May 11, 2009

in between our eyes

Filed under: Easter Project — Tags: — poulomibasu @ 10:48 pm

One afternoon, last year I was attacked by an acute sinus infection that resulted in a partial loss of vision for about an hour. I kept twitching my eyes. Everything was out of focus and completely blurred, I panicked. After some medical advice and an hour of rest, I regained my sight. Despite the seriousness of the incident, I was hesitant to find out why this had happened.

It dawned upon me that if I were to locate myself in any part of my body it would be my eyes. Without it I would lose my skill, lose myself. This incident spurred me to explore blindness.

Last month I met Winston ‘Solomon’ Odyele, a quirky, intelligent man in his mid fifties, a qualified teacher, part-time poet, a staunch liberal, a cricket enthusiast, a Scrabble champion and much more. Winston lost his sight when he was four years old in Ogmoboso, Nigeria. With that he lost memories he could have otherwise retained of his dear native land.

He agreed to spend four days with me, but it ended up being four weeks instead. I observed him, spent hours conversing and traversing the city with him. I wanted to explore his ideas of beauty, memory, how he deals with spaces, objects, people and his surroundings.

I wanted to see how he navigates around London, and his views and opinions about the city and its people, and his likes and dislikes. From a rugged edge to a soft cushion, from a step up to a slope down, they feel, touch, hear and smell to know what is around them.

I learnt that he like most totally blind people can actually see light and shadows. This interplay is equally jarring. Their vision is not all black.

Yet for him purple is just a word, he knows it is some sort of red though he has no evidence. “Green is a watered down blue. Between red, yellow, orange, I cannot make up my mind what comes first,” he says.

The hysterical sound of the pneumatic drill and the police siren drives him mad. He puts his hand on his ears and moves his head vigorously. He can’t take it, and despite living in London he has not got used to it.

Winston knew that the London authorities had made certain tube stations look very beautiful, but from a blind person’s point of view he believed it was awkward. He believed that as most spaces are designed for people to navigate around by sight “it is impossible to understand the difficulty that a blind person has to through”.

I sensed that he has a yearning to go back home to Nigeria. He buys gifts for his friends and family there. He doesn’t know when he will go back or if he will ever go back for that matter.  But that thought keeps him going.

In spite of trying to understand the layers that lie beyond our vision the truth is that our realities can never be the same. Conversely, it may also be considered to be a true that a middle ground may be found. It is possible, and that is what I strived to do. Another way was to give him a camera and allow him to question, share, express himself as well as his private spaces.

Imagination is pictures, seeing with your eyes closed just like you see when they are open, you have to do it both ways. Look outside and notice all you can, and look inside and remember all you can. The really wise man knows how to choose, what to see and what to remember I guess.      


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