A couple of days ago, a bunch of our group (DRA) met with some members of an organisation called Chennai City Connect. The agenda was to discuss a programme that they were undertaking to re-design the city roads so they have wide pavements which would be accessible to all users, the elderly, pregnant mothers, children, wheel-chair users,.... It was a wonderful meeting for three reasons:
(i) It was hosted most charmingly in the office of Smita at Vidya Sagar, where we had a small but serious group of people wanting to do something about the grim reality of insensitivity outside the confines of rare oases such as Vidya Sagar.
(ii) The Director of Vidya Sagar came into the office at some point, fussed about our levels of comfort and protection we might need againsat the ubiquitous mosquitoes, and came and vcoluntarily joined our discussion. It felt a little like having your mother around to make sure things were just right.
(iii) And last but not least was the contagious positivity and optimism of Raj Cherubal (to meet with whom this meeting had been fixed). By the time we dispersed that evening, I was convinced that within a month, there would be several roads in Chennai which would look like what is proposed in http://chennaicityconnect.com/featured/besant-nagar-second-avenue/, and that it was simply a matter of time before this transformation was complete! (The last time I saw such positivity was when Bhargav Sundaram convinced me several years ago that buying a motorised wheelchair (rather than painfully stumbling along with a crutch) would liberate and empower me and should not be viewed as accepting defeat. I followed his advice and have never regretted it.)
What was energising about Raj's optimism was that almost the entire Chennai City Corporation seemed to be sold on the need to work towards this transformation of the city! To see what I mean, take a look at this (in which photograph Raj may be seen second from the right). He explained this trip where he took all these Government officials on a 5 1/2 hour jaunt involving crossing the crowded Poonamallee High Road to cross from Central Station to Park station, taking an electric train to some point, then switching over to MRTS, buyimg train tickets, traveling across town to Thiruvanmiyur, going up, across and down the almost sadistically constructed pedestrian over bridges across OMR, taking a bus to Guindy Station, taking a train from Guindy to the airport, etc. Apparently, none of the Govt. officials objectecd to this exercise, but were, on the contrary, happy to become aware of what most Chennai residents faced.
And within a couple of days of our meeting at Vidya Sagar, he had already spoken to the Chennai Corporation Commissioner about the discussions we had all had at Vidya Sagar, and sent me an email with contact details of how I could fix up a meeting between members of DRA and the Commissioner to try and carry forward some of our common ambitions on this much wanted exercise of rendering Chennai accessible to People with Disabilities.
Today, I am more positive about the possibility of seeing an accessible Chennai in my life-time. Thanks Raj! May more of your tribe thrive and make a reality of the hopes and dreams of millions of disabled people.