Wednesday, January 4, 2012

University Life: Of a Special Kind

- Vikant Maurya, an undergraduate student in St. Stephens College, in Conversation with Sanjay Kumar and Bonojit Hussain of Critique Collective

Vikant composing in Braille
As Vikant runs from room to room in Seva Kutir looking for chairs for us, it is clear that he is very familiar with every corner, turn and nook of the building. He tells us later that he lost vision very early, but even then as a child in his village in Hardoi district of Uttar Pradesh he would run through village alleys, field paths, and to his family mango grove. Whiffs of air, sounds and smell created an enticing world, full of discovery and freedom. Perhaps it is the quietness of Seva Kutir and village life that sharpen his sixth sense, enabling him to fly. However, the life of a physically challenged undergraduate in one of the most sought after colleges of Delhi University is not always a run of joy. There are struggles, which at times come out in his poetry. 

Excerpts from an interview:

Question: Vikant, if you let your dreams fly for a moment, where do you think you will be in ten years from now? 
Vikant: Most likely I will be teaching in a college. History and Hindi are my strong subjects, I could be teaching either of these. 
Question: What else? 
Vikant: I write poetry. May be a book of my poems will be out. 

Question: And family! 
Vikant: Yes I will have a good, settled family life. 

Question: Tell us about how did you reach where you are? 
Vikant: I did all my schooling, from first to twelfth, from Seva Kutir school. Before that I was in my village. My papa brought me here. First few months here were very difficult. I wanted to go back with my father. But my seniors took great care of me. Teachers also helped. Even my language was different. I used to speak in village dialect. 

Question: So how and where are the friends you made when you first came here? 
Vikant: They are still here. We have been together for fifteen years, we are all very close. 

Question: How often do you go home? 
Vikant: I go only during summer vacations. 

Question: What difference do you find between village life and life here? 
Vikant: Village atmosphere is pure, there is no noise. Delhi has so much traffic, and tension. 

Question: Are you able to move around freely in village? 
Vikant: Before coming here I knew all the paths in my village. I was shararti (mischievous), and would run all over village alone, to fields, and also to our mango bagicha (garden). 

Question: How come, are you partially… 
Vikant: No, I am totally … I had developed a sense by walking around as a child. But now I go only once or twice a year and do not remember all paths. Things have changed. 

Question: What about village people? 
Vikant: Different people behave differently. People who know us, they know I am studying, that I can do something. They are nice. But there are others who are uneducated, they do not realize that we can study. Their attitudes are different. 

Question: How? 
Vikant: Like they think that our script, the Braille script, is of no use because it can not be printed. We tell them about books in Braille. Now computers can read printed books for us. We can write through computer and type writer. And also, just reading and writing is not education. Subject understanding is more important. 

Question: How did you prepare for your Tenth and Twelfth board exams? 
Vikant: Tenth Board exams were very exciting. I prepared well and got 84%. I made notes in Braille and kept readers. Paper was provided by Seva Kutir. In twelfth I could not get very high marks. My target was 80 to 85 but got only 74%. 

Question: Which was your first subject choice in college? 
Vikant: Deciding college and courses is a problem. First I was thinking about Hindi Hons. I got it in Hindu college, submitted fee etc. But then I also got admission to St Stephen’s College. It is famous. I had heard that studies here are good. It does not have Hindi Hons, but I was also interested in BA Programme. 

Question: Suppose traveling was not an issue, if you were to get hostel in St Stephen’s, would you move there? 
Vikant: I would have got hostel in first year. But there were some problems. 

Question: Financial! 
Vikant: Yeah, I could not afford. 

Question: What do you pay for staying in Seva Kutir? 
Vikant: Boarding and lodging are free. Then we also get other things like cassettes, tape recorders, braille paper for writing. I come back for lunch. 

Question: What about masti (fun), like you used to have in village? Do you go out? 
Vikant: There is lot of masti (fun) in the hostel. I do not go out much. I listen to music, both classical and from films. I am a great fan of cricket commentary. Sometimes I play cricket. But there is little time. I think studies at St Stephen’s are tougher than other colleges. Preparing assignments and reading tutorial material usually takes my evenings. I first write assignments in Braille, then get them printed by my readers. 

