Imagine a situation while you are having dinner, the lights go off. No candle is available, no torch or emergency lamps, you are compelled to carry on with dinner in the dark. I guess you would rely on your hands to feel what is on your plate, you would use your sense of smell and taste to figure out what you are eating and perhaps your memory to recall what was where on your plate when you last could see. It would be an interesting test of your non –visual senses.
Last year I had traveled to Vienna, where I had the opportunity to visit an interesting exhibition called “Dialogue in the Dark. ”The exhibition was a one hour guided tour in pitch darkness where one traverses through undulated terrain, narrow pathways, twists and turns, obstacles and varied experiences with just a cane and a lady guide’s voice to lead you. If you survived the hour, you ended up in the bar where you could relax with a drink in the dark.
We were about 8 of us who visited the exhibition. We had to stand in a queue to get our entry tickets. There was a choice between an English and a German tour, of course all of us opted for English. Once we were inside, we were ushered to the basement where we met our guide, a slim tall lady. Her accent told us that she was either Austrean or German.
Each of us was handed a cane, like the ones blind people use. We were told to hold the cane in front of our bodies and feel our way forward. In addition, we were asked to constantly listen for our guide’s voice. Seemed easy to begin with, however as we moved into the dark, we started bumping into stones, walking into bushes and stumbling over each other. It took each of us 5 to 10 minutes to get used to the discipline of feeling our way using our canes. We also did find the guide’s voice very reassuring.
During the course of the tour, we were asked to recognize the sounds of streams flowing below us, smell and recognize flowers, feel and identify fruits and vegetables, recognize the textures under our feat. We had to cross bridges, ascend and descend stairs, board a bus, cross a road, negotiate winding corridors till we finally arrived at the bar
I felt my way to the counter and ordered a Lemon Aid, for which I needed to pay 2 Euros. I pulled out my purse and handed out an India 5 rupee coin which feels like a 2 Euro coin. The lady across the counter took one look at the coin and told me that she did not recognize the coin. I appologised and put a 2 Euro coin on the counter.
I took the bottled drink and a glass and slowly felt my way to a table across the room from where I could hear the voices of my companions. The next challenge for me was to open the bottle and pour out the drink into the glass without spilling its contents. I managed the task by touching the mouth of the bottle to the rim of the glass
The lady seated next to me confessed that she had opted for a coffee simply to avoid the messy possibilities while pouring from the bottle into the glass. Good thinking indeed I said, but How were you to know if there was a fly or a dead insect in the coffee, ha ha ha!
We were told that dinner was served on weekends. Diners preferred to use their fingers while they ate to be sure of what they were imbibing. Forks and knives were not to be trusted. Menu cards were called out and diners took their pick.
The one hour in the dark clearly sent out one loud message to each of us ”even if we don’t see, we still can get on with life”. There is a great deal of ability in each of us. We only use a small part of it.
“Dialogue in the Dark” is a commercial venture that has been traveling from country to country drawing huge numbers of visitors. The venture is by and large managed and manned by visually impaired people. The “Dialogue in the Dark” is an experience that helps people take cognisance of the fact that there is life beyond blindness. Besides the profound realization , the experience is great fun and an exciting exploration of human ability.
A few years ago, on a visit to Hyderabad, I was invited out for dinner. My host had told me in advance that the experience at the restaurant would be special and unique. Yes, Dialogue In The Dark had arrived in India. The guided tour following a voice reminded me of romantic Vienna and the Biriyani in the dark was simply delightful.