Nidhi Goyal lost her eyesight when she was 15 years old. Don’t be sad. Now, 16 years later, at 31, Nidhi is one of the happiest, most positive people you’ll ever meet, which explains the latest addition to her already-impressive list of titles – that of being India’s first visually challenged stand-up comedian.
An activist working on disability rights and gender justice at both the national and international levels, Nidhi never planned to be a comedian. But the jokes were always there, inspired by her personal experiences, and meant for her friends’ ears only. “My friends loved how I narrated my personal adventures and experiences,” says Nidhi.“After one such catching-up session, my friend and fellow activist, Pramada Menon, gave me a six-month deadline to get a performance ready. So, I sat and wrote incidents that were on the top of my mind and got a script together. Everything you hear and laugh about is based on a personal incident, a slice of my life or that of my friends. As an activist, l interact with a lot of people with disabilities. So the set is a collage of my story and theirs, stories that’ll make you see the hilarity in the myths and assumptions surrounding disability and just how far they are from the truth.”
Breaking the funny bone
Popular stand-up comedian Aditi Mittal introduced Nidhi to the world with her series, Bad Girls. Her first performance in February this year was an instant hit, both offline and online. “I know people get uncomfortable the minute I walk on stage,” says Nidhi. “It’s like, ‘Oh shit, is she blind? She’s blind! What is she doing here? What if she needs help?’ And that explains everyone’s first instinct towards disability. It’s not even pity, it’s discomfort. ‘We don’t know what to do with these people.’ ‘We don’t know and we don’t want to know.’ It’s a shame that the onus is always on the disabled person to make the other feel comfortable. I don’t get that expectation. In fact, I’m the opposite. If you’re uncomfortable, then so be it. You have to calm down on your own, I won’t help.”
But she’s quick to clarify that this is not a defence mechanism. It’s just who she is. You see a bit of this attitude in the beginning of her video too. “I’m blind, so is love. Get over it,” she announces, and you’re instantly hooked. “As long as I can remember, I’ve been like that,” says Nidhi. “I started losing my sight at 15, when I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. I was maybe a little uncomfortable then, but soon enough, I was back to not caring and being comfortable in my own skin. I was the girl who wore a sports watch with a salwar-suit to college. So my attitude has always been ‘This is me, take it or leave it.’”
Could she be ignoring her disability; pretending it doesn’t exist? No, says Nidhi. “I treat it as an essential part of my life and deal with it the same way anyone deals with any difficulty,” she says. “Everybody has their own shit, just because you can see my shit doesn’t mean it’s horrible. When we’re happy with a bigger piece of cake, we should be okay with a bigger disability too; it’s as simple as that.”
Love and laughter
A big segment of Nidhi’s performance focuses on relationships and sexuality within the disabled community. From arranged marriage encounters to sex and PDA, nothing is off-limits.
“By using comedy, I’m trying to remove the hush around the topic,” she explains. “Within the hour-long performance, I talk about being single and wanting to meet someone. I share the experiences I’ve had meeting people, potential suitors, their families and more. Again, these are real incidents. It’s hilarious how people react when I tell them that, yes, I’m blind and I still want a relationship. But these incidents are the ones that struck me when I was writing. It’s not like I sat down and reflected upon everything that has happened in my life.”
If she did mine her whole life for anecdotes, Nidhi could do a full one-woman show, or a movie. “Comedy is a great medium to tell the most complicated of stories,” she says. “The whole spectrum of disability and sexuality is intangible; it challenges everyone’s personal thoughts. We talk about the physical aspects of a disability, about creating opportunities, accessibility and education. While that is very important, it is also essential to tackle personal thoughts and views on disability. You can put a disabled person in the same school as an abled person, but what’s the point if they still get treated like shit? That’s what I’m trying to do with comedy. It’s not about just getting a reaction; it’s about getting the right kind of reaction.”
Her first video is currently at 400K+ views on YouTube. So it’s safe to say that she’s not going to run out of good reactions anytime soon.
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From HT Brunch, April 2, 2017
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