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Komal Panwar

Blogger & Singer

Smriti Nagpal Gestures Us To Enter The World Of The Hearing Impaired With Hearken Cafe

  • IWB Post
  •  January 9, 2018


The astounding things that humanity is coming up with, every day, amazes me. When cousins Smriti Nagpal and Virat Suneja founded the Hearken Cafe, many thought it would be a regular cafe serving pizza. But, no, that wasn’t it.

Their purpose was much bigger. Smriti’s siblings, Mamta and Kapil are hearing impaired, and that’s why when Smriti and Virat decided they were going to start a cafe employing hearing impaired people, it wasn’t a surprise.

We got in touch with the Co-founder, Smriti, and asked her to share some Hearken stories with us.

Me: How did Hearken Cafe come about?

Smriti: I’ve been working with the deaf community for the past 11 years. Sign language was my first language ever. I realized that a lot of things can be sorted if the wall between us and the hearing impaired sheds away. Yes, a lot of times, people have come up to me and shown an interest towards learning the sign language. img_2 (1)

I, like any girl in her 20s, wanted to start her own cafe, that would be her place with great food. Virat comes from a hospitality background, and so it was easy for him to understand how the industry worked. Once the idea struck a chord, we decided to take it forward in the form of Hearken.

Me: The ones who wish to learn the sign language want to do it to converse with their acquaintances or is inclusivity a reason, too?

Smriti: Amongst all customers who come to us, many are interested in learning the language. I teach it every Tuesday. And no, people don’t want to learn it only to communicate with the hearing-impaired. A lot of them want to learn it like any other language. You probably would want to be fluent in French, German or Spanish! To them, it’s a language they wish to understand.

Me: Tell us about the menu at Hearken.

Smriti: We’re European and Mediterranean cuisine cafe. We have amazing thin-crust pizzas. You should come and try, the next time you’re in Delhi.

Me: You’ve worked with Doordarshan for a long time. Ever misinterpreted something or added your own signs during the news?

Smriti: Hahaha, I’ve actually done it a couple of times. It’s funny, I was always intrigued to do something. I remember signing a friend’s name. Of course, it was so quick, most people didn’t even notice!

The thing with bulletins is that they are very quick! There are times when we skip words or have to modify the signs.

Me: What can we do on an individual level to promote inclusivity towards the hearing-impaired?

Smriti: I run a social enterprise called Atulyakala. It is a store where everything from the apparel and stationery is designed by the hearing-impaired. Our problem is that every time we meet an artist who is impaired in some way but is a great artist, we think they should work at an NGO and participate in Diwali melas. img_3 (1)

Of course, to promote inclusivity, I don’t expect everyone to learn Braille, but there’s something strange I notice, every time I sign. People tend to stop and stare. They feel that I don’t belong to their environment and they are easily amused. The smallest step you can take is being compassionate.

We don’t want sympathy, we need you to understand that we are human beings speaking different languages, that’s it.

Me: Tell us about the first sign you ever learned.

Smriti: Although I don’t remember it because I was really young, my mom tells me the story. I was crawling, and exploring the home. My mom knew that if she called out to my sister, she wouldn’t listen, but she still called out her name. Mom was chopping vegetables in one room, and Mamta was elsewhere.img_1 (1)

After a while, when my sister didn’t respond, I crawled up to her, nudged her, directing her that mom was calling her. Mom says, that day, she knew I would bridge the gap between them.

Me: Special moments at your cafe that you’d never forget.

Smriti: There have been times when couples have entered inside and made proposals! A guy proposed to his girlfriend with a ring and everything but in sign language. It was beautiful.

The IWB clan learned a little bit of sign-language, too. Check it out, here.

This article was first published on May 23, 2017.

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