Debraj Sahai: The Teacher Whose Name Is Synonymous With Light

He is a man who doesn’t mince his words or actions, and believes in miracles and encourages eccentricities
Debraj Sahai: The Teacher Whose Name Is Synonymous With Light

"I can see everything clearly.
A beautiful morning,
Snow covered streets,
And that little girl,
A lost soul, directionless.
I will give her wings made of words, Ms. Nair.
I will teach her how to fly.

– Debraj Sahai aka 'Tee'

The year is 2005. In a wintery and gloomy Bangalore, my father brings home a CD of a film called Black. On the cover is a picture of Rani Mukerji and Amitabh Bachchan, two stalwarts of Hindi cinema, sitting on a park bench and reaching out to touch the first snowfall. As an 8-year-old, I wasn't ready for the complexities of the film, but the master Sanjay Leela Bhansali made it accessible to even me.

The film is an exquisite piece of cinema that tells the story of a blind and deaf girl, Michelle McNally from Shimla, and her relationship with her teacher, Debraj Sahai. Michelle McNally was born into a wealthy Christian family in Shimla with her 5 senses intact; but due to a severe disease in her infancy, lost her sense of sight and sound forever. Played beautifully by Ayesha Kapoor (young Michelle), I was moved to pain seeing another girl my age living without the basic privileges of life, to see and hear and to be seen and heard.

The film came to life, or light if I may, with the entrance of an oddball, eccentric but deeply empathetic teacher Mr. Debraj Sahai, played by Amitabh Bachchan. He was a poet moonlighting as a teacher and in the attempt to impart knowledge to the ones who most need it, he wrote the greatest poem of all time – his student, Michelle McNally.

To the man whose walls are scribbled with Robert Frost's 'The Road Less Travelled' and who contemplates the sign language equivalent of the words 'light' and 'bullshit' with equal gravity, Mr. Sahai knew the truths of life we all wish to understand. He became the light in Michelle's life with the simple gesture of giving her his black glasses, a symbol and a sign of how she will now see herself through his eyes.

He is a man who doesn't mince his words or actions, and believes in miracles and encourages eccentricities. He is someone who will refuse to help a young blind and deaf girl so that she learns to help herself and is also someone who will fulfil the request of a young blind and deaf woman to be kissed because he knows she may never experience that in her life. He was a friend, a father, a teacher and a lover to a person, who never lost sight of his student.

That night after watching the film, I closed my ears and shut off the lights and spent an hour trying to write, draw, dance or just be. Every moment was frightening. To be seen and heard in this life gives meaning to us. I felt grateful to have witnessed someone's rich understanding of another life. I have had the honour of having a Debraj in my life, and even after his time, every moment of my life is only meaningful because of him. The stories that don't shy away from emotion, pain and love are the ones that will make us feel too. Debraj Sahai is therefore, my favourite character by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

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