In an interview with Lakshmi Ravishankar, Rajdeep Manwani an Academic in Jain University, Quizmaster and Counselor shares the hurdles that he has faced in his life. His perseverance and optimism drove him to achieve greater success in life. He has been an inspiration for many
My struggles and lessons date back to the days when I was studying in school and was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a condition that damages macula located near the center of retina and leads to gradual loss of vision.
I did not realize the enormity of the problem till I reached the eighth standard when the question paper of the examination was handed to me and I could not read the questions and neither could I ask anybody in the examination hall. I somehow composed myself and took the necessary courage to ask the invigilator and she calmly read the questions which I scribbled at the back of the question paper and came out with flying colors. By this time I had already lost 65 percent of my vision.
Life did not become easier as my vision started deteriorating very fast and my board examination was around the corner. I had always been a topper of my class and I started losing confidence in my ability to perform well but at that time my Biology teacher told me “Rajdeep, it is simple to say that I have lost my vision and therefore cannot compete for the top spot but it is great to compete with all your challenge and prove to yourself that you can do it, now you have to make a choice of being simple or being great”. This invaluable lesson has helped me with win several honors in the academic and non-academic field such as the Gold Medal in M.Com and M.Phil and also winning several debate and elocution contests at the State and National level.
After finishing high school, I opted to study Commerce. At that time it was quite unthinkable for someone suffering from visual impairment studying Commerce. The trend for the visually challenged was to either take up Arts or Music. Many did not take an encouraging view of my choice of stream. I loved numbers. In 10th standard I had taken up Economics and liked it a lot but many people felt that I should not opt for Commerce, without vision, I would not be able to work with numbers. Amongst these dissenting voices, I received encouragement from Mr. Babu Rangarajan from the NGO called Disabilities. Mr. Rangarajan told me, “Rajdeep somebody is waiting for you to cross the hurdle so that their race can begin.” I found his advice very meaningful. I thought if I take Commerce and succeed, many others who were visually challenged and had similar interests would be encouraged to follow their dreams.
But, just when things started looking somewhat better on the academics front, I suffered another loss. While in the final year of B.Com, I lost my father. It was a difficult time in the life for me and my family, both, emotionally and financially. I realized that I would have to fend for my family and for some time my dreams of pursuing higher studies seemed to be headed nowhere. As I looked for a job to support his family, my father’s words kept playing in my mind. “Don’t keep your dreams in your eyes, they will wash away as tears, keep them in your heart so that each heartbeat reminds you of the same.” As the desire within me for following my dreams burnt, I decided to stretch himself further and joined Mysore University to pursue my M.Com through correspondence.
I remember the days when I worked as a telephone operator at Sivananda Electronics and studied at the same time. I used to move around with a walkman and audio cassettes. There was an NGO called Mitra Jyothi. If you gave them text books, they used to make recordings of the same. I kept on listening to these cassettes again and again till I got the hang of the concepts. At times it was difficult for me but I put my heart and soul in it because I was balancing my work, my family as well as my education. Despite the challenges I faced, I came out with flying colours and became the first correspondence student ever in the history of Mysore University to receive a Gold Medal.
After completing my Masters, I decided to teach. While working at Sivananda Electronics, I used to feel very restless. I thought if I continued there, I would touch a very few lives apart from my family and friends. I felt teaching would give me an opportunity to make a difference and touch several lives. Getting employment as a teacher was not easy for me. I applied for many teaching positions but there were not many who showed faith in my abilities even though I had a brilliant academic record. I went through the routine phase of rejection that several before me had gone through. The difference was that while many give up, I persevered. My mother was a constant support as I looked for a fulfilling career. Finally, I got my opportunity at Sri Bhagawan Mahaveer Jain College in 1996 which later got the status of a university, Jain University. This opened up several other paths for me. But, before that I had to overcome the challenges that I faced as a teacher.
Students were hardly impressed by my classes initially. When I was wondering what I could do to make my teaching better, I came across an interview of Jack Canfield during a radio broadcast by American Broadcasting Studio (ABC). Jack Canfield is the originator of the series of books, Chicken Soup for the Soul. The book sold 6 million copies in its first year itself and how did the author achieve this miracle was the question that intrigued me most as a Commerce lecturer. Canfield in his interview on ABC told that he applied the rule of three. He said, “Even in you hit the tallest and strongest tree three times in a day and sharpen your axe every evening, it would fall within six months. I did the same thing. I did three things to promote the book everyday and it became a success. I was impressed and decided to do one thing every day to improve my teaching skills. I still remember the day. It was June 15th, 1996. I went to the Library and requested the Librarian to read out some stories to me which was related to Management and which I could discuss with the class to make it more interesting. On the second day, I started working on my voice modulation and so on. Soon, I became a star teacher with the students seeking out my classes. I also went on to pursue my MBA and then M.Phil and received a Gold Medal which was followed by PhD in Commerce with the topic, ‘Strategic Evaluation of Training in Commercial Banks’.
While I continued overcoming obstacles in my professional life, I also met the woman who later on became my wife. You would call it a typically arranged marriage. I met my wife at someone’s suggestion, we talked, liked each other and everything worked out. Now I am also the proud father of my nine year old son. Support from both my mother and wife has always been a source of strength for me.
My inherent trait to connect with people and empathy propelled me towards counseling and soon I became a part of the mentorship programme at the University. Counseling is all about empowering a person to take his or her own decisions. I started with the students and later on moved on to the professionals. I also take motivational sessions on different themes for students, professionals from the corporate sector, NGOs and other organizations. My sessions always aim to inspire. I take sessions on different themes, at times it is on conquering fear, at times it is on commitments but the underlying idea is that at the end of it the individual should feel empowered and inspired. It should be an uplifting experience. As of today I have trained, motivated and mentored over 15000 students and executives over a span of sixteen years.
Also as a Quizmaster, my foray into the domain was rather interesting. I did my first quiz show at the then Sri Bhagawan Mahaveer Jain College when the Quizmaster backed out leaving everyone in a lurch. Everyone asked me to step in. To be honest, I was scared because I cannot read slides. This meant I had to memorize the entire 30 questions one after the other without forgetting. I measured my steps to the stage and located the teams on the dais. Once on the stage I started moving about and finally I got the confidence that I can do it. Since then, I have conducted quizzes for Nokia, Deutsche Bank and several Management institutions among others. I always tell my students when a person wins at Olympics, he is a winner just for ten seconds, the moment he comes down from the podium, he is just another defending champion who has to work hard all over again to defend his title.
I feel that there is always so much more to achieve and every time you reach a milestone, another one is waiting to be conquered. Even after winning the National Award I still feel I have a long way to go. I have inculcated in myself an enviable optimism and want to spread across hope to millions who often give up their dreams in the face of despair. I believe that the society can play a much more beneficial role in lending a helping hand to those who suffer from some disability by changing its perception. There is a general perception that if someone is visually challenged, he or she cannot do something. What is required is a little empathy and understanding that he or she can do as much as the next person.