A few years ago, in 2013, I launched my first one-hour special. The show was called “Out of Sight” and it was the first time in my career as a stand up comedian that I was promoting myself as a partially blind individual. I was in Pune in the September of that year to do a show at The High Spirits, when I got a call that afternoon from a lady named Sudha Menon. She wanted to interview me after seeing a newspaper article about my show. My first thought was “Damn! There goes my afternoon nap”, but I did agree to do the interview. Sudha and I met at the cafe in my hotel and we sat down for what I presumed would be a quick interview. Shortly, Sudha revealed that she was not a journalist for any publication, but rather an author who had already published a best seller and was working on her new book.
She proceeded to inform me that the new book was a genesis between her and V.R Ferose (SVP, Globalization Services at SAP). I kept wondering why I was being interviewed for a book that involved such an interesting collaboration. It was a little later that Sudha told me, the book was going to be a collection of stories about people with disabilities (PWDs), and that she thought my story was inspiring and would be a good fit in her book. I smiled because that was the first time someone had used the word inspiring and my name in the same sentence.
We spoke for three hours that afternoon with Sudha asking me questions about my childhood, my family, my teenage years, my schooling and university years, my hopes, fears and dreams; and surprisingly I opened up to this stranger whom I had just met. That was the first day I met Sudha Menon and I’m glad to say that we are still friends.
After that meeting I didn’t hear from Sudha for a couple of months and I caught myself wondering whether the interview was just a waste of time, but I was mistaken. Soon after, I got a call from Ferose asking if we could meet. I met Ferose at his office along with his wonderful team. That day Ferose explained his plan of creating a movement to spread awareness about disabilities in India and to act by creating employment for them and become a more inclusive nation. This was the first time I became aware of the concept of the India Inclusion Summit. IIS is a forum that promotes awareness of PWD inclusion, and has become an earmarked platform for speakers with various disabilities and different backgrounds to share their stories. I was asked to speak at that year’s summit and there began my friendship with Ferose and my journey with the India Inclusion Summit.
Meanwhile, Sudha had been working fervently on the book. Gifted was released in 2014. This book is not a collection of sad stories about people who have suffered, but rather, it celebrates individuals who challenge life through all their obstacles and celebrate the spirit of life. I was humbled then, and still am, that my story is featured in the book Gifted along side so many amazing individuals like Ashwin Kartik, Bharat Sharma, Hans Dalal, Malati Holla to name a few, and who I have the honour of calling my friends.
I was invited by Ferose to launch Gifted across the country and had the incredible opportunity to travel with him and Sudha, and also met some wonderful souls who are working progressively towards creating a more inclusive India. Ferose’s vision for our country stays strong as he works tirelessly towards his goal.
The book Gifted opened my eyes to the people who have dedicated their lives to the cause of disability rights and inclusion. In a country like India, this change is required urgently, and passionate individuals who create and inspire this change are indeed indispensable. The need of the hour is to support their efforts and forums like India Inclusion Summit, as best as we can.
Let’s help each other and share awareness for people with disabilities. Lets make their lives gifted.
In retrospect, I’m just glad that I skipped that afternoon nap!