MEET IN­DIA’S FIRST BLIND STAND-UP COMEDIENNE

NIDHI GOYAL USES HU­MOUR TO HIGH­LIGHT LIFE AS THE DIF­FER­ENTLY ABLED KNOW IT

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - By Aan­chal Tuli Pho­to­graphs shot ex­clu­sively for HTBrunch by Shivangi Kulka­rni

Fatherof a po­ten­tial suitor: Beta, we’ re very im­pressed with your qual­i­fi­ca­tions and pro­file. We want you to meet ours on. N id hi: Thank you Un­cle, but I hope you know that I’m blind. Un­cle :( Speech less) N id hi: In conclusion, we now know that dis­abil­ity is con­ta­gious!

N IDHI GOYAL lost her eye­sight when she was 15 years old. Don’t be sad. Now, 16 years later, at 31, Nidhi is one of the hap­pi­est, most pos­i­tive peo­ple you’ll ever meet, which ex­plains the lat­est ad­di­tion to her al­ready­im­pres­sive list of ti­tles – that of be­ing In­dia’s first vis­ually chal­lenged stand-up co­me­dian.

An ac­tivist work­ing on dis­abil­ity rights and gen­der jus­tice at both the na­tional and in­ter­na­tional lev­els, Nidhi never planned to be a co­me­dian. But the jokes were al­ways there, in­spired by her per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences, and meant for her friends’ ears only.

“My friends loved how I nar­rated my per­sonal ad­ven­tures and ex­pe­ri­ences,” says Nidhi.“After one such catch­ing-up ses­sion, my friend and fel­low ac­tivist, Pra­mada Menon, gave me a six­month dead­line to get a per­for­mance ready. So, I sat and wrote in­ci­dents that were on the top of my mind and got a script to­gether. Every­thing you hear and laugh about is based on a per­sonal in­ci­dent, a slice of my life or that of my friends. As an ac­tivist, l in­ter­act with a lot of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. So the set is a col­lage of my story and theirs, sto­ries that’ll make you see the hi­lar­ity in the myths and as­sump­tions sur­round­ing dis­abil­ity and just how far they are from the truth.”

“I know peo­ple get un­com­fort­able the minute I walk on stage. It’s like, ‘Oh shit, is she blind? She’s blind! What is she do­ing here?”

BREAK­ING THE FUNNY BONE

Pop­u­lar stand-up co­me­dian Aditi Mit­tal in­tro­duced Nidhi to the world with her series, Bad Girls. Her first per­for­mance in Fe­bru­ary this year was an in­stant hit, both off­line and on­line.

“I know peo­ple get un­com­fort­able the minute I walk on stage,” says Nidhi. “It’s like, ‘Oh shit, is she blind? She’s blind! What is she do­ing here? What if she needs help?’ And that ex­plains every­one’s first in­stinct to­wards dis­abil­ity. It’s not even pity, it’s dis­com­fort. ‘We don’t know what to do with these peo­ple.’ ‘We don’t know and we don’t want to know.’ It’s a shame that the onus is al­ways on the dis­abled per­son to make the other feel com­fort­able. I don’t get that ex­pec­ta­tion. In fact, I’m the op­po­site. If you’re un­com­fort­able, then so be it. You have to calm down on your own, I won’t help.”

But she’s quick to clar­ify that this is not a de­fence mech­a­nism. It’s just who she is. You see a bit of this at­ti­tude in the be­gin­ning of her video too. “I’m blind, so is love. Get over it,” she an­nounces, and you’re in­stantly hooked.

“As long as I can re­mem­ber, I’ve been like that,” says Nidhi. “I started los­ing my sight at 15, when I was di­ag­nosed with re­tini­tis pig­men­tosa. I was maybe a lit­tle un­com­fort­able then, but soon enough, I was back to not car­ing and be­ing com­fort­able in my own skin. I was the girl who wore a sports watch with a sal­war-suit to col­lege. So my at­ti­tude has al­ways been ‘This is me, take it or leave it.’”

Could she be ig­nor­ing her dis­abil­ity; pre­tend­ing it doesn’t ex­ist? No, says Nidhi. “I treat it as an es­sen­tial part of my life and deal with it the same way any­one deals with any dif­fi­culty,” she says. “Ev­ery­body has their own shit, just be­cause you can see my shit doesn’t mean it’s hor­ri­ble. When we’re happy with a big­ger piece of cake, we should be okay with a big­ger dis­abil­ity too; it’s as sim­ple as that.”

LOVE AND LAUGH­TER

A big seg­ment of Nidhi’s per­for­mance fo­cuses on re­la­tion­ships and sex­u­al­ity within the dis­abled com­mu­nity. From ar­ranged mar­riage en­coun­ters to sex and PDA, noth­ing is off-lim­its.

“By us­ing com­edy, I’m try­ing to re­move the hush around the topic,” she ex­plains. “Within the hour-long per­for­mance, I talk about be­ing sin­gle and want­ing to meet some­one. I share the ex­pe­ri­ences I’ve had meet­ing peo­ple, po­ten­tial suit­ors, their fam­i­lies and more. Again, these are real in­ci­dents. It’s hi­lar­i­ous how peo­ple re­act when I tell them that, yes, I’m blind and I still want a re­la­tion­ship. But these in­ci­dents are the ones that struck me when I was writ­ing. It’s not like I sat down and re­flected upon every­thing that has hap­pened in my life.”

If she did mine her whole life for anec­dotes, Nidhi could do a full one-woman show, or a movie. “Com­edy is a great medium to tell the most com­pli­cated of sto­ries,” she says. “The whole spec­trum of dis­abil­ity and sex­u­al­ity is in­tan­gi­ble; it chal­lenges every­one’s per­sonal thoughts. We talk about the physical as­pects of a dis­abil­ity, about cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, ac­ces­si­bil­ity and ed­u­ca­tion. While that is very im­por­tant, it is also es­sen­tial to tackle per­sonal thoughts and views on dis­abil­ity. You can put a dis­abled per­son in the same school as an abled per­son, but what’s the point if they still get treated like shit? That’s what I’m try­ing to do with com­edy. It’s not about just get­ting a re­ac­tion; it’s about get­ting the right kind of re­ac­tion.”

Her first video is cur­rently at 400K+ views on YouTube. So it’s safe to say that she’s not go­ing to run out of good re­ac­tions any­time soon.

“Loveis­blind.SoamI. Ge­toverit!”

Make-up and hair: Sangeeta Rawan

Lo­ca­tion cour­tesy: Can­vas Laugh Club, Mumbai

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