Eyesight lost, vision intact
A visit to Institute for the Blind in Sector 26 turns an eye-opener, a humbling lesson on human capacity
Last Friday, in the Sector 32 market for some work, I saw a visually-impaired man making his way through the rows of parked cars with the help of a stick. He stumbled at times. Fearing that he might crash into one of the vehicles, I took him by the arm. “Guru Nanak Opticals jana hai,” he said, but his body language made it clear that he could have done without that unsolicited help.Days later, I saw another visually-impaired man making his way through the streets in Sector 30 with the help of a stick. He was walking at a brisk pace.
Now, the world of the visually challenged has been a hitherto dark area for me. In my own family, I had seen my grandfather who had lost his eyesight to glaucoma at an advanced age. As a child, I remember that when he would sit down for his meals, I would take his hand and gently run it over the plate, making him feel with his fingers what was where. Unable to read, he would listen to his favourite “Chaupal” programme on the radio and there was a permanent help on duty to help him with his ablutions. I would envy him for the meticulous way in which he would pleat his dhoti, a skill I could never acquire. Despite the disability, I never saw him pity himself.
And a video clip had gone viral some time back in which two talented youngsters, who had lost their eyesight, were seen singing beatifically a hit Hindi film duet “Isharon Isharon Mein Dil Lene Wale…” with a panache and finesse that would have been the envy of many an accomplished singer.
No wonder I found myself seated before Major General (retd) Rajendra Nath, chairman of the Institute for the Blind in Sector 26, Chandigarh. His age sits lightly on him. The former Army officer, a veteran of the 1965 and 1971 wars, is the moving force since 1982 behind the institute which provides education, boarding and lodging to 143 visually-impaired students.
“Take a good half-an-hour to go around,” said the sprightly veteran decorated with PVSM for his military service, asking the secretary of the institute, BD Sharma, to give me a lowdown about the activities there.
The Braille production unit prepares books for class I to XII for the blind students. The books are transcribed into Braille and then printed. For this, the institute has Braille Embossers brought from Sweden. The books are published in Hindi, English, Punjabi and Haryanvi.
The guide map and route map by Chandigarh Transport Undertaking in Braille script is also embossed in the Braille press. The institute also helped the Chandigarh Art Gallery and Museum in embossing the names of murals, paintings and sculptures in Braille script.
The state library of the Chandigarh Administration was also helped in introducing Braille embosser and Braille literature for the blind students.
The press here is tasked to prepare ballot papers in Braille script for Punjab, Haryana and UT for visually challenged voters. Religious and social books in Gurmukhi and Devnagari are also printed.
There is a computer room for the students where they are taught the nuances of the cyber world. There is a screen reading software for computers and the students are trained to use their sense of hearing. The computer basics are taught.
A Braille Equipment Bank lends students what they need. Basic Braille training is given in class I and II, while normal training takes about three to six months.
The school provides education up to Class XII. The exams are conducted by the CBSE. The principal of the school JS Jyara, is also visually impaired.
The school has a hostel for girls where besides other facilities, they are taught activities like stitching. The institute provides placement in banks and other organisations. Run on charity, it also provides follow-up help to its students who pursue higher education.
“Behold I rise to meet the destined spring/and scale the stars upon my broken wing,” wrote Sarojini Naidu, the Nightingale of India. The battle to overcome the disability reminded one of these lines.
But it is one thing to lose eyesight and quite another to be bereft of vision. It reminds one of a school poem, “The Blind Men and the Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe where six blind men go to see an elephant and each perceives it in his own way, at variance from the others, which makes them suspect each other and doubt the truth.
“And so these men of Hindustan/Disputed loud and long; Each in his own opinion/Exceeding stiff and strong; Though each was partly in the right/And all were in the wrong; So oft in theologic wars/The disputants, I ween; Rail on in utter ignorance/Of what each other mean; And prate about an elephant/Not one of them has seen.”
An apt summary of the political discourse of our times?