A visit to 'Dialogue in the dark'
...when I began to see the unseen in many different ways
Haven't we felt this very often: all of a sudden, the moment the power fails and it turns dark, we begin to grope in the dark for a torch or a candle or the switch for alternative sources of power - even in the most familiar surroundings of our home. The discomfort and frustration is understandable - we are so used to 'seeing' everything that we can't withstand even few seconds of complete darkness. In those few minutes of darkness, we may walk straight to reach something, stumbling over or hitting against things which have remained in the same place for years.
Rarely, we think of using our other senses like touch or hearing while navigating, communicating and interacting in the dark. It seems that we've most of the time considered the sense of seeing things, the 'vision' or 'sight' to take control of our lives. And when it turns dark, we lack the all-important vision. What if this sense was temporarily disabled? How would we cope with carrying on with normal life? How do those who are visually challenged lead a normal life despite the lack of this overpowering faculty? It is concerns like these that occupied my thoughts when I visited the exhibition at Dialogue in the Dark, Hyderabad. This is their only presence in India. However, Worldwide, Dialogue in the Dark is present in more than hundred locations across several countries.
It is like a self-reflective dialogue I engaged in while going through a variety of experiences in an absolutely dark environment. The professionally trained guides (Nisha, Jagdish, Soham) who are visually disabled, lead you through a variety of situations that enliven your other senses like touch, hear, taste and smell. In fact, it's surprising how instinctively, I began to use these faculties to find my way through, feel and hold something, smell and eat something and so on. I started wondering how I was never aware that our other senses are equally critical and they can apparently substitute vision impairment in the dark. This sensitizing was a valuable learning from the exhibition, apart from the curiosity and excitement that forms a part of exploring the unknown, unseen and unimagined.
Two hours of darkness (an hour for the exhibition, followed by 'Dinner in the Dark') was a unique experience, something that was adventurous and entertaining on its surface. At the deeper level, I quickly woke up to the fact that there was a complete reversal of role in this experience. In 'normal' circumstances, I would have helped visually challenged person to do something, but at Dialogue in the Dark, I was guided and served by them. It was heartening to see the guides take us through and help us appreciate things from a totally different perspective. I began to understand their condition in better ways and learnt how they're trained to be independent and contribute meaningfully to social life. What struck me most was something to do with the lack or loss of the faculty of vision. An hour of exposure showed me how my other senses can 'compensate' for that overall perception and experience. I was able to really feel something when I touched it and I was able to really listen when I heard something. What about taste? The taste of food - this was an amazing experience to be able to eat in a pitch dark restaurant. The taste of darkness, as the dinner is called, has a surprise four course menu, served in an absolutely dark restaurant. I realized the value of vision like never before, imagine eating in the dark with absolutely no idea of what is served, in what quantity, what consistency, what shape, what color, what texture...and trying to guess everything with the help of taste, smell and touch most of the time!
Apart from overcoming my fear of the dark, this dialogue has helped me see the unseen in many different ways! While I would not turn a blind eye to my other senses like touch, smell, hearing and taste, I will certainly appreciate and value my sense of vision more. Isn't every sense equally important and together they make our life what it is!