Loud and clear

Loud and clear

The signs are right for deaf-mute couple Rubina and Sadath Kola as they learn to live — and communicate — just like any of us

By Karen Ann Monsy

Published: Fri 22 Mar 2013, 6:11 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 9:59 AM

There are many couples relaxing in and around the grassy lawns at Zabeel Park, but one in particular is catching the eye of most passersby. It’s the end of another working day and the Kolas — Sadath and Rubina — have much to say. Only they’re letting their hands do most, if not all, of the talking.

A car tyre bursts with a loud bang behind them and Rubina whips around, sure she’s heard something. “What was that?” she wants to know. But Sadath hasn’t noticed a thing. He’s not wearing a hearing aid. They slip back into discussing their day: he teasing her in between, she signing so rapidly, her fingers are a blur, their soundless laughter saying more than they realise.

From her open manner and easy laugh, you’d never guess Rubina’s past holds so many troubling stories — and yet she’s seen it all, from abuse to a broken marriage to depression bordering on suicide. She’s one of ‘those’ people, whose life story can put your own daily whining in perspective with a res-ounding crunch. The smile may be a great disguise, but the 43-year-old will tell you she is genuinely happy these days.

And yet, it wasn’t always this way.

Rubina was born to a poor family in Mumbai, the youngest of three deaf-mute children. Growing up was “bad”, she says bluntly. Her dad died when she was 10 and her mother toiled tirelessly to support the kids. Rubina was offered free education at The Stephen High School for the Deaf. “It was full of rich kids who wanted nothing to do with me,” she recalls. “I had no friends but my teacher was really good to me and I became an all-rounder in school.”

With her record for excellence in both academics and sports, Rubina won herself a college scholarship but made the difficult decision to drop out six months later, at her mother’s request, to support the family. She married ‘the boy next door’ in 1992 — they lived in the same building and her hearing condition didn’t matter to him as he was well-versed in American Sign Language — and the couple had a healthy daughter two years later. By 2003, however, the union had ended in divorce. “I was the only breadwinner in the family, paying not only for our support but my mother and sister too. I finally decided I’d had enough, and left him.” Her daughter chose to stay with her dad and, by this point, Rubina says she was “utterly miserable” — but it was at this nadir in her life that she met Sadath at a mutual friend’s wedding in Mumbai.

The 35-year-old, who was also born hearing impaired and hails from a small village in the port town of Bhatkal in Karnataka, was instantly taken in by Rubina (“she had the sweetest smile but she was unhappy and I wanted t o take her away from her problems”) — and proposed to her the next day. She refused, he persisted. His orthodox family put up a right fuss — she was older than him, a “city girl”, divorced and had a child — but he would have none of it.

The duo got married in 2004 with some interventions from friends, though without his family’s blessings (“they’ve made it clear I am dead to them,” Rubina says). The years that followed were not easy. For the first three, Sadath was unable to find a job in Mumbai and Rubina continued to be the main breadwinner. He finally took Rubina’s advice to complete his Grade 10 exams and try his luck in Dubai.

Sadath found work as an accountant with the Metro Taxi Company in Dubai in 2007— but the distance took a serious toll on the relationship with his parents stepping up the pressure and, for a while, this marriage too seemed to be heading for the rocks. Rubina joined her husband in late 2011 (after 21 years of service at Union Bank of India in Mumbai) and the couple finally managed to sort things out to stay together. Today, Rubina holds an accounting position with AMBB Interiors in Al Quoz — and couldn’t be more grateful for the support her bosses give her.

Society can really influence the lives of the differently-abled, Sadath feels. “I didn’t have as much trouble as Rubina growing up, because in Bhatkal there were many others like me… My colleagues are good to me too and often try to learn to sign.” But the couple still finds they have to deal with people’s perceptions of special needs. Some are sympathetic, others downright rude — and while Rubina has long learnt to let it go, Sadath can often get into confrontations. He dreams of the day sign language will be accepted without question.

Rubina adds, “My biggest challenge is when no one gets what I am trying to say. I can lip read, but when people switch to languages other than English on purpose or whisper behind their hands in front of me, that hurts… It’s tough to compete with ‘normal people’ in this rat race.”

Hear! Hear!

It’s been Rubina’s desire to offer sign language classes to the community for a long time now. She has conducted workshops in the past — but the lack of sponsors and general community interest has so far made it difficult to have them as more regular features

Even normal rights like those to a driving licence and a car can become a fight. “They refused to give Sadath a licence at first because of his hearing condition. I fought. People drive with their windows up and the music blasting all the time. They can’t hear a thing — how are we any different?” Rubina argued. Sadath was awarded his licence two months back.

Currently, they’re trying to get a car loan approved (it’s being denied on the basis that they can’t pick up phone calls and SMSes won’t cut it) but the Kolas are hoping for a policy change.

The azaan sounds and Rubina smiles upon recognising it. Her hearing aid helps her hear to a certain extent (“loud noises, phones ringing, cars honking”) but Sadath is content to go through life without one, as he always has.

What about music? “I love music,” she says, wistfully. “I’ve never heard it but I can feel the vibration of loud music here [in my heart]. When I see people dance, I wish I could join them… I used to cry and ask why I was born deaf… In Dubai, I met some wonderful people like Gulshan Kavarana of Special Families Support Group, Lola Lopez from Volunteer in Dubai and [special needs advocate] Neena Nizar. They taught me to be stronger. I have my hands to work. I don’t want to look back. I want to step forward and make them proud at home.”

Rubina has simple dreams — and none of them are for her. “I want to be able to support my mother and sister as well as my daughter, who is studying in college in Mumbai. I dream of being a teacher for special needs children and teaching the community sign language.”

And she dreams of acceptance. “I want people to be aware that we may be deaf and mute, but we’re not stupid. I want them to be polite, not rude, and treat us like friends.”

(Do you know anyone who refuses to let his/her disability get in the way of their routines and dreams? Write to us at karen@khaleejtimes.com)

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