“Stop imagining the impossible,” my friends would comment everytime I expressed my desire.
Am I hoping against hope? The bare fact is that I love reading. Yes, truth be told, there aren’t many Bahasa Malaysia books in Braille; not to mention fiction like novels and short stories.
“Mum, please read me a story.”
That would very often be my request to mum when I was younger. I would lie on her lap and listen while she read to me tens – and hundreds – of stories.
“Listen, my love ...”
Mum had a very sweet and lovely voice. She could control her intonation very well. Mum was brilliant in delivering the dialogues filled with expression and emotion. If it was a happy story, mum would deliver it in a very happy tone.
If the story was sad, mum would shed tears and her voice would crack.
I know that mum’s tears were not solely caused by the sadness in the stories. In fact, mum was expressing the anguish bottled-up in her self. The sorrow of seeing her daughter who has lost the gift of sight since birth.
“Mum, I too want to read books.”
That was what I told mum when I was seven. Mum sent me to a school for the blind where I studied amongst many other children whom were facing the same fate as I. Finally, I was able to read.
But, then again, there aren’t many reading material available in Braille. So, the fact remained that I could only read; but I did not have the privilege of reading the works by the country’s well-known authors and laureates. Not to mention literature by our contemporary writers.
Once, a group of writers came to my school. They conducted some sort of reading activity on the stage. The group of writers read a few short stories while we – the blind – sat and listened eagerly.
There was nothing more we could do since we were unable to read the storybooks ourselves. So, we made full use of such an opportunity to listen to some of the stories written by well-known, contemporary and young writers.
“Could I also read?”
That was what I asked one of the writers who came to conduct the reading activity in my school.
“Yes, of course you could,” he answered, but rather hesitantly. “Do you have any stories to read?”
“No, I don’t. But I could tell a story.”
With that, I was ushered on stage to deliver one of the many stories which I have heard from mum.
Everyone was completely silent throught my storytelling session. I just had to assume that all the writers present were actually listening to my story.
“That was really great, the way you delivered the story,” the writer congratulated me at the end of the reading event.
We sat and talked about many things related to literature. I was totally excited to be able to gain so much information regarding the latest development in the local literary scene.
“I often listen to Tamil short stories and drama on radio. English and Bahasa Malaysia programmes are my favourite too. Believe it or not, I also sit infront of the television to listen to the movie and drama dialogues and music. Funny, isn’t it?”
The writer did not say anything in reply. I wouldn’t know what he was thinking at that moment. Perhaps he was impressed by the fact that I was showing deep interest towards literature and writing.
Or, perhaps he simply felt sad and sympathy towards underprivileged people like me. Anyway, it is not sympathy that we seek.
“The inadequacy is not among the so-called underprivileged people like me. The actual shortfall is among the so-called normal people like yourself for not being able to produce works which could be read and appreciated by people like me.”
My encounter with the writer did not end there. He would find time to pay a visit to my school and the hostel where I stayed. He would read storybooks to my friends and me.
(© Uthaya Sankar SB 2011. The above extract was translated by the author on 9 November 2011. The original “Dengarlah, Sayang ...” in Bahasa Malaysia was first published in Pelita Bahasa, December 2005. It also appears in Kathakali. Please CLICK HERE for more articles in English.)