by Rachel Tan (13S06D)
Is eating in darkness all that scary? This writer closes her eyes and fumbles for some insight into the lives of the blind.
Dine in the Dark is an event organised on the 4th of May by Raffles Interact. It aims to allow participants to gain a glimpse into the experiences of the blind through a meal in darkness.
“There’s none so blind as those who will not listen.” – Neil Gaiman, American Gods
The handicap is not at once apparent. As our guide leads us to our seats, there is little difficulty navigating, no thanks to the dim lights and candles by the side. I start to wonder if I was milking the experience. Isn’t finding your way around supposed to be a challenge for the blind?
Eventually, they immerse us in darkness, save for a small spot on the ceiling. People fade into hazy outlines, more apparition than human. Lights become foreign now, and more often than not, ironically unwelcome. Flashes from people attempting to take photos of themselves (why would you want to do that?) and a screened video invite more headaches than visual clarity.
Voices morph into more than just peripheral noise; conversations swarm at the ear like angry nests of bees. It’s a mutually destructive end as the sounds struggle to drown each other out – the effect is no symphony. I strain to pick out my companion’s voice from the mutiny of sounds. But even then, talking becomes a chore. I’m not sure if she’s looking into my eyes as I speak, or if I am when she does. Or if it is rude not to attempt to orientate my head in her general direction. Or if we both silently acknowledge that eye contact no longer matters.
Insecurity trickles in as I await the little pauses before she replies. Does she know I am talking to her?
“Please lead my hand to the centre of your table.”
It’s the waitress. I latch on to her hand and the appetizer (potato salad) descends. The fork dives in but scoops air instead so the first few mouthfuls are empty. My hand becomes more sensitive to the weight of the fork – a heavier one signals food, a lighter one means I have to dig again.
Needless to say, taking invisible notes is no easy task. Apart from recalling how far down the page I have already written (so that the lines would not overlap), mid-way through sentences, I catch myself forgetting what has been entrusted to the safety of paper and ink, and what is still lingering in my head.
The voices threaten to smother the music from the live bands. Has my hearing become keener because of the loss of sight? Or are the other diners unconsciously trying to make up for the lack of vision by (over) stimulating other senses?
The main course, like the appetizer, is served in a neat package with a cover. It’s a relief. I don’t have to risk contaminating my food when groping blindly for the pasta. They say that the brain automatically gauges how full one should feel based on how much food is remaining on the plate. But now, eating is a marathon without a clear finishing line.
By now, my eyes have grown tired in the futile search for non-existent light, so I close them instead. The darkness – no longer a novelty – is unsettling, accompanied by the chattering voices of uncertain origin. Dessert is chocolate mousse and for the first time in my life, I get annoyed with it. The usual attempt to savour it slowly is replaced by an impatience to ‘get it over and done with’.
But the darkness does present its benefits. I brush my tongue against my braces gingerly, snug in the invisibility cloak that the communal lack of sight bestows; I am shielded from the roving eyes of judgement, the cool, nonchalant glances of uninvited appraisal.
The rebirth into light burns. I resort to looking down at my table instead of figures slowly materialising into painful focus. But light promises a recovery, no matter how torturous, back to normalcy.
I’m not sure how much this would change my life or whether it is better to have seen and become blind than not to have seen at all. How close (or far off) is this exercise to the reality of irretrievable vision? Am I now able to empathise with the visually handicapped? How many of the diners have actually reflected over the loss of sight?
Perhaps true blindness lies in those who choose to close off their vision to the lives of people around them. The temporary loss of sight forces us to, at least, think about what it means to live without something so fundamental and yet, so often taken for granted. At best, it is a contemplative journey and at worst, a masochistic activity performed for pure thrill. But for those who resist the call to look inward, then, perhaps, even the darkness can’t save them.
The writer’s tickets were fully paid for. The photo is courtesy of Natalia Chioang and Claudia Koh.