Sometime in late 2017...
I excitedly entered a movie theatre along with my friends and attendant to watch Woody Allen's latest movie. I was thrilled to finally be in the theatre. My mother had visited various cinema halls in the week preceding the release of the film to check which theatre was accessible, which row my wheelchair could most comfortably be parked in and whether there was enough legroom for me to sit.
I realised it would take me three hours and 20 minutes of practice every day to be ready in 300 days. Right on time for my movie of the year.
However, my preparations had started much earlier. I had started rehearsing my respect for the national anthem way back in January when the Home Ministry came up with guidelines for the disabled to show respect for the national anthem as directed by the Supreme Court. The guidelines clearly stated that "persons with locomotor disabilities and other wheelchair users having affected lower limbs shall position himself/herself to the extent of maximum attentiveness and alertness with or without the help of appropriate aids and appliances". It went on to describe how "a wheelchair bound person with disability shall make the wheelchair static, position himself/herself maintaining the maximum possible alertness physically".
I was elated at this news. I might not have managed to win my country a cricket match but finally I had a chance to prove my patriotism.
Rehearsals started the very next day. Every morning I would make my attendant make me sit on a wheelchair and make me drink two espresso shots. With this, I would be fully alert. Me being static was the bigger challenge of course. He would tie my legs to the footrest with a jute rope, my paunch would be locked and still courtesy two belts that crisscrossed my upper body. I also realized that in a live theatre setting I might have a tendency to look around—after all, a man is curious. But I was a man on a mission and I had a plan for that too. I would wear a neck support, ensuring my neck wouldn't move an inch during the anthem. I had learnt from Malcolm Gladwell that one needs 10,000 hours of practice to become world class in any field. I might be disabled, but I'm a lazy Indian first. I set myself a target of practicing for 1000 hours. Born in the land of Aryabhatta, I'm good at maths too. I realised it would take me three hours and 20 minutes of practice every day to be ready in 300 days. Right on time for my movie of the year.
For my friends with hearing impairments, the national anthem soon became their favorite aspect of their theatre experience. After all, the guidelines had now mandated that "there must be appropriate indication on the screen that the national anthem is being played or sung as the persons with hearing disability are likely to miss the auditory cues". Never mind if they don't understand the rest of the movie with subtitles absent... at least they won't miss out on the national anthem now.
Most theatres don't have ramps for those with locomotor disabilities. But how the hell does that matter? We are now finally, patriotic citizens of India.
Close to a year since the guidelines have been released, it's persons with blindness that feel shortchanged. The guidelines merely say "persons with blindness and low vision shall stand up in respect to national anthem." That's what everyone does. How do they show extra love for the country?
The guidelines also state that persons with mild intellectual disability "can be trained to understand and respect National Anthem". This proved a good opportunity for Arindam Chaudhuri to make a comeback. He has launched IIPM in a new avatar – Indian Institute of Patriotism and Morals. Sadly for him, he counted his chickens before they hatched and no one has fallen for his trick and enrolled for the course.
Yes, we live in the 21st century. Yes, movies often don't have subtitles for the hearing impaired. Yes, they don't have audio descriptions for the blind. Yes, most theatres don't have ramps for those with locomotor disabilities. But how the hell does that matter? We are now finally, patriotic citizens of India.
Nipun Malhotra is a wheelchair user who is wondering whether he is living in a dystopian Netflix show ever since the guidelines for the disabled were released. He can be followed on twitter @nipunmalhotra