by Ed Long © 1996
Thanks to Ed Long for sharing two selections from his new book, "India, Wheelchair Journey." Long, who has lifelong Muscular Dystrophy, chronicles his three-month visit to India with his friend, Michael. Together they journeyed from Bombay south to the very tip of India, continuing their adventure north to Delhi and Agra, then back to Bombay before returning to the U.S. Long's openness to a third world culture, not often experienced by wheelchair travelers, and his insights into the universality of the disabled experience highlight this book.
One day we were all sitting around under the tree across from our hotel. This time everyone except Michael was disabled. I was really tired of sitting in the wheelchair, so I asked Michael to transfer me onto this big pile of rags. I leaned back against the wall, very comfortable.
Hari, who had no legs and rode around on a skateboard-like contraption, asked me, "Please, Mr. Edward, may I sit?"
He climbed up into the wheelchair and looked around proudly. He was used to riding much closer to the ground, the chair must have seemed pretty high to him. He wheeled back and forth a little. Suddenly he took off at full speed down the street! I was a little worried, but he turned around and came back. He was grinning and laughing.
"It is a wonderful carriage! It makes you happy, I think!"
It's a lot better than a skateboard! I said to myself.
Hari reluctantly got down and someone else got in.
They all took turns riding up and down Ormiston Street, having a great time!
Someone said, "You must charge for rides, you could be rich man!"
What a great way to make a living, charging for wheelchair rides in Bombay!
There was one group of beggars that just didn't warm up to us. Every time we went by them they stared mistrustfully. Ananda told us they thought we were rich, selfish Americans who didn't belong there. Michael and I couldn't win them over, until...
Of all the tourists who come to Bombay the Italians are the most generous to beggars, so we were told. When an Italian cruise ship came in one day everyone got excited and headed for the waterfront. Michael and I followed the crowd.
Near the pier I noticed our hostile beggars lined up waiting for the Italians, who soon started coming along. Seized by a strange impulse I said, "Michael, push me over there. I want to beg a little."
He put me beside the road and seized by the same impulse began jumping around.
"He cannot walk! I cannot think! He has bad legs! I have bad brain!" he sang loudly.
"I have no Papa! I have no Mama," I shouted.
"A rupee, for the love of God!"
By this time, after many days in Bombay, we looked a bit ragged and poor. My wheelchair was dirty from the Bombay streets and Michael and I both had beards, adding to our 'hippie' image. We sure didn't look like tourists!
The Italians began to give us money. The rupees poured in! I had money in my lap, tucked under the wheelchair cushion, stuffed in my pants, and held in my hand!
Soon, the tourists were gone. Seized by another inspiration, I went over to the hostile beggars.
"Come with us, we will buy you dinner," I told them.
The crowd followed us into a restaurant, where we had an uproarious meal!
Everyone was talking about our good begging and how well we had done! From that day on,
they were our friends.
India, Wheelchair Journey is available for $12.00 (U.S.) from:
Editor's note: Ed Long has passed away and this book is now out of print.
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