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Rajumama (rah-joo-mah-mah) (Uncle Raju)

I learned to sign when I was 9 years old.

My Uncle Raju had been deaf since childhood.

I spent a lot of time at my grandparents house as a child and I would be intrigued by him.

His mannerisms and the different sounds and vocalisations, and grunts he made when he communicated.

How certain sounds were accompanied by bruxism (teeth-grinding)

How his hands would be moving very fast and his facial expressions would be so animated.

I’d often try and join in with my own frantic hand movements – not knowing what in the name of Elvis Presley I was doing!

Rajumama would get annoyed and tell me to go and sit down, or tell another elder to take me away and tell me off.

It was around this time that I had received, from my parents, for Christmas, ‘Osbourne’s Book of Questions and Answers’.

This was equivalent of Wikipedia to me!

Rich in the way of facts and figures, I memorised the entire book in a month!

childrens-book-of-questions-and-answers

In this book was a short section on Sign Language for the Deaf and it had a clear picture of the BSL Alphabet with all the different handshapes.

Two-handed manual alphabets, vintage engraving. Old engraved illustration of Two-handed manual alphabets of Deaf and Dumb.

I memorised it all in a day and the next day, caught the bus to my grandparent’s house to see Rajumama.

He was watching TV in the lounge so I carefully walked in to the room and in to his field of vision – dreading his wrath!

I held out my hand to catch his attention and as soon as his glanced at me, before he had a chance to say or do anything, I showed him the handshapes for the letters ‘A’ ‘B’ and ‘C’ in BSL…

He froze, staring at me…

I continued through the letters watching him start to smile wider and wider as I stumbled passed ‘L’ ‘M’ and ‘N’ and as I got to ‘Z’ he ran over to me, picked me up and hugged the hell out of me!

That was the beginning of my adventures in speech, language and communication…

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Over the years that followed, Rajumama taught and guided me through BSL.

We conversed daily and I even learned the regional, dialect-based signs as well as colloquial ones.

He would introduce me proudly to his friends as his ‘nephew who could sign’ and I would sign with them and they would become my friends.

This meant the world to me.

You see, Rajumama was hard as nails.

He had to be.

Having fled Idi Amin’s Uganda, he arrived in the United Kingdom in 1971…

And wait straight to college in Derby…

Being Asian was one thing.

But deaf and Asian?

So Rajumama became adept at knocking people out…

And his friends enjoyed the same recreational activity…

Not that they caused trouble…

They were just used to being treated inappropraitely…

Or being victimised, harrassed or bullied…

So they learned to deal with it…

And his friends were from everywhere and everywhere…

Jamiacan, Indian, Irish, French, Bradford, Birmingam, Brixton…

The age gap between us is 19 years…

To 14 year-old…

Hanging out like that…

To be able to understand the ‘code’ and communicate like that….

With grown-ups…

THAT WAS COOL!

the-fonz

I would go to meetings and socials in Vauxhall and Tooting and Mansion House – not the kind of places and times a school kid should be going to.

But I felt safe…

Because it was safe…

The Deaf community enveloped me warmly and over the following 15 years, I met some of the nicest people I have ever met…

Then Rajumama got married and moved to Birmingham!

Ha!

Although I’m not as fluent and fluid as I used to be, I try as much as possible to videocall Rajumama and stay in touch and when we meet – it’s always an event!

This is Rajumama telling my friend Jason, how he feels about the British weather…

Poor guy had just eaten a chilli – so his composure is commendable!

I’ll let you figure out what he’s saying…

I’m teaching my daughter to sign now too…

Although she prefers to laugh at my attempts…

So this is a huge thank you to Rajumama…

For your love, patience and guidance…

Because I wouldn’t be here without you!

x

#iambecauseyouare

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