Fun Uninterrupted: My Night Out With Persons With Disabilities
(On International Day of Disabled Persons 2019, The Quint is reposting stories that celebrate narratives of persons with disabilities and celebrate their achievements and contribution)
“This is my first time at a nightclub,” says Tarun, with a shy smile. “I am excited and a little nervous”.
Tarun is waiting in line to get his name cleared on the guest list. He’s a bit anxious, I can tell. Although he seldom steps out, this night is special for him – after all, this is Delhi’s first clubbing event for persons with disabilities.
Their First Time At a Night Club
It’s 8 pm and the crowd is beginning to line up outside Kitty Su, a nightclub at The Lalit, Barakhamba Road, smack in the centre of the Capital.
Tarun is wearing a white shirt and black trousers. While waiting for one of the security guards to help him with his wheelchair, I ask him “Tarun, are you single… and ready to mingle?” We are, after all, at an event organised by the matchmaking app, Inclov. “Yes. I mean, if I find someone tonight, why not?” he says.
Just then, an autorickshaw halts outside the club. A club security personnel helps Faisal into his wheelchair after he pays the auto driver with money that he takes out of his waist pouch. “I’ve never been to a club before,” says Faisal, who works with an NGO for persons with disabilities. Public spaces are harsher for people like me, he says.
‘Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night’
Barakhamba Road may be less than 12 kilometres away from his Safdarjung Enclave residence, but Nikunj Dewan has traversed a few hundred miles mentally. Having mostly resigned himself to friends’ places and other familiar haunts, Nikunj seldom visits unfamiliar spaces because of their appalling lack of accessibility. But he couldn’t stay home tonight.
“My friend is playing and wanted me to accompany him, that’s why I am here”. Nikunj is speaking of DJ Varun aka Amish. Both men have been wheelchair-bound since they suffered from spinal cord injuries. I look around to find Varun, who is wearing a cool cap and an oversized tee.
Nikunj’s story stuns me. “I broke my neck while paragliding many years ago, and have been on the wheelchair since.” “How long has it been?” I ask him. “It’s been 8 years,” Nikunj says, adding, “but I have been making slow progress, and will hopefully be up on my feet soon”.
Over the next hour, I see a number of vehicles stop at the entrance of the club. Men and women alight, several of them on wheelchairs, and are escorted into the club. The scene repeats at least 60 times.
Among the attendees is Shivangi Agarwal, a recent graduate from Oregon State University and a counsellor by profession. Shivangi seems dressed well for tonight – she is wearing gold polished danglers and a bright shimmery tee. Ask her if the clubbing scene in Delhi is different from the US, she is quick to share that both are equally inaccessible, or at least partly accessible. It's as if they are doing us a favour with their tokenism, she says.
Shivangi suffers from congenital disabilities in her limbs. She uses prosthetic legs to walk. But she can dance (and wildly might I add) on those limbs of hers!
“I used to do a lot of clubbing back in the US, but not here. You don’t see persons with disabilities drinking and dancing here”, she says. She is right – how often have you seen persons with disabilities in night clubs?
Listening to Shivangi enthusiastically talk about clubbing strangely normalised her existence for me. She was not just a “differently-abled person” for me anymore, her identity wasn’t just defined by that aspect of her life. Spending more time with her made me realise she was just someone I could bond and have fun with.
Even If It's Only For A Night
In white pants and an orange kurti, Vidhu Malhotra is dressed to kill. Her long braided hair sways as she looks around and analyses her surroundings. Vidhu – who tells me she “doesn’t go out much as she doesn’t like to bother anyone” – wouldn’t have come out tonight had it not been for her sister-in-law who was eager to get her here to have a good time.
Vidhu, who has studied hospitality from Chandigarh, has been on a wheelchair for the last two years, ever since her neurological problem worsened. I can’t hide the distress from my face as she tells me about her illness. “It will go, it has to,” she reassures me.
By now, we can barely hear ourselves over the loud music – a delightful hybrid of Daddy Yankee and Punjabi.
I look around the club and find Shivangi dancing away, while Vidhu moves her wheelchair back and forth with a smile so wide it lights up the entire hall. Tarun too is clearly enjoying himself, while Faisal’s dance moves are the cause of envy for some of the other attendees.
As the night progresses, so does the laughter. Everyone seems to be having a good time. As for me, I’m overwhelmed. I am compelled to record every minute, but I know I must refrain from robbing them of this moment by asking for too many pictures/details or videos.
There is an abundance of optimism, vigour and love for life in this room. There’s no space for self pity, or helplessness, or pessimism here.
And yet, I can’t help but be mindful of how this fun is all too transient. For tomorrow, these people will once again have to battle it out in their tough lives, and struggle to navigate through the unfriendliest of spaces.
I must confess that when I left the club, it took me time to readjust to my surroundings. I thought deeply for hours, deliberating over the privilege that me and my able-bodied friends enjoy. How, even the simple outings that we take for granted could be such a challenging and exhausting task for some.
Above all, it taught me that no matter how hard life is, it is still worth dancing and having fun.
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