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TitleDeaf in Delhi: A Memoir (Deaf Lives Series, Vol. 4)
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Page 2

Deaf in Delhi

Page 117

New Discoveries

I B E G A N T O L E A R N P H O T O G R A P H Y , B U T M O R E
than that I began to learn about an entirely new world of which I was
becoming a bona fide member. Sign language was the key to this new

Soon I was leading a double life. One was the old life surrounded
by my family and friends—all hearing—who communicated with me by
tracing words on their palms with their index fingers. The second was
the new one: the Deaf world with the PID at its center.

Mr. Goyle, the teacher, did not teach most of the time. He had a
thriving photographic studio which required his full attention. He would
show up erratically and give us an assignment and then return to his
studio. I would confer with my fellow students. My sign language had
improved and so had my knowledge about the Deaf world in Delhi.

Everyone had a sign name. Mr. Goyle was known as the “whistle.”
He used to bring a whistle to his school when he was very young, so he
got that name sign. Khurana was “right-wrist-over-left-wrist separating
and joining twice.” This was a reference to his father being a police
officer. Goel was “index finger raised up moving up and down on the
left side of his forehead.” He had a scar on his forehead. I got a similar
sign except the finger moved back and forth across the lips. This referred
to a scar on my upper lip.

The most famous sign was for B. G. Nigam, the general secretary of
the All India Federation of the Deaf (AIFD). It was the tip of the index
finger going from left to right on one’s forehead. This was the sign for
“black”. Mr. Nigam was very dark—darker than most Indian people.
Both Khurana and Goel talked endlessly about Mr. Nigam and how
corrupt he was. They never said one positive word about him, the most


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n e w d i s c o v e r i e s 103

In front of Qutab Minar,
a twelfth-century
structure in Delhi. A
fellow photography
student shot this photo
to show the effects of
camera angles. The
monument is almost 300
feet high.

powerful and successful deaf person in India. He was also the vice presi-
dent of the World Federation of the Deaf.

Khurana and Goel complained that Mr. Nigam was angry and arro-
gant. I could not believe that the charming man with whom Bhai Narain
had spoken with a few days earlier was so hated by other deaf people.
According to Khurana and Goel, Nigam screamed at and even beat up
people who did not agree with him. He was also corrupt, they said. He
lived like a king and had no source of income except for being the general
secretary of the AIFD. No one knew how much he was paid for that
position. The way he lived, according to my new friends, cost thousands
of rupees a month.

As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Goyle taught us only an hour or so daily.
We used to talk and have fun while he was not there. Once in a while,
Mr. Nigam would jump in from the window that separated his ofÞce
from the classroom and talk with us for a few minutes. One day, he

Page 234

e p i l o g u e 219

I received my bachelor and master’s degrees in education from Gal-
laudet and then applied for teaching jobs in India through the Indian
embassy in Washington, D.C. I didn’t get one answer to the 122 applica-
tions I mailed through the Indian Embassy. I was wondering what to do
when some of my friends advised me to teach in America for a couple
of years and get some real-life experience that I could take back home
to India. So, I did.

Each of my years at Gallaudet, I kept telling myself that I would soon
return to India to work with my old friends and share what I had learned
in America. My “ going back to India” slowly became a joke among my
friends. At the end of my third year in America, I knew I was not going
back home. And the great American dream kicked in.

My friends kept advising me to work for a few years as a teacher in
the United States to gain experience before returning to India. They also
said that I would have my summers free to do research there. That made
sense, and I accepted a teaching job at Kendall Demonstration Elementary
School for the Deaf on the Gallaudet campus. My wife Nirmala joined
me a month later in October 1973. The idea was that we would live here
for a while, save up money, and then go back to India as soon as I got
a job offer.

This did not happen. My own resolve about starting a school in India
was weakening. I was so used to the American way of life that returning
to my roots and leading a life of abject poverty, by American standards,
scared me. My efforts to apply for jobs in India tapered off slowly.

Since then, I have done things and achieved milestones that I had
never even dreamed about. I have worked as a teacher, administrative
assistant, supervisor, associate principal, assistant superintendent, and
superintendent in several schools for the deaf. In 1977, I started working
in India during summers and researching Indian Sign Language with the
help of American scholars. With the help of some American linguists, I
authored four dictionaries of Indian Sign Language. I also wrote a number
of professional articles and book chapters, and I made presentations at
national and international conferences covering deaf education, adminis-
tration, and Indian Sign Language to name a few.

Dheeraj, our son, was born in 1974; and Neerja, our daughter, arrived
3 years later. We bought a house in Maryland and began to lead an all-
American life.

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220 e p i l o g u e

Perhaps my son Dheeraj was right when he said, “ Daddy, you were
lucky to become deaf.” Deafness did open new doors for me, and I used
them to arrive where I am now. I cannot wait to start writing about my
American adventure— the people I met and friends I made. The experi-
ences I had as a teacher, an administrator, and a person would � ll a
book— the one I am working on now.

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