Visual impairment : Became blind at 28 years due to an accident
On December 28, 1990, Siddharth was 24-and-a-half-years old. Enthusiastic about a fast paced environment at Fascination India, he was enjoying every moment. His life changed forever that night in a motorcycle accident. He lost vision in both eyes. However, he did not let that come in the way of his growth as an individual.
He says his mother; family and friends were very supportive. He recalls them as constantly trying to grow out of the angst, but “they didn’t make it seem very major” and he was, probably as a result of that, “ peppy all through.” There were trying times as well. “I used to say that if I don’t get cured I’d retire to an ashram and even my fiancé was under tremendous pressure”. But he sustained his belief in his never-say-die attitude.
He realised that “things weren’t going to work out in a hurry”. He continued to “go out with friends and do ordinary things that others do so easily and unconsciously.” In 1992, he joined the N.I.V.H. in Dehradun to “figure out how others survive.” The experience, he declares, was “great; it was fun to meet so many new people and learn basic mobility, Braille and other important tools to help carry on with life.” He became aware of a mountaineering exhibition in Sikkim that year, to climb Dzongri peak (14,000 ft). On a team of 20 visually impaired persons and as the first one to scale the height it dawned upon him that “ things were doable and that life wasn’t going to be all that bad.”
His plunge into the Public Relations sector was quite by chance. Siddharth was on the Organising Committee of the 1998 World Cup Cricket Tournament for the Blind in India, painstakingly promoting the game to schools and colleges; his key responsibility lay in initiating media involvement. He then joined Connexions (part of the Rs. 1,200 crore Dalmia Group), where within a month he was into hardcore marketing, securing clients and bringing in new business.
He perceives the PR industry as a “sunrise industry” because only now are people beginning to understand the importance of a brand image for business success. Hands-on attention to the client in sync with their needs and the capacity to deliver make for servicing and maintaining clients. According to him, “making sure that a client is visible, visible and more visible is the basis of good PR.” Interpersonal skills must be nurtured and the all important one-on-one relationship prevails not just in the industry, but also in every aspect of life. Competition has never deterred him or made him feel inept; in fact it has given him the edge over others in terms of openness to ideas and his ability to focus on work.
He deals with many Indian and multinational corporates – clothing, footwear, automobiles, healthcare, beauty care, fashion, sports, jewellery, to name a few, and keeps abreast of what’s happening in every sector. “There is a collective reading session every morning in office,” Siddharth reveals. “Anything of interest to me is read out; I am thirsty for knowledge.”
He has also set aside time daily -- over two hours each in the morning and evening -- to catch the news on TV. He does not read or write Braille, and relies on his keenly honed memory for work. He prepares many business proposals and letters, and corresponds regularly with people via e-mail.
What does one need to become a PR person? “Acumen for marketing and consummate ease in dealing with the media. An understanding of how to generate business is also imperative,” Siddharth says. “You have to be a marketing/HR professional, accountant, troubleshooter – all rolled into one!”
He talks about an “unnecessary stigma” that society tends to attach to being visually challenged. He feels that it is because they “do not expect a blind person to comprehend certain things with equal ease, maybe even in a better manner.” There are so many stereotypes that society has perpetuated about the blind. In this regard he mentions that the “images that the words ‘visually challenged’ evoke are those of a person stuck in the corner of a room or a poor person walking with a cane selling agarbattis! About 80%-85% blind persons are from a poor socio-economic background. The rest of society does nothing to help them. To achieve anything, society has to be more encouraging of all persons, disabled or not. You have to think beyond!”
“I never think black,” he says. He still dreams of images and visuals in colour and lets his imagination run wild. Vivid memories of his past draw out his conception of what he experiences now. “People say that it’s doubly sad that I could see for 24 years and then no longer, but I brush that aside because I was blessed to see the world for even that long.” Communicating his thoughts and ideas has never been hindered by his disability.
Fashion shows, pubs, public places are not special trips, but a daily affair for Siddharth, as he loves being around people. What he enjoys the most is the pulse of the situation. His eagerness to learn and his interest drive him to ask loads of questions that put everything into perspective. He believes that his depth of understanding and concentration have improved tremendously. “I no longer get distracted by a saree colour or someone fiddling with his moustache and can focus much better on the task at hand.” He feels that a “sixth sense comes automatically, something that cannot be described, but there is a higher power.”
The youth in India are not more dispassionate towards people with disabilities. He feels that society has been conditioned in such a way that “they don’t care”. Part of our education, especially during our formative years, determines how we feel towards certain people and our sensitivity towards them. “Social service hours are all that the system has been reduced to, sensitivity shouldn’t start and end there.”
Doing what he does best, and redefining what people think and the way they think, power this executive on. His favourite song is ‘Born to be wild’ and he lives it every day.
Siddharth can be contacted at email@example.com