It was about 4:30 am when I woke up this morning. It was pitch dark I groped around for the lamp switch to see the time and not finding it in the hotel room in the first 30 seconds was enough to frustrate me. It is not that I am uncomfortable in the dark. But those few moments were enough to make me realise how helpless one feels when one has a sense of loss of the most powerful sense- the sense of sight.
I remember not so long ago, when during a powercut in Delhi, I was trying to search fro my little boy in the dark. Even though I knew his whereabouts, it was rather bizzare to realise how the mind turns fictitious when its familiar footholds are taken away. It wasnt until I heard his voice, that I was able to relax and was so thankful when I held his little hand in my hand and even more so when the lights came back on.
So when I got the opportunity to participate in a workshop called Dialogue in the Dark a few months back, I was more intrigued by the idea and decided I had to participate in it. The workshop, a brainchild of a German psychoanalyst called Andreas Heinecke, was conducted in complete darkness, where blind guides lead sighted people through a maze; through an array of spaces, objects, voices and smells.
We were a group of 8, from different nationalities as this was happening on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, and never have I so completely (and blindly, may I add) trust someone as our blind guide, Daniella, who led us through the maze. The group activity that we did in the darkness forced us to learn to trust each other, for without the other’s support, you were simply not going to be able to do the simple task that was assigned to us- that of pouring a hot cup of coffee! It was unusual to have such close contact with a person whose face I had not seen. More importantly, I had begun to make mental images of the other workshop participants, who I had seen, but in the dark, basis their voice and touch, I started to conjure up an image, that was shocked to realise when we came out in the open as to how different it was from reality. I realised in that moment how devoid my imagery was of stereotypes, that we so easily jump to in the world of sight.
Every branch of a tree that I touched, every fruit I smelt and every other human hand I felt in those two hours- tickled my imagination. Sounds become sharper, and I realised I was judging the presence of other people and things through a strange sensation in my body, almost as if there were waves of vibrations.
“Most people who are defined as blind can see something – an abstract picture or remnants of light and shadow. Totally blind people do not see black, like you experienced” said Andreas, who i got talking when came out of the darkness.”They see nothing.”
It was an experience I wont forget in a hurry. The workshop also made me realise another important thing, that I also wont forget in a hurry- to be alive to the fact that there is an other in this world of beautiful things, who are as beautiful- and they need to be appreciated for the special extra they bring, the touch and the ability to see things that less mortals who are sighted cannot. 80 percent of the information we receive comes through the eyes. The remaining 20 percent are divided among smell, taste, hearing and touch. That is why blind people are known for having senses that are extraordinarily sharper than those of sighted people. In certain respects, they experience an alternative reality that is no less correct or exact than the one we sense.
I returned back to my hotel room a converted soul. I reached out to switch on the light. But then thought, maybe not. I decided I was going to try and imagine a world where things vibrate, colors have energy, taste occupies volume and shapes have a life.