The Magic of Madness
“… I always believed one needn’t be handicapped to be “different”. Everybody in this world is different.”
From “Onus Aham Ahann… Onus Aham Ahann… Onus Aham Ahann,”
I chanted, a wide-eyed boy of 12 gazing out at the night skies of a new millennium, the dawn of a whole new world – outside and within. I’d spoken, mostly to myself, in this surreal gibberish since the age of five. In that moment, I had fallen in love with the mystery, the mystery of the world, the mystery that I was to be.
Born with dyspraxia and synaesthesia, among other pleasantries, I walk in diagonal lines, and classify the personalities of those I meet according to an unorthodox matrix of sensory values, such as a specific taste or smell, or an object that seems to me to match. Words are sumptuous. While writing a rhyme,
a watery mouth satiates itself by crafting a rich recitation (writing this piece, even, I salivate!).
I am different. Often an impediment in tasks. A virtuous handicap.
But I always believed one needn’t be handicapped to be “different”. Everybody in this world is different. That would mean a world full of handicapped/disabled/specially-abled men, women and trans-genders, keeping themselves off the red line of societal abandonment, only christening others as one.
After 29 years of “this-ability”, I now know who needs help!
I was always a rebel, forcing my way in. But childhood was an altogether different ball game. After years of cold stares, routine underperformance, and social inelasticity, I eventually figured out that I was no good to the machinery of this world – and somehow not required. I felt one with that dropped valency of chemical compounds, numbers post the 3rd decimal place, that tiny appendix in your gut – waiting to be of use, but instead only making itself heard as a painful rebel, because the system no more acknowledged its worth.
Be it by evolutionary accident or intelligent design, the wish to exist is a human trait. And I am wired to be a Superhuman!
Thinking the opposite of what you think will make you become the opposite of what you are. For me, the result was nowhere near “disabled”. It was like the secret ingredient, the super power that takes you beyond where human comprehension ends.
The advent of my religion, called Hope.
Creativity is the greatest knowledge: one that can neither be learnt nor taught; only explored, embraced and again let go. After a short stint at the Reserve Bank of India, my first venture – Naked Colours – was born, with the mantra “Creativity for Good”. Naked Colours explored endangered civilizations in the tribal jungles of India, and helps preserve cultures affected by incessant socio-economic turmoil. The social business model of Sarv Mangalam – Good for All – divided proceeds of sold art among the venture, the tribal artisans, and the next community requiring help, and maintained sustainable growth along with holistic societal benefit. In the six years of its existence, the model has helped create Hope in more than 35 clusters across Asia and Africa.
The travails with Creativity led to ideas (patents in process) in the areas of women safety (such as The Pink Whistle Project – an affordable self-defence device and safety mechanism for women), the dissemination of Marketing Information, sensory optical efficiency mechanisms and Social Development modelling.
Livemad, my recent initiative, strives to spread Hope further where there is now none. With behavioural psychology-based counseling initiatives and the power of Sustainable Business planning, Livemad spreads actionable inspiration and has touched lives of women in the flesh trade, victims of domestic abuse, war widows and artisans. Livemad also undertakes sessions on Alternative Intelligence, Creativity and Innovation with various Ivy League institutions and corporate actors. Livemad’s “Life-Alive” is a 24-hour helpline for people suffering from acute depression and suicidal tendencies; the helpline has so far helped more than 5000 people choose life.
This issue on “Difference Learning” by UNESCO-MGIEP requires a special mention of “The Invention School”, a learning initiative I undertook with three institutions for specially-abled children. The focus of the initiative is to explore the expanse of a special mind beyond the boxing-in of instincts. The initiative has helped hone a NASA astrophysicist at age 21 (Asperger’s syndrome), and two playwrights aged 9 and 12 (autistic), and a host of other abilities we, at this juncture, may not derive meaning out of, but must surely explore and embrace.
“Almost 30 per cent of the world’s inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs and artists are specially-abled.”
The advent of the Special Ability footprint depends upon three vital pillars.
Family is the prime determinant of the well being of every mind. With a mind that is rarely understood by the narrow constructs of the society, family is bestowed with the responsibility to provide faith, and the platform to nurture and nourish a special mind. My life remains indebted to my family that made me believe in fragile times and inspired me to go beyond to lead a life that is as fulfilling as it can be.
On a societal and policy level, acceptance helps reassure a special mind that it is very much a part of the diaspora. The perception of the crowd needs a sea change in attitude towards people with special abilities. Arts and culture play a huge role in strengthening ties, along with education systems that help coalesce intellects. Be it by widening learning atmospheres or reinventing knowledge delivery. The addition of the “alternative intelligentsia” will only enrich the human race, and not impede its growth as some have presumed.
Almost 30 per cent of the world’s inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, and artists are specially-abled. But the road to their success is often harder than for others. With an already-compromised surrounding, it is difficult for them to unleash their full potential, which often results in depression and lack of hope. Reinventing talent measurement scales and incorporating “creativity metrics” can help provide a canvas that may one day house a masterpiece.
The gibberish I spoke as a child is now a 200-syllable 700 word-rich language called “Satt”, and I still chant “Onus Aham Ahann”, meaning “I am chosen”.
I’m not a mistake. I am the way I am meant to be.
Cited as one of the “1000 World Leaders for Hope”, Swapnil is a social entrepreneur, rover, inventor, linguist, writer and founder of “Livemad”, a movement that spreads hope in troubled communities through social inventions, entrepreneurship and love. A dyslexic and synaesthetic by birth, his work explores the synergy and congruence of human senses and the ability to explore alternative intelligence among people, especially with learning disorders. His social inventions span new-age education systems, healthy living, women safety mechanisms and AIDS prevention.
Swapnil is one of the youngest change-makers to be featured by Forbes Magazine, The Better India, Himalaya Foundation Award, and is a case study at LBS, Newcastle University, The I Share Hope initiative and University of Tampa.