Questions: What places have you visited in the last fifteen years in Delhi? 
Vikant: In school we used to go for picnics, which were great fun. I really liked Appu Ghar. I have been to kavi sammelan (poetry reading) in Lal Qila (Red Fort). 

Question: How do you pay for your expenses? 
Vikant: The social welfare department scholarship has been discontinued. From home … well you know about the current situation in agriculture. Our federation, the National Federation for the Blind gives an yearly scholarship of three thousand rupees. I also get two thousand five hundred as Vice-Chancellor scholarship. 

Question: What would be your monthly expenses? 
Vikant: Rupees four hundred for the reader. And then I need to spend on rickshaw, photocopying, soap, oil, clothes etc. 

Question: Expenses on tea, eating out, etc.? 
Vikant: I need to spend carefully. My monthly expense will be within one thousand. I iron and wash my clothes by myself. I save on that. 

Question: What would you say about fellow students, teachers and college administration? 
Vikant: They are good, they cooperate, they help when you ask. I have friends among my classmates, who always help. 

Question: Do you participate in college festival? 
Vikant: No. I do not get information on time. I am quiet by nature; that creates a communication gap, which creates problems in getting help from other students. 

Question: Is that the only reason, or you think that the kinds of things other students talk, they are different? 
Vikant: Probably, that too is a reason. College life is different. How well you perform depends on how much comfortable you feel at the place. 

Question: Who else is in your family at home? 
Vikant: Only my papa, no mom or brothers or sisters. I have cousin brothers. Two of them are doing twelfth class. One has done BA and has started his own school. 

Question: Do you help your younger cousins in studies? 
Vikant: Yes, when I am at home they seek my help for homework etc. 

Question: Do you access Internet? 
Vikant: Yes, at the NTPC center of the University I use internet through Jaws. I don’t use computers much. I mostly use Braille books, recorded material and readers. My cell phone is basic 1110, it does not have Talks, the mobile phone software that speaks. 

Question: Would you recite one of your poems for us? 

Vikant’s poem प्रशन चिन्ह  (Question Mark) is published below:

प्रशन चिन्ह

कुत्सित कलुषित मन्तव्यों की, तकरार किसी को क्या देगी 
पथहीन दोड़ते कदमों की, रफतार किसी को क्या देगी
तेज दोड़ते कदमों के, नीचे कितने अरमान दबे
कुछ चोटिल तो कुछ घायल, कुछ पड़े हुये सहम्.ो सहमे

जहां अंगूठे कटते हों, एकलव्य सरीखी प्रतिभा के
जहां सुलभ हों अवसर केवल, गिने चुनों को सुविधा के
जहां द्रोण नित रोज रच रहे, चक्रव्यूह निज मेधा के
प्रतिभायें आघात सह रहीं, जहां जटिलतम दुविधा के
जो पक्षपात की अनुमोदक, जो समता की है प्रतिरोधक 
एसी प्रवृत्ति फिर शिक्षा का, अधिकार सभी को क्या देगी

कुत्सित कलुषित मन्तव्यों की, तकरार किसी को क्या देगी 

कहते हैं खुशहाली के, नुस्खे नूतन ईजाद हुये हैं
पर इन नुस्खों से हम शायद, ज्यादा बर्बाद हुये हैं
कहां मिले सन्तोष हृदय को, प्रतिस्पर्धी जब मौसम हो
जहां दोड़ना या मरना, बस दो ही विकल्प जीवन के हों
दो चार चवन्नी थमा के हाथों , में कहते हो सर्वोदय
पर महंगाई का क्या कहिये जो बनी हुई है अपराजेय
जहां बिसाते हर बातों में, आक्रोश घृणा जज्बातों में
एसी इन्सानी मनोवृत्ति, एतबार किसी को क्या देगी
पथहीन दोड़ते कदमों की, रफतार किसी को क्या देगी


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