PARTICIPANTS in the event interact with one another on Saturday.—White Star
PARTICIPANTS in the event interact with one another on Saturday.—White Star

KARACHI: ‘Breathing Books’, a programme organised by the Network of Organisations Working for People with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP) at the British Council Pakistan here on Saturday, was an interesting way of interacting with ‘human books’.

The books which came to life were in fact persons with disabilities. They were there to relate their inspirational life stories and were introduced to listeners as open books.

There was the synopsis of each book available in the form of posters and one had to get a library card in order to borrow the book of choice for a short session. “I have different chapters. There is ‘Khalid the fighter’, ‘Khalid the rapper’, ‘Khalid the dreamer’ ... so which chapter would you like to listen to?” asked the breathing book Khalid Anwar.

Anwar’s short synopsis read: “He knew things would change when he eventually stopped seeing the ball while playing with his friends. A young introvert with a degenerating vision, who turned into a rapper. How did this happen?”

Selecting ‘Khalid the dreamer’, the young man started talking about being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and his dreams for himself. “I felt alienated and alone when my parents sent me to a madressah instead of a proper school because they felt that I would do better learning the Quran by heart before I lose my sight altogether. But I wanted to attend a normal school though none would take me. Everywhere that my parents took me they were told to find a special school for me. The constant rejection hurt them, which I didn’t want for them. I wanted to make them proud by achieving something and becoming famous,” he said.

“I must have been 11 or 12 when I quietly slipped out without anyone taking notice to find myself before the principal of a neighbourhood school. We lived in FB Area Block 4. I told the lady [about] my vision problem and that it was going to get worse with time but I honestly told her that I wanted to go to a normal school and if she would give me admission. I also told her that if she didn’t want to give me admission she could tell me and that way my parents won’t get hurt by experiencing another rejection. But she was impressed. She had never seen a child approach her for his own admission. She granted me admission,” he said.

“The new school changed me. I used to be an introvert but I talk a lot now because being unable to see well, I connect with people by talking. Anyway, I penned a song ‘School ki kahani’, and a poem ‘Your love’. I had a dream of earning fame from being a rapper and after having recorded my first song I feel I am on my way,” he said.

“When I was little I used to watch Nadia Khan’s morning show on TV. Then I also wanted to be on the show with her but by the time I started school and was able to shrug off my painful shyness she had left the show. She is back now and I have another dream of being on her show. Hopefully, that dream too will be realised soon,” he smiled.

Another interesting book synopsis was of Shumaila Rubab. It read: “Shumaila couldn’t have known what lay in store for her. Life seemed like there was always going to be some bully lurking around the corner; looming until the day she went to Brunei and won three gold medals at the World Games. As she rose to the top, all the mockery just shrank away to be replaced with awe; but underneath it all she wasn’t just the international sports star but a young girl, just Shumaila who herself had gotten so far.”

Shumaila, a special girl, was another feel-good story. “I have speech and learning disability. I have been diagnosed as being mentally slow but my parents enrolled me in Special Children School Bahria College Karsaz. That is where the Special Olympics Pakistan team visited one day to scout [for] sporting talent,” she said. The Special Olympics team found Shumaila who after proving her mettle in the regional and national games went international and won three gold medals in Bocce in 2008. In 2011, she took a gold, a silver and a bronze in Athens and this time at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi she emerged as an athlete who bagged another three golds in running.

More breathing books included Imran Ghanchi, a victim of polio who turned to crime but then turned his life around to help himself and help others like himself. There was the breathing book Preeti Santosh who was shot in the face, but she bravely faces life. Another story in courage, resolve and determination was that of Syed Mohammad Ahmed, a victim of a mugging incident. Aliza and Munim were another couple whose story in breaking stereotypes in the realm of arts was an interesting one that would stay with one for a lifetime. Nabeel Siddiqui was another human book telling the extraordinary tale of self-discovery and Saleem Kheraj was yet another interesting life to discover as he told those interested in reading him his story.

The ‘Breathing Books’ programme proved to be a helpful exercise in getting to know the stories of the disabled and how their lives are also worth something. They are definitely not to be sidelined, overlooked or pushed over.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2019