As a child, I didn’t know if I were to be born a certain way. I didn’t know if I can see the world as clearly as others or not see it at all. I felt this is the way to live until people around me talked of strange things- things I hadn’t seen or hadn’t been able to see.
This was my childhood.
I was partially blind since birth. Oblivious of my condition, I played with children of my age with no inhibitions. Within a few years, the world around me gradually darkened and my parents noticed that my younger sister and I responded differently. My father is a farmer and we belong to a remote village called Handitavalli in Mysuru District. In an underdeveloped region like ours, it was a challenge for my parents to give me the right kind of environment to study. In the year 2000, we came to know about the N R Foundation’s Ranga Rao Memorial School for Disabled (RMSD) in Mysuru, where my cousin studied. As a 4-year-old, I was excited to go to a boarding school in Mysuru. It wasn’t important for me to know why I had to be in a different school than my sister and friends. I felt special when the school bus came to pick me up from the village. The entire neighborhood was thrilled to see it and a trail of amused children followed it to our house!
At the age of 6, I lost my vision completely but by then, I had spent two years in the school and my visual impairment didn’t leave me helpless. Basic training had already been imparted and I had a routine that I followed religiously. Because I was young, the dorm staff and teachers showered their affection on me and with their guidance, I learned time management and the importance of discipline. Mobility training helped me go about the day myself and become independent. I sang, danced and participated in all activities of the school. Our dormitory was home to so many girls like me. I can’t see and make friends but I bonded over conversations, similarity of habits, laughter and sadness. In class, teachers also gave us examples of legends and famous personalities- people with humble backgrounds who made it big in life despite a difficult beginning. One day, my teacher talked about Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. His story inspired me greatly. I wanted to aim high and make a difference like he did.
Seeing how teachers can transform lives, I wanted to be one myself.
In those days, RMSD had classes only till the 7th std. Those formative years passed like a dream and I now had to face the world outside. The teachers encouraged me to continue studying and not consider leaving as the end of my academic journey. I was clueless about the challenges that I would face outside the warmth and care of my mentors. After RMSD, I continued to live in Mysuru and joined a senior secondary school for ‘abled’ children.
It was here that I became acutely aware of my disability. I started sitting on the first bench so that I do not miss hearing any part of the lecture and yet I was unable to cope with the pace. I asked questions when I couldn’t understand but the environment was different. The patience shown with me in my previous school was missing here. Nobody spoke to me
and I felt lonely without friends and guides.
I could now sense the shackles of darkness gripping me and realized that only learning would set me free. I started carrying my Braille book to class and took notes. Gradually, my scores improved and my presence was acknowledged. The teachers were impressed by my performance. After High School, I wanted to study more and took admission in an intermediate college. I was eager to learn and came up with a new idea. As soon as my classes got over, I went to the library to collect books and then headed to the bus stand. I would approach students and request them to read out the questions from the book for me until their bus arrived. While they dictated, I fervently wrote everything in my Braille book. I started doing this exercise every day from 2 to 4 pm. During vacations, I sought help from my younger sister. Through perseverance, I passed 12th std with distinction.
In B.A., a regular student became a good friend who assisted me with books and question papers from previous years. Both of us decided to do B.Ed. after graduation. I had two choices –either to do a regular B.Ed., which would make me eligible to teach regular students, or enroll in B.Ed. for specially abled students. With the latter, I could only teach differently abled children. I wanted to test myself so I took up a challenge to do regular B Ed. However, the biggest impediment in pursuing higher studies was the unavailability of Braille books. Even when everyone was helpful, I needed something to assist me in revisions at any time of the day. God heard my prayer and after a few days, Guru Sir from the NR Group came to our college function as Chief Guest. I secured first prize in a debate competition and Guru Sir recognized me. I was happy that he remembered me from my RMSD days. He asked me if I needed anything and I told him about my concern. He arranged a ‘Daisy Player’ for me and facilitated issue of a laptop through the government. These electronic devices catapulted my efforts and improved my performance manifold. As part of my assignment to teach regular students, I went back to RMSD and got Braille books for the same subjects I had to take classes for. This way, I could read in Braille and my students could follow their normal textbooks. My technique was highly appreciated by students and teachers alike.
With every achievement, I aimed for more. Recently, besides completing my M.A. with a Gold Medal I have also cleared the Karnataka TET and NET examinations. The word of my success spread and my students requested me to start online classes. It began with whatsapp but with an increase in the number of students, I now have my own YouTube channel.
It gives me immense satisfaction that my endeavors have made my parents proud. If we believe in ourselves, opportunity is always waiting for us. I hope I become a teacher who lives by example and makes a difference to the society despite my disability. Life is fueled by dreams and aims, not sympathy. My goal is clear. I may be visually impaired but I have never lost sight of my vision.