“When I was in school, other kids used to make fun of me because my voice sounded like I was stammering. It was disheartening, sure, for a young person. But I tried to not let it get to me, and with speech therapy, I have become more confident over the last few years,” says Archana Timmaraju, a 37-year-old Bengaluru biker and artist, who is living life on her own terms. She is India’s first deaf female biker, and says that she had her share of naysayers.
“I got my first experience of riding when a friend gave me his Yamaha RX 100 bike to train in 2006. I eventually started riding with other bikers which gave me immense confidence. People are amazed to learn that I am a rider. They have their general questions about whether I am completely deaf, if I can hear them talk. But a bigger problem is the static rules in our country. I faced difficulties in getting my own license since there is a lack of understanding of rules. But eventually it all worked out. During my rides, I put a sticker at the back of my bike that reads: ‘Rider is deaf. Failure to cooperate with verbal commands means I am not hearing you.’ In spite of the drive towards being more disability-friendly, we still have a long way to go in terms of supporting all those who are differently abled,” Archana says.
It is the same drive that made Archana buy a bike, and go on a ride from Bengaluru to Leh, along with her colleague Daniel Sundaram in 2018. She came back to start her venture Silent Expedition, to help hearing-impaired people in their travels. The venture will soon complete four years and is a community of differently abled individuals who are passionate about biking. You’d think the pandemic put brakes on her journeys. Think again.
With a motive to inspire more women from her community to come forward and chase their dreams, Archana rode from Bengaluru to Uttarakhand and back in 24 days, starting on April 15, 2021, when the country was reeling under the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. “It was both scary and enjoyable. The roads are beautiful so riding was extremely enjoyable. But the pandemic posed quite a few challenges too. I could find only a handful of places where I could have food. I would stock up on snacks and indulge in mini meals wherever possible. But the struggles were worth it because I went to Gangotri which is absolutely beautiful,” she adds.
An arts and metal sculpture teacher at Mallya Aditi International School, Bengaluru, Timmaraju says she also wants to solve the problems of the deaf individuals in the education sector by raising more awareness about them. For the same, she founded ArtAbled, a platform for those with disabilities to voice their concerns through art and design. “There are no colleges for the deaf in India; children are stuck after completing their schooling and there are hardly any interpreters in hearing colleges. We need more efforts and other methods of communication, like sign language, to be taught at a larger scale to really integrate the community,” she opines.