seeing with new eyes

Chetan is a passionate dholak player
Chetan is a keen dholak player

I want to tell you about one of the newest friends I have made here in India: Chetan. Chetan stays in Vangani, a suburb just outside of the city of Mumbai. He is a young dad, and lives in a humble home with his wife Radha and super cute baby twins. He’s also a musician with an incredible passion for percussion, and a pretty good singer too.

Any of you who have been to Mumbai will understand what I mean when I say it is one of the most hectic hustling cities of our Earth. In every moment of every day, people are going places and doing things. And the epitome of this hustle is felt on the trains at rush hour. Literally millions of people are moving around the city, and being caught in the madness often involves clutching your bag tightly in fear of pickpockets, relinquishing any personal space you might enjoy and accepting nothing can be done about the odd armpit in your face (true story).

Welcome to Chetan’s office.

Chetan is one of the numerous street performers of Mumbai. A talented musician who entertains the masses on the trains. You won’t usually find him playing at rush hour, but rather during the day when people have the space to breathe and hopefully appreciate his music. Whilst Chetan has now started recognising himself as an artist, most of us still view him as a beggar. Most of us ignore him. Most of us barely spare him a look, or a thought. Maybe out of guilt we give him a coin or two. Many of us get frustrated by the noise he makes on the train. And for a long time, with no other livelihood to pursue, Chetan too saw himself as someone who played music and begged for money on the train.

An awesome organisation, Swaradhar is restoring dignity to street performers like Chetan and providing them with platforms to perform

After spending the day on the trains with Chetan, we went home with him. We walked through his community as he cracked jokes and greeted his friends who worked at the various shops and stalls. Chetan was clearly a community man with a large circle of friends. We entered his home and were greeted by the most beautiful twin babies and Chetan’s warm wife, Radha. It was a beautiful sight watching the two of them caress and play with their children and in time we got our turn too. Radha then went to the kitchen and began preparing dinner. She was quick, like most women I have met here. I gazed intently at how she sliced vegetables at laser speed, and managed multiple pots and pans at once – one with rice, another with daal (lentils) and a third with tea. Something I still struggle to do!

The beautiful twins
The beautiful twins

Meanwhile, we sat chatting with Chetan, learning more about his life and sharing more about our own. He told us about how a lot of his time on the weekend is spent helping new people settle into the community and organising and coordinating blood drives amongst other community service events.  It was fascinating hearing about his upbringing, about both the neglect and the love he has received from family. About how he lost his previous job and with no other option took to the trains to make a livelihood.

Oh, and by the way, did I mention, Chetan and his wife are also blind.

The first lesson Chetan and Radha taught me was the importance of being self-reliant. I would have never imagined a blind person would be able to cook on a stove, manage so many pots or even cut vegetables at such speed. I would have never imagined blind parents would raise children with such ease. Or manage a home without additional support. Chetan was a mirror to my own limiting assumptions about the world. And a beautiful example of how self-reliance and self-sufficiency is fundamental to developing self-confidence. Something Chetan and Radha exemplified 🙂

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Radha in the kitchen

The second lesson Chetan taught me was on self-acceptance. I assumed Chetan would see his blindness as a setback in his own life, but this wasn’t the case at all. Chetan oozed with self-love and self-acceptance and made an active choice to accept his situation and choose to be happy. He told me quite plainly that complaining does no good for anyone, and really had no point. His outlook was clearly seen through how he was constantly cracking jokes, having a laugh, and choosing to recognise the beauty in his situations. Chetan didn’t ‘wish he could see’ as I thought he may have.

Always so happy
Always so happy

Chetan reminded me that we don’t need much to give. Chetan doesn’t make a lot of money on the trains. His wife doesn’t work. He has a family of four to look after. And he can’t see. Yet he’s out organising blood drives. He’s organising community events. He’s giving his time, his energy and passionately will tell you his ideas about how he thinks corruption can be eliminated and compassion can grow in our society. We can all give. We can all help. What more could each of us be doing?

For an insight into Chetan’s life check out this awesome video made by my colleague Dave. (The password is chetan)

Chetan never sat and ‘taught me’ anything in the traditional sense. Like everything in this world, he was a mirror, revealing to me my own assumptions, judgements and limiting self-beliefs.

What are you seeing in the mirrors people hold up to you?


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