Madan M. Vasishta, Ph.D.
Madan M. Vasishta was born in India and became deaf at age 11. He worked as a farmer for the next 10 years and moved to Delhi in 1961 where he first met deaf people and learned to sign. Vasishta taught photography in India and worked with the All India Federation of the Deaf before coming to Gallaudet in 1967. He earned his B.A. in History and Psychology, M.A. in Deaf Education and Ph.D. in Special Education Administration from Gallaudet and later worked as a teacher, program evaluator, principal, researcher and administrator in various schools for the deaf.
Vasishta retired from New Mexico School for the Deaf as its superintendent in 2000. He has authored six books, scores of articles and book chapters and has made over 50 presentations at national and international conferences. He has published two memoirs: “Deaf in Delhi” and “Deaf in DC”.
At present, Vasishta divides his time between teaching at Gallaudet and working as the chief advisor of the Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre in New Delhi. He is also involved in other various deafness-related projects in India and is working on two new books.
Selection from – A Deaf in Delhi: A memoir by Madan Vasishta
I had never thought about writing about my life. Who wants to know about it, anyway? However, whenever I talked about my experience growing up in India, people would say, “Hey, you got to write your life story.” I would laugh, “Sure!” And that would be the end of it. The repeated reminders by friends and acquaintances finally persuaded me, and I decided to write about my life when I retired from administration.
The hardest part was to begin. We moved to Manassas and I set up my office. I would sit in front of my computer and start to write. Then my fingers would freeze on the keyboard, and I would end up surfing the Internet, responding to emails or playing solitaire. It took two months to finally get one sentence on the screen, but then I finished a whole chapter in less than half an hour. When done, I was sweating, huffing, and puffing. It was an emotional experience, and I was tired, but it got me started. Once begun, writing became second nature.
The key to writing, I learned, is to first think a lot about what I wanted to write. I just kept “writing in my head.” This gave me a lot of practice and confidence when I eventually sat down in front of my computer. The second lesson I learned is not to be afraid to write. I knew I could come back and make it better or totally rewrite it. Getting it off my chest was a wonderful experience. The computer became my confessor.
In this article I am reproducing two chapters from my book. The first one has to do with when I became deaf, and the second recounts my interview for a government job.
Panic in Silence
I was deaf!
I could not hear. I could not understand people. Birds did not chirp, cows did not moo, the wind did not howl, stray village dogs did not bark!
It was total silence, but it was not!
The noise in my head worked overtime, and, having nothing to do, I played with this pesky noise. I had an orchestra playing there. I tried to get the noise out of my head with the belief that, once I got rid of it, I would be able to hear. I had decided that it was this noise that was blocking out all sounds from entering my ears. The efforts, as you may know, were as successful as my later efforts at practicing telekinesis. However, these efforts kept my mind away from deafness.
Even worse than the noise was my weakness from one month of high fever. I could not get up from the bed. Bhabhi, my mother, and Sham, my elder brother, or someone else would help me get up when I needed to relieve myself. It was very embarrassing, as I had to sit on a bowl placed in a corner of the room. I would sit on it and relieve myself while they looked away to give me a false sense of privacy. The stench made me sick, but Sham and Bhabhi never mentioned it. They would carry the bowl out, keeping it at arm’s length to throw the contents in the gorge outside the cluster of houses where we lived.
During the day, they would put a cot in the courtyard and carry me to it. There I would lie under quilts, savouring the warmth of the January sun and hiding my face from the village women who gathered there daily to swap gossip. I would not look at them when they tried to talk to me. I was embarrassed at being deaf. They would patiently come and try to get my attention. I learned that I could shut them off just by looking away.