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deepa age 8

Deepa Shastri

Deepa Shastri is a Sync member who is currently on a CLP Leading in London placement with LOCOG and Shape and is part of our Sync Intensives programme. Over the last few months, Deepa has been looking at the past to see the things that have shaped her leadership journey and her unfurling as a Deaf leader.

Games all the family can play

"At once funny and piercingly painful, the play's central subject is deafness. It is also a drama about educated, middle-class family life, and the way those who can hear so often prove to be deaf to the needs of others." (Charles Spencer, reviewing Tribes, by Nina Haine, The Telegraph, October 21st, 2010)

Deepa Shastri would be the first to say how great her family have been in ensuring her sense of drive and making her feel like she belonged. So when she took on an audience development role with the Royal Court to promote the play, Tribes, she was very surprised at her reaction.

It was as if something that had happened to me was being acted out on stage, and that somehow, I could see in front of me how difficult it is to be the only deaf member of a hearing family. It was no longer just my story.

Deepa often speaks of her place in her family, how those early beginnings have shaped her identity and what she has believed about herself along the way.

We even have our own language at home which is imaginatively described as "Deepa's vocabulary:" _"Humogous" for humous", I ham" for I am and so on.

Deepa talks about being the centre of things, as her parents had to focus on her when she was small, but how this created some sibling rivalry and difficulty.

Because of my deafness, I received the most attention from my mother when she was trying to bring up 3 girls at the same time. It was difficult too, because even though I was the eldest: people assumed I was the youngest, because I was smaller and because I was not always understood immediately which created communication problems and made people think I was younger and not intelligent.

Tribes has allowed Deepa to see why she reverts to feeling like a child when her deafness results in a lack of information, and her family automatically take over and make decisions for her.

It's a very hard habit for them to break and for me to break out of. My sisters are wonderful, but I think like any siblings there are always underlying issues related to my deafness. My sister who has glue ear can relate to me the most as she has experienced temporary deafness.

Asian Deaf

"On my first day at University, I befriended a Sikh boy who accepted me and my deafness"

Deepa has a real passion for people and when you meet her this is clearly evident, but has she always been so open?

I didn't really have much connection with my Asian identity because at home my parents spoke in English. I was away at boarding school so I missed most of the religious/festive periods and did not get much chance to celebrate my culture in a school environment which was 90% white.

Going to University was a massive culture shock for Deepa. On my first day, I befriended a Sikh boy who accepted me and my deafness, because I accepted him too. Eventually he introduced me to more people on my course and instantly I was accepted in the group.

We all went out to celebrate Diwali, Asian Ball, even cooked Indian food or shared our home cooking leftovers after coming back from the weekend.

It made me really appreciate my culture and the openess of it. The appreciation developed further when I went to India to make my documentary for Channel Four. My family, who I have never met before, all made such an effort with me. Their beautiful Indian nature and mannerisms ensured I was never left out. Every effort was made to communicate with me through Indian gestures, writing on paper or sheer persistence.

This made me respect my culture more and is how I ended up being a Trustee of the Deaf Ethnic Women Association.

Deepa looking into a Volcanic crack

Ready to blow

"I do sometimes prefer work life to home life because I am in an environment where I am surrounded by people who are always mindful to adapt to my needs." (Deepa Shastri)

Now Deepa finds herself in situations where information is even more important, in leadership circles, and that information is often hard to grasp, heavy on jargon and 'words words words'.

Deepa has often described herself in Sync settings as being like a volcano bubbling under the surface ready to explode. I asked her if she's ever let the volcano blow its top in public.

I work with LOCOG and Shape and at Stagetext. I have travelled all over the UK without any problems and am able to lead a team of people providing I am given the full update and control. My confidence continues to grow and I have had no need, or desire to lose it - yet!

It's still, however, difficult for me to not explode when my sisters leave me out of their small talk when we are out with friends. It baffles me.

In coaching, we challenge the patterns we find ourselves in, and the times when things have got stuck along the way. I ask Deepa if there is a solution to these family behaviours.

Well after 31 years of my life, we still can't get it right, but we are more grown up now. We do now have the ability to share how we feel and more importantly how we felt at the time when we were small, and this has really helped.

a picture of Louise Stern, Deepa's friend

Deaf kin

"Louise Stern writes stories about young men and women on the edge, stories that stay in your head long after you have finished reading them. Her characters are restless, out to party, travel the world and go a little wild. They push boundaries and are hungry for new experiences. They take risks and frequently find themselves in dangerous situations. No different from most other twenty-somethings, then, except that, like Stern herself, her characters are deaf."

Deepa and I talk about patronisation, the idea that people think you've done well despite your deafness.

My parents and sisters have always been very proud of me and very supportive in what I do. What gets me is why they are impressed. Is it because I am deaf?

I ask her to think of someone she admires who has defied the 'poor deaf label' more than most.

It would have to be my friend Louise Stern who is PA to a very well known artist (Sam Taylor Wood).

Her book 'Chattering Stories' is not about deaf politics, but about giving people an insight of how she, as a deaf person, experienced things during her travels and how she has interpreted different situations without having full access to the dialogue.

She communicates with people through written English. They accept her because she is so witty: her personality shines through beyond her deafness.

Taking time

"Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in." (Napoleon Bonaparte)

Working as part of Sync Intensives, in our final session we spoke about how we 'engineer' our way through the bumpy ride of economic crisis.

Deepa has always been a strong advocate of time. Taking time to think, to rethink, be seen, heard, and communicate.

The time that Sync has given me has meant that I've had a series of wake up calls to see what I was doing, where I was self-sabotaging and the 'stuck' bit of me, to shake that up a bit.

I feel stronger now and I want to encourage other Deaf leaders, particularly those with fantastic but hidden skills, to show and share the things we instinctively know as deaf people and our natural traits that help us win at this game!

It's so important that we get where we want to be in our professional lives.

I'm so excited to see where Deepa's research with Deaf Leaders takes us. I also can't wait to follow her next steps on her own journey.

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