The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dancer offers hope to the disabled

Chennai, Aug. 24: A ray of light that has lit up the lives of hearing impaired children in Calcutta is set to brighten things for their Chennai counterparts.

Contemporary dance artiste Astad Deboo is helping create aesthetics for such children through dance at the Clarke School for the Deaf and Mentally Retarded. Six hearing impaired girls at the Clarke School were able to share the rhythms and mysticism of classical Indian dance forms with an audience recently, thanks to Deboo.

The ace dancer, a Sangeet Natak Akademi award winner, has worked with many international groups like the Wuppertaul Dance Company and the Pilobolus Dance Company and has performed the world over. “My journey (with disabled children) began quite by chance with the Action Players Group in Calcutta and led to a growing interest in the world of the deaf,” Deboo said.

He was speaking at a function at the Clarke School in early August, where the Siemens group handed over 36 pairs of “specially moulded digital hearing instruments” to needy students.

The aids were handed over on the basis of the extent of a student’s hearing loss and the degree to which it would help him improve his future prospects.

“You know, one should be first able to hear before being able to speak,” said J. Schubert, managing director of Siemens Ltd, who handed over the aids to the 36 selected students. “This opens up the hope for a new life,” he added.

The distribution was preceded by a Bharatanatyam recital by six girls belonging to the Sadhana troupe.

Deboo, who received formal Kathakali training before going on to evolve his own dance style, participated in two of the recitals, but was careful not to grab the girls’ share of glory.

Deboo acknowledged the role of teachers Narayani and Lakshmi, who “had a very significant influence on the dancers’ performance”.

The Akademi award winner has worked for 16 years with hearing impaired children “who do not automatically fit into mainstream society”. His commitment to helping them realise their creativity has borne fruit now.

Deboo said the girls’ performance showed they were as talented as other artistes. Yet they remain “unseen, unheard and ignored”.

Referring to the girls’ commitment and the “sense of bhakti” they have brought to their work, Deboo said his own years of training made him treat the artistes with “kid gloves”.

Though the girls are disabled, their “professional dancers’ instinct prevailed” and they responded “like true artistes”, defying their limitations. Deboo said the lesson to be learnt from this was that the disabled need to be given enough space to express themselves. “My ears can’t hear; but my heart can sing.... So I ask you, why don’t you hear me'” the ace dancer quoted from a poem by a hearing impaired student he had met abroad.

Schubert said the disabled might be a minority, but “let us not forget how we deal with minorities in a society. It is the mirror to the quality of the society”.

The audience got to hear how hearing impaired people had gone on to serve society.

Abitha, who started out as a student in the Clarke School with a second-hand Siemens hearing aid years ago, is now an independent professional working with the State Bank of India. She made a moving speech at the function.

School founder-director Leelavathy Patrick, who set up the institution in April 1970, said the school helps children and hearing impaired students to become self-sufficient. “We began our journey with a second-hand Siemens hearing aid, donated by the parent of a deaf child studying in the Clarke School, Northampton, Massachusetts. This gave me the inspiration to start this school in Chennai,” Patrick said.

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