me,” she said. Eating with blindfolds on was also a part of the walk. Everyone realised how difficult it was to eat with cutlery, and then, hands were put to use. “This is a new component of the walk,” explains the 45-year-old. “People should know the hurdles that a visually challenged person faces when he/she walks into a restaurant or eats chaat by the roadside using hands. People start staring quickly as in our country people are obsessed with staring at others. They say, people don’t stare in Calcutta. In Delhi, it’s become a part of the culture it seems,” adds Gulati.
Sense and sensitivity towards differently abled is what Gulati hoped for. We went home with both.