mid-day's 39th anniversary: Do you see what I see?

By Suman Mahfuz Quazi | Mumbai

Updated: Jun 29, 2018, 09:37 IST

Nidhi Goyal has made a mark as a disability rights activist, a vivid voice on gender justice and now, India's first disabled stand-up comedian

Nidhi Goyal has worked as researcher, speaker and panelist with Human Rights Watch and the United Nations

Nidhi Goyal, 31
Visually challenged activist and stand-up comedienne

The first two lines of On His Blindness by John Milton, go like this: When I consider how my light is spent, Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide... While many consider the poem a brooding narrative on his loss of sight, for some, the sonnet is also an account of how Milton never completely lost his vision. Warriors such as him come in all shapes and sizes. Nidhi Goyal is one such fighter, although she's more wit than woe. There's hardly any waters she hasn't chartered. A feminist, disability and gender justice rights activist, Goyal is also India's first blind stand-up comedienne.

"Because I'm blind, when I travel, I get noticed and stopped. Once I was visiting a coffee shop I tend to frequent, and was getting off from an auto. As I was paying the autowallah, the security guard said to me, 'Arre ma'am, aap akele? Sir nahin aye?' I wanted to say, 'kaun sir?' but I ended up saying, 'kaun se waale?'" She's breezy and cool about the intrusion and stereotyping, and that more than explains her foray into comedy.

"I dreamt of creating a supportive environment for others, because I had one. I began losing my sight at 15. The initial years were difficult because I had to adjust to a new degree of sight each time. But, once I had acclimatised to living with blindness or understanding how I could, I began looking at the funny side of it. People make ridiculous assumptions about the disabled people. Sometimes, I got angry, but mostly, I laughed it off. The friend I'd share these experiences with thought this was perfect for stand-up," she shares.

Goyal performed for the first time in February 2017 and was an instant hit. Most of what she covers stems from personal anecdotes, whether the absurd reactions to her disability or simple mishaps like with the autowallah. Sex and relationships among the disabled is another prominent theme in her scripts.  Comedy is just one facet of her long list of achievements. She is also founder and director of Rising Flame, an organisation that works for the rights of the disabled with a special focus on women and girls with disability. Speaking of what drives her, she says, "My family is my inspiration. Despite having two children who are blind, they have lived a life of empathy and not lost hold of humour."

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