The other day, my wife and I hired a rickshaw. Usually, I drop her off to her workstation at first. Then, I go to my workplace. That day was not different either. We get efficient rickshaw pullers and professional CNG drivers mostly; however, sometimes we face different situations as well. That day we experienced something of that sort. Our rickshaw puller made a grave error. He took a sudden turn to the right side. Thankfully, the bus driver coming from behind pushed on the brake button instantly. Otherwise, there would have been an outpouring of condolences from people who know and do not know us. Those who would not see the accident could have blamed the bus driver---that is what we find regularly happening. However the drivers save lives too. They do not deserve the magnitude of criticism they always receive from media and general people alike. On a different note, I would like to thank the bus-driver and his assistant for saving our lives. It is the moment like this which makes one fall in love with the joy of being alive in the world. If we would encounter that accident, we could have been disabled. It would have been a curse for us to bear with.
Well, this is not a write-up about traffic-accidents. I am trying to imagine, “what could have happened had we survived but lived as physically challenged people?” Our lives would have turned into a horrible experience. The world is tough for physically immobile people. Infirmities strike in many forms. Old-aged complicacies can give us less recovery time from physical discomfort. We can, as I have already mentioned, become disabled because of road accidents. Moreover ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’ can restrict our normal movements. There are various types of physical ailments which incapacitate us. In the following paragraph, I have shared my thoughts on the lack of representation of disabled people in English literature.Before I ruminate on our society’s treatment towards disable people, let me share some thoughts on the representation of disabled characters in English literature. I have read 9 Shakespearean plays. I have not come across any leading role that has the features of disabilities in his plays. In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Caliban is mocked for his physical deformity. In The Merchant of Venice, the blind Gobbo talks about the innuendos he receives from society because of his poor eyesight. Even his own son Lancelot mocks him for his blindness. In George Eliot’s Silas Marner, the central character, Silas Marner has an epileptic fit. His optic vision is also very poor. For that reason, his fiancé leaves him for another man, William Dane. Later, Silas manages to become rich but he does not taste the sweetness of marriage even at the concluding part of the novel. Perhaps, Eliot could not beef up her courage for making Silas a successful father, husband and lover. In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, we have Mr. Rochester who is physically weakened. He marries his own governess, Jane Eyre. It is like an owner marrying his own maid-servant in Bangladesh. It is almost a cringing issue. Rochester’s physical difficulties demote him from the hitherto powerful position. Jane Eyre is shown to be agile and superior because she has the physical advantage over her husband.
Throughout my study life, I have not come across any hero or heroine who is physically deformed. Probably, there are some. But I have not found any. I can safely say that English literature, which I have read more than other literatures, legitimizes the presence of physical strengths and brute forces as mainstream discourses. It obliterates other discourses. I do not necessarily blame the writers. Our society does have the same mentality. It is not a world for weak people. Once we show our weakness to others, then we feel it is the end of our life metaphorically.
Then, how can we change our perception towards the disabled people? We should treat them as human beings first. We must take cognizance of the fact that there comes a time for everyone to lose the power we once have had. Therefore, we must treat disabled people with respect. It is good that many public centers now have separate routes for wheelchair goers. There are many beggars who are physically challenged. I am not saying that we have to pay alms to everyone. We can at least politely refuse them.
Meanwhile the situation is very tough for them who have physically-challenged children. God tests humans in different ways; some of the tests are easy while some of those are really tough to overcome. One such difficult situation is when you have a physically/mentally challenged child. The parents just cannot ignore the physically/mentally challenged children because they truly want them. Meanwhile sometimes they feel really disappointed observing their helplessness against the will of God.
Parents having disabled children react in different ways depending on how much they are concerned about their children. Some parents react in a controlled way and consequently make pragmatic decisions while some others feel perplexed pondering over the fact that their child’s disability might affect the entire family’s life. Again sometimes the parents feel really miserable thinking about the dreams for the child that get shattered with the passage of time if the disabled child does not show signs of improvement or recovery. There can be feelings of blame – directed towards yourselves and other people – as well as fear about the future. In these situations it is better to consult an expert and get some handy tips in this regard.
Well, every one of us may go through such situation when we may have a disabled person in our family or we ourselves may have to embrace such condition owing to some accident. Unless we change our mindset and treat them equally, their (physically challenged) fate will remain sealed. But if we extend help, as preached by our government, towards them, then the society will surely turn into a better place to live in.
(The writer is lecturer, Department of English, Chittagong Independent University.)