One review I read (courtesy of Good reads) described the book as
“A traveller without sight takes her dream trip, alone and unsupported, learning about alternative healing and unveiling an India few are able to experience.” Whilst the book does provide an insight into Indian medicine, massage techniques and culture, which are in themselves interesting, from our point of view, the most fascinating parts of the book were Nicola’s thoughts about juggling her desire to travel independently with accepting the support offered along the way and accepting that, if offered in the right way, this sometimes enhanced her experiences rather than diminishing them.
Below are some quotes that I think demonstrate the above in Nicola’s own words.
From the start of the book:
“Ordinary people, all of us, can do extraordinary things but not always. All our stories are individual and personal as are the inner and outer journeys that we make. That is what makes them refreshing and engaging. I hope that my own story offers enough flavour to whet the appetite but leaves people to discover their own recipes. When I was in the early years of coming to terms with having lost my sight, I know I would have chosen to starve rather than to digest other people’s survival triumphs and ways of overcoming disability”.
“I had never been able to use my cane at home because of the stark associations with blindness that it stirred up. When I first lost my sight a guide dog was the only acceptable solution. I did not imagine that I would be able to use a cane in India to guide me around: the skill and technique of doing so required training, which I had resisted. However, I had reluctantly accepted that I needed some symbol to identify my disability for those times when I needed help. But when the moment approached to take out my cane, I realised I had underestimated my anxiety.”
There is one section in the book where her friend goes to ‘nip out’ of the car to sort out an arrangement without her. “This time I felt that as the purpose of the visit directly concerned me I was not going to be left in the car like a child. People have often just ‘nipped’ to do this or that and left me to wait because they thought it easier and quicker than asking me to come. It makes me feel like an inconvenient appendage, or worse still, a nuisance invalid or child.”
And when an air stewardess takes her hand in order to guide her:
“With the stewardess I slipped my hand free of hers and placed my fingers gently but firmly on her elbow…. All at once I felt myself back in control, and the fear subsided.”
Later in the book, Nicola discusses her feelings about receiving some assistance:
“I did not want Goutam to feel I was rejecting his generosity and kindness. If I stuck clumsily to the western model of independence and self sufficiency I knew I risked offending my Indian friends. …I was beginning to see that giving and receiving help altruistically, according to need and opportunity was an integral part of Indian culture, a vital interdependence in a country with so many people and so much poverty…. A thought slid round in my head about how the ties of dependence might have a strengthening as well as a restricting pull, while independence could be an isolating straight jacket, I decided I needed to discover a little more about this approach and for a while be a less intrepid, less selfish explorer.”
“When I reached town I decided to take a bus to Mr. Atuna’s evening yoga class rather than go back to the club. After another vigorous class, Mr Atuna said to a class member “Arun, please be taking our guest to the bus stop.” There was no sense in which a favour was being granted, or that I was being an inconvenience, and I felt comfortable with my need for help.”
To me, this and other instances in the book highlight how we all have to adapt and change to accommodate each other or our circumstances, whether this be to do with assisting or being assisted by others or understanding cultures that differ to our own. I think this is summed up by a quote from another book we have read - ‘Touching the World’ by Cathy Birchall and Bernard Smith - “What you see depends mainly on what you look for”. ‘Touching the World’ is a fascinating account of 2 people's journey around the world on a motorbike, detailing their fantastic adventures and accounts of the generosity of human nature (in general) but also the strength of character required by both of them to undertake such a journey. Cathy has RP (Retinitis Pigmentosa) and whilst the book is much more than about Cathy's blindness, it is part of everyday life for Cathy and Bernard (her sighted partner) and so is an integral part of the book. We have discussed and recommended this book on many of our training courses and wrote an insight about it last February for #WorldBookDay - https://vidatraining.weebly.com/blog/february-28th-2018.
We’re always interested to know about other people’s experiences and thoughts. Please share these by commenting…
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