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My Friend Onir

- Sanchita Ain (She/Her), Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India.

What would a person be who has not experienced pain and thus does not know the significance of absence of it!" -- Mr. Salman Khurshid at the launch of the book, 'Conquering Pain'

It was November 2010. I wanted to go to the best place in the world to do an LLM in International Human Rights Law. I was sure nothing was coming in my way this time. I called up Faizan Sir (Prof. Faizan Mustafa) to ask him which was the best place. He told me everyone does human rights law and I should do something else like climate change law, aviation law etc: something that has scope. I gave it a thought for a few days, called him again to tell him I still wanted to study human rights law. So, he suggested that I should apply to Essex. That was the best. I had filled up the application form, ticked the box, 'no disability'. I thought I would check it once before submitting it. This was Saturday. On Wednesday, I was writing in class when I suddenly could not write a single letter. I tried very hard to hold my pen in different ways. But there were just lines on the paper instead of alphabets. I did have undiagnosed symptoms I had learned to live with over a period of time. My friends knew I had difficulty in writing and how I would spend sleepless nights in pain during exams. But this had never happened before. So I talked to my friend who was a student at the Medical College. She asked me to see a neurologist with over two decades of experience. I got an appointment for Friday. By that time, my spine had and upper back had started becoming stiff. It was painful to move. That Friday, the movie Guzarish was released. I listened to the songs all day. I managed to smile. The doctor was away. The senior resident knew what it was. The other two resident doctors had no idea. They could only guess muscular dystrophy when he said it had got to do with muscles. By the time I got to see the doctor on Monday, the condition had worsened. I was struggling to even get down from the rickshaw, my eyes were getting involuntarily closed.

Just two days before all this started happening, a perfectly fine Sanchita had quite enthusiastically given a detailed feedback on the poster of a film called 'Shab'. It was Onir's film. He sent me a friend request. I checked if the account was legit before accepting it. He was making the movie, 'I AM'. It was on issues very close to my heart. I had seen his film 'My Brother...Nikhil'. I trusted him as a filmmaker.

When the diagnosis came and the doctor expressed sympathy, I laughed. Finally, my years of struggle got identified. But once I googled it the letters d-y-s-t-o-n-i-a, the image on the Wikipedia page was quite scary. I did not know how to share my fear and did not even know who to share it with. I remember the first message I wrote to Onir. It was full of scepticism as to how he would reply, despite not wanting to. Thankfully, he ignored that bit completely and responded to the rest of the message. Since that time, whenever I would struggle to do anything, I would just drop a message and I knew he would answer. Sometimes it was as simple as “I don't know how to do this”, or “why is it so difficult?” or “it feels like I have lost my identity”.

I struggled with my speech while performing a nukkad natak. I struggled with everything I had not struggled with before. I did not see it coming. My friends didn't know what it was. It was affecting their morale because they were so used to seeing that courageous Sanchita. They had never seen me struggling with anything, never seen me getting frustrated. They didn't know what to do, they didn't know what to say. So, I just went to a corner and messaged Onir. He was editing his film. But he responded. I would tell him how when people would walk away not knowing what to say or do, I felt horrible. But when someone would come to offer me help, I did not like it either. I shared all of it with him. I told him maybe it would help if he ever makes a movie with a character who has a disability.

Going back to the LLM application I had not sent yet. I had started to wonder if I should apply for LLM at all. How would I manage? I wrote to him. That was a time I did not even know how to get up in the morning and make tea for myself. But the funny bit was that the moment I would feel a little better, I would think I can make instant black coffee, if not tea. When I would feel a lot better during the day, I knew I can use tea bags and milk. That I can do! I wrote to Onir one such morning when I was wondering how would I even make tea for myself. He asked me to take every day as it comes. It was as if I wanted someone to say this to me. I hit the 'submit' button the same day after stating my disability and that I would need a scribe. I secured a distinction there, something that very few people do in a batch of 70+ best students from all over the world.

That's why I always tell him he's that dream-seller who sold me my own dream. It was only last year that I met him for the first time. I wore the 'I AM' T-shirt he had sent me 9 years back. It's because of people like him that my belief in small acts and gestures making a huge difference in people's lives has remained intact. My friends sometimes feel concerned about me because I tend to think so much for so many people that they do not know how I do it. I do not have a priority list. I do not understand why I should do only for those who have done or may do something for me. I may be dealing with anything but I make sure people have my back, whoever they may be. Even if they are strangers or people who may not particularly come across as impressive, I make sure I listen to them, even when they are not talking. Sometimes that's all one needs. My friend, Onir was one of the persons who made this possible.

Cheers to all the Onirs of the world!

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