Life is not easy for 61-year old Kadar. Though he is neither sad nor depressed, asking about his hearing disability is a delicate task. He lost his hearing ability at around six years, when his father had slapped him hard. He avoided his father for the rest of his life. He had a shop in Burma Bazar for 22 years. Those were good times. After the bazar was razed to the ground, life has been difficult. But, he moves on without complaints. Shail profiles an elder, who despite many challenges, carries on, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
“I walk around like everything is fine, but deep down, inside my shoe, my sock is sliding off.” ~ Writer Unknown
Just where this elderly gentleman is seated hordes of vehicles pass by. The sound is deafening at times. In fact, the traffic sound, vehicles and the pollution are so uncomfortable that one cannot but complain. But, 61-year-old Kadar is unperturbed as he sits on the pavement with his wares spread out for sale.
Within minutes of trying to communicate with him I realise that Kadar cannot hear well. Most of my queries are being misunderstood and unconnected answers are being given.
I wonder whether I should continue with my conversation or just buy a pair of socks and leave. But then, Kadar wants to talk. He seems happy to know that I want to know more about him. And, all thoughts of leaving disappear.
What is your name, I ask of him.
He takes out his laminated Aadhar card and shows it to me.
Which is your native place?
He mumbles something, which I cannot understand so he picks up a piece of paper from the dusty road and writes the name. It is Erwadi, a village in Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu, around 550 km from Chennai city.
How long have you been selling on this pavement?
Selling the same things?
“Yes. All men’s wear.” And I can see socks, undergarments, towels.
What was your first job?
“You know Burma Bazaar? Well, I had a stall for 22 years until it was razed to the ground due to the fire. Those 22 years were good years.”
(His expression conveys a few moments of flashback in his life)
What did you do after that?
“I worked as a security guard but because of my hearing problems I was asked to leave.”
Although I can see that he is neither sad nor depressed, asking about his hearing disability is a delicate task.
I signal with my right hand towards my ear, shake my fingers randomly in the air and ask. This hearing problem, were you born with it?
“No, no,” he says. “When I was 5 or 6 years old my father got angry with me for something and slapped me on my ear. After that, I just couldn’t hear well.”
Were you taken for any treatment?
“Yes. My parents took me to several doctors. They even took the help of herbs and all that. But, nothing helped.”
Maybe, Kadar saw a sad expression on my face which prompted him to immediately say, “But, I managed. Now also, my hearing is very bad. Lots of disturbing sounds are what I hear but I am fine. See, I am managing my life.”
It was moving to see a hearing impaired senior citizen leading a life of self-respect having no specific self-obsessed regrets.
What about your father? Did he not feel bad for doing this to you?
He smirked and said, “I always kept away from him, throughout my life. I did not want to do anything with him.”
(Maybe, the trauma of being made deaf damaged his relationship with his father forever.)
What did your father do?
“He was a tailor.”
Why did you not opt for that profession?
He throws his arm in the air as if I am talking something stupid and says, “No. No. I never went near his shop, never wanted to do anything with it ever.”
Ok, how many children do you have?
“Three girls and one boy. All are married. My son works in a travel agency.”
Did you make them study?
“Yes, but all studied little like me.”
What did you study?
“I studied till class 6. Then, one day in school, the teacher beat me for something that I had not done. So, I slapped him back. A big fight took place and my parents were called. I never attended school after that. A teacher should teach, not beat.”
So, do you live with your son?
“No. No. He has his own family issues. I am better off with my wife.”
How did you and your wife manage with your hearing disability?
He smiles and proudly states, “That we managed. She understood all that I wanted to say or communicate. We share an understanding between us.”
Does your wife work?
“No, in my community, women do not work.”
So, does she wear the burkha when she goes out and I made a movement of my hand, accordingly.
“Yes, all women in our house wear the burkha.”
I see a local newspaper kept on the garments that are spread out. First, I think that it is a newspaper used to pack his customer’s goods. But, the moment I put my hands on it and he says, “I read this newspaper every day. This newspaper is the best of the lot. Others are just nonsense.”
What about watching movies?
“That went away with MGR. I have not watched any movie after that.”
“No chance to see. Anyway, what would I do seeing it? I only get to hear too much sound which is hurting to my ears.”
This made me wonder. What we take for granted this man cannot even attempt at using because, ‘what use would it be for him anyway?’ And, here we are fighting over TV channels and programmes. How petty it seems now!
He replies honestly, “Yes, more or less.”
(And I see passersby come and select things to buy.)
I immediately ask him about Modi, money, problem but he is unable to make sense of what I am asking. Just then, an auto driver, maybe a friend of his comes by and when I repeat the question he tells me that this man is hard of hearing. I mention that I know that. So, he asks my question very loudly with the right pauses and slow movements of his lips to Kadar.
“Yes, I had problems the whole of last month but it is much better now.”
Is he religious? Okay, pass that question. Does he go to the mosque?
“Yes, I do go to the Masoodi every Friday.”
Did he have anything to advise the young generation?
“People will ask them to study this or study that. They should only study what their hearts say and not give in to pressure. This way they will be happy later.”
It took me double the time I usually take to interview people because of the repeated questions, the sign language (of whatever I could manage) and the sound of traffic.
I have not seen a more self-respecting man who seems happy with his lot and who smiles more often than people who are better off than him! Maybe, that is the secret of his survival. Despite his ordeals, he spreads positivity. May his tribe increase!
Photos by Vinod Naraen