“Why me? It’s my artists whom you should be interviewing!” says the unpretentious Anju Khemani. If not her, then who? I smile silently. This lady with the indomitable spirit! The soul behind, ‘DAD-Drama association of the deaf’- Theatre for the Hearing Impaired.
Expressing through Theatre
“I have been working with the hearing impaired for a long time. Helping them prepare for jobs, training them in various areas, but I wanted to do more. I am a graduate of the National School of Drama. My experience in theatre has shown me how much of a holistic, healing process it can be. Not just the mere act of being on stage, but also being involved in a group, where you work together, eat together, spend a large amount of time evolving yourselves and consequently the group, can be very helpful. It was evident that the hearing impaired needed something just like theatre to propel them out of their skins, to express themselves to those who think that they don’t have a whole lot to express.”
The First Production
“It was nerve-racking, and yet so much fun! Our first play, ‘Sign Please’ was at Lamakaan, Hyderabad, and it was an intense process getting there. It was based on issues that plague the deaf. Sign Language is an important tool of communication for the deaf community”, says Anju. “One of our main motivations was to dispel the notion that mime and sign language are the same thing. They are not! The audience was taught a few basic signs before the show, and there were interpreters available, to help them understand everything that unfolded on stage. The show went off really well!
What was incredibly touching, was when a deaf man from the audience, met us after the show. He had read about the staging of our play, and was so moved, that he took a bus from Bangalore, just to watch the show. Doesn’t that tell you everything about how important representation is, for the community?”
The Aim…The Achievement…
“Being able to communicate to people that mime and sign language are two vastly different things, has been a huge achievement. Sign is such a vast, nuanced language. Not only does sign language vary, from country to country, it varies within India as well. Just how I can tell that you’re Bengali from your accent, a signing person can tell a deaf Bengali person, from the signs they use. It’s incredible!
On a personal level, it’s extremely fulfilling to see growth in the artistes. Theatre, has had a huge impact on how the artistes view themselves in relation to the outside world. There is a subtle and powerful shift in their personalities.”
The Challenges involved
“My biggest personal challenge has been, that I am not as fluent as my students in sign language. They take off on a speed I just will never be able to keep up with. It has definitely been a point of worry when I am directing them, but they have been extremely patient with me.
What most people don’t quite grasp is that the deaf don’t consider themselves disabled. They are proud people. They rely heavily on visual representation, and are very expressive. The outside world, however, can be very ‘exclusive’. Where is the accessibility? Where is the inclusivity? People can’t grasp things that inconvenience them.”
The Forces that keep you going
“One time during rehearsals, when the artistes came in, I handed each of them balloons. They were a bit perplexed at first, but they went with it. I played music, filled the room with beautiful music, and they felt the vibrations. Their faces lit up and they jumped around the room, feeling every note, every strum of the music. They felt it in their bodies, and they felt it in their hearts. I had tears in my eyes that day. That moment, that feeling, drives me.
The wonderful volunteers who lend their precious time and resources, drives me. When my students come tell me about how a particular bit of a drama has shifted their perspective that drives me. What my students lose with their disability, they make up for with their passion, their talent, their zest for art and life. That drives me.”