Posted By: Puneet Singhal, New Delhi
As a young child in New Delhi, life was beautiful. I remember, when I started my schooling, it was so much fun learning English and Hindi alphabets, mathematics, and drawing. I used to recite prayers and sing the national anthem in the school assembly. In classes, I was the one who reads aloud the mathematics table, and other fellows used to repeat after me. But then everything changed when I witnessed violence amongst adults for the first time. I felt wounded and yet so numb that I used to stand in one place for hours without having a single thought. I found myself in shackles. Before I was scared to sit in the dark but now, I found refuge in darkness.
I stopped communicating. When I was asked a question, my words didn’t come out. The school stage that used to be my comfort-zone, changed to a “battlefield”. One day the whole class started to stammer “Gu-Gu-Gu-Good morning,” and I realized that they were mocking me.
My classmates and their parents even complained to the principal that I could be a bad influence and make all of them stammerers. And my mother couldn’t believe that her son, whose tongue was as fast as a train and sharp as a razor was struggling with his speech! Being subject to constant mocking, I completely lost my confidence. I used different strategies to ease my stammering: swapping any words I generally got stuck on, reducing my statements to a minimum, or arriving late to avoid introducing myself. When people tried to help by asking me to slow down or by finishing my sentences, it made me even more conscious. And then there were these weird and rather dangerous advice like licking ashes of cremated bodies or rubbing alum on the tongue until the upper layer was removed. Looking back my childhood was not easy, but do I regret having a stammer? No, it made me a more sensitive human being. I feel connected with all who are unable to express their thoughts and are longing to be understood.
In the summer of 2018, I got in touch with Vinayak, a man who needed almost 7 minutes to introduce himself. He was from The Indian Stammering Association (TISA) and he invited me to attend the annual conference in Delhi. When I listened to the speakers, I was amazed at how confident and comfortable they were while speaking in public. Soon enough, I found myself among my “tribe”, and now we were the ones who made fun of our inabilities, or shall I say, our special style of communication. For the first time, I didn’t have to run away from myself.
The next day, we got a task to talk to passengers in the Delhi metro. We explained our challenges and how we felt being ridiculed. People listened to us and signed a pledge to be considerate towards anyone who faces a communication problem. All this helped me to be in harmony with myself and to accept that I am a stammerer. Now I can tak
e control of my life as I realized I am not alone. And BOOM! I jumped back on stage again. And took every opportunity to fail miserably, more than ever before. But I did learn one thing: I can now say my name fluently, a name that starts with “PU”. A sound I always struggled with.
Being different in one’s manner of expression is considered a speech disorder by society. Stammering is one of the most common speech disorders, with around 1% of the world’s population stammers. The norm is to be fast and fluent. There is no space for unconventional speakers who face challenges conveying their ideas and emotions. Even when they want to help, people try to finish our sentences due to a lack of patience. Being subject to constant mocking, we lose our confidence and self-esteem. It becomes our only identity.
kanthari– A centre to empower Social Visionaries
I would like to tell you that I am in Kerala for a Social Leadership course with Kanthari. It offers a 12 month, scholarship based leadership program for visionaries who have overcome adversity and who are keen to drive ethical social change anywhere in the world. It will equip me with all the necessary tools to start and run my own NGO or social venture.
For more information regarding kanthari, you can refer to this link – https://www.kanthari.org/about-us/kanthari-at-a-glance/ .
Here is my blog that got published on their website about my life and project – https://www.kanthari.org/kanthari-blog-18-06-2021/ .
https://www.kanthari.org/kanthari-alumnis/participants-2021/ – This link contains a personal profile of every participant, and you can find my profile under my name “Puneet Singhal, New Delhi”.
I am here till 19 December 2021 and will go back to New Delhi afterwards and will work towards my dream project of my own non-profit social venture called “S..S..Start”, with better skill set, knowledge and experience.
The New S..S..Start
Since the outbreak of covid-19, social distancing has become the new norm, further increasing the gap between people.I have a dream to start a non-profit organization called Ssstart which will be a center that gives hope to revive the warmth in human communication through exciting and engaging workshops, activities, and events.
We will provide interactive spaces for people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds to be free, vulnerable, and patient human beings. Our main goal is to create authentic communicators who convey their message thoroughly and balance speaking and listening effectively.
Next to empowering those with speech disorders, we will advocate for a society that communicates openly, thinks critically, and values patience once we, those with speech disorders, try to convey our messages, even if it takes some time. This also implies that the listeners don’t finish our sentences if we are stuck.
We will demonstrate self-humor through activities like stand-up comedy, rapping and street plays. We will prove that we deserve to be heard and belong in society. occasionally, we will invite successful personalities with speech disabilities, to boost the self-confidence of our participants and show them that they can also achieve their dreams through constant practice and determination. We are also planning to offer workshops focused on body language, public speaking, and sign language. We will also seek help from experienced psychologists for people suffering from traumas that require clinical support.