The life of the blind is not as hopeless as we imagine. Close your eyes and you will see their dark world. but, they manage to see light even in the darkness
By Ramesh Menon & photos by Sipra Das
How many of us bless ourselves for the gift of sight? We take it for granted. The 2011 Census shows that 10,634,881 people suffer from visual disabilities in India. It is a daily battle for them to live as normal a life as they can, as the world around them is not sensitive, public spaces are not disabled-friendly and there is discrimination in jobs. It is as if we just do not care. But many fight adversity to emerge triumphant and show us that there is much more to life than we think. They show us how narrow our vision is and how large theirs can be.
In her Mumbai home that doubles up as a beauty parlor, Reshmi Sonawave, 33, spreads a face pack on a client with care, while others wait expectantly for her attention. One of them quips that Reshmi is lucky she does not need any beauty treatment as she is stunning. When she clips the hair of another girl, she does it with precision and soon, it bounces into shape. Later, when she boards a bus to go shopping, she demands a seat reserved for the physically challenged. The conductor turns to her rudely saying that he is no fool. Reshmi is often misunderstood, as she has such pretty eyes. But all she sees is darkness. When she was in the XIIth standard, she suddenly saw alphabets merging as she read. And in the worst nightmare of her life, she slowly saw her sight fade away. Genetic blindness had robbed her of sight and her world suddenly went dark.
When she wanted to get married, her parents opposed the match, as the man she loved was from a lower caste. They severed relations with her when she insisted on the wedding. It is one decision she has never regretted. Her blindness does not stop her from being a good wife and mother, she says smiling.
All the World’s a Stage
Their lives are entwined, not only on stage, but in real life. Jharna and Shamim Akhtar are members of the Blind Opera in Kolkata. Theatre has given them a sense of freedom, identity and dignity. A thick rope on stage is a signal about how far they can go. Jharna was born blind, while Shamim, who is also a singer, lost his sight when he was three. Their marriage attracted stiff opposition, as Jharna was a Hindu and Shamim, a Muslim. But they wanted love to triumph. It did. Life is beautiful with two children and the joy that comes after their stage shows every day. Nothing ever goes wrong.
When Riyazuddin was in his twenties, he was bitten by an insect on one eyelid. The doctor put a medicine in his eye that was past expiry date. He lost vision in that eye. Strangely, after some time, he lost vision in the other eye too. Then started a saga of struggle.
As a very highly regarded motorcycle mechanic in Bhopal, today, Riyazuddin boasts a legendary fan following, as he is sharp with his diagnosis of mechanical faults.
Once, he got a call from a client who said his motorcycle wasn’t running well. Riyazuddin asked him to kick-start it. By just hearing the sound of the engine, he knew what was wrong. Engineers from Enfield have also visited him, as he is a whiz-kid with motorcycles.
Since he is blind, people try to take him for a ride. Once, when Riyazuddin went to buy tyres, the shopkeeper gave him a retreated one thinking he would never know. Riyazuddin just ran his hands over to feel the tyre and rejected it. One after the other, three more retreated tyres were rejected. When the shopkeeper finally gave him a new one, Riyazuddin knew with one touch that he had got what he wanted. It’s a cruel world, but those who are visually impaired try not to focus on it.
That’s the Spirit
Prakash Sharma was a 15-year-old bouncy girl in Pathankot; in love with life. As it was customary in those areas in the sixties to get married early, she was already engaged. An irritating eye infection took her to a doctor. The compounder mistook acid for eye drops and poured it into her eyes. She lost her sight. But her fiancée stood by her and told his distraught family that he would not break off the engagement as she could have been blinded even after marriage. He worked hard to become a doctor and then married her. Their life revolved around their two children. As he wanted to set an example to others, Prakash’s husband went in for a vasectomy. Another tragedy struck when a doctor mistakenly cut the tract that carried urine.
After the botched operation, he walked around with a urine bag and battled numerous health complications. One of them was cancer and it proved fatal. If that wasn’t enough of a blow to Prakash, her son got married and after that, did not want to look after her. Prakash did not want to live with her daughter as she was living with her in-laws. It was tragedy after tragedy, but that did not break her spirit. Wanting to stand on her feet, she now works at a small rehabilitation center, stitching clothes. With just a meager income of Rs. 2,500 a month, she manages to chug along. All she wants in life now is not to become a burden.
Standing on her Feet
Eleven-year-old Bitasta cannot see, hear or speak. Her supple body movements help her easily teach yoga to other children. Bitasta was found in a dustbin in the Manicktala area of Kolkata. When the police arrived to rescue her, they found three dogs guarding her. They followed the policemen all the way to the police station and left only when they found that she was being taken care of. The policemen were amazed. She was then entrusted by the state to a railway employee who adopted her. Bitasta loves performing yoga and realizes that there are many children who follow her asanas as she performs on a manicured lawn.
Dilip Loyalka’s life begins every morning with his wife, who is a company secretary, reading out the newspaper to him. Being blind has not handicapped him in any way. Early in the morning, he starts meeting his clients in Kolkata, as he is a much-sought-after chartered accountant. He also runs a consultancy firm that his father set up, apart from owning an Indian Oil outlet in the metro. He has also authored a book on income tax that has become popular. He never complains about the increasing workload. “Knowledge never gets used up, it multiplies each time you apply it to a situation,” he says. Dilip has shown what heights one can reach even when the world you virtually see is a patch of darkness.
Children of Joy
One day while watching a film, Neela Dave felt her eyesight fading away. The shock came when the doctor said that she would eventually go blind due to retina pigmentation. Transporter Deepak Dave married her despite opposition from both families.
After she became completely blind, she started a nursery school in Mumbai. She finds great joy being with the children who also adore her. She counts her blessings everyday and feels the world is so beautiful. It is something that most of us never see in our lifetime.