Sunday, November 15, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 15 - Looking through the eyes of the blind

NaBloPoMo November 2015

I met her on a hot afternoon in her house. I got in touch with her through Twitter. Upasana Makati, who runs the only lifestyle magazine in the country for the blind, tweeted for readers to help the visually challenged with their notes. Since I had time to spare, I tweeted back and offered to help. Emails and phone numbers exchange later, I got a call at the time I specified. I spoke to her and her mother on the phone and they explained what I was supposed to do. I agreed.

This was a first for me. I always wished I could be of some help to people with the skills and time I have. But never knew what to do. This seemed to be a great opportunity where I could put my time to good use. It felt a little odd to be going to someone's house. I haven't gone to people's homes even to socialise in a long, long time. But I couldn't let that be a deterrent. I got the address and the directions from her - and I was astounded at the accuracy of the directions - and went to her place on the assigned day. And that is when I met Ummehaani for the first time. She is this tall, smiling, innocent kid - well, a final year Sociology student - but totally an innocent kid in her own right.

And thus began my journey of sitting with her couple of afternoons a week, reading her printed notes which she could type out on her Braille type writer. Now, the background story goes like this - she is among the minority physically challenged student in a very normal kids' college, Mithibai. All students are given printed notes by the professors and the visually challenged students get them too. No, the college isn't concerned that printed notes for these differently abled kids is as good as just blank pages. So while the normal kids sleep, socialise, chat on phones, watch movies, study or while away time on social media, students like Ummehaani spend hours together converting normal people notes into Braille just to be able to read them. And I can vouch for the solid number of hours it requires to type out even a single booklet of 4 sheets. This is clearly apathetic on the part of the educational system which charges all kids the same fee but doesn't ensure everyone gets facilities that help them study well. Here is what I tweeted sometime after I started working with her:

Meanwhile, we have no choice but to get on with our task at hand. What was more shocking and frustrating was the number of errors - even grammatical - in the notes that the college professors give to students. I'd correct them as I went along and a lot of times Ummehaani herself would be quick to point them out. She is a smart kid despite the lack of exposure that other students her age have. Also, I was made to feel comfortable right from day 1. Her mom, a gem of a person, always ensured that I had eaten something during my session. Her attitude towards life is pretty practical. She never insists that Ummehaani wear the traditional burqa or observe fasts. It's refreshing to come across people who are not staunch believers just for the sake of it but are pragmatic enough to not make religion a matter of inconvenience.

Ummehaani - happily answering questions for a magazine in Qatar
I have a great time with Ummehaani! She is this angel who is so full of questions about my life and how things work in my world. I can understand her fascination since her exposure to the outside world is limited. It's hard for her to step out on her own like you and I do. She is naturally curious and loves to know the world. I did promise to take her out for a meal and have some fun time together. I am yet to fulfil my promise for which I totally feel guilty.

But I am trying to make up by taking her to the Social Media Week tomorrow, which is another thing I had promised her. I am sure she is excited. But I am all the more excited. It will be a great opportunity for her to be a part of such an event. I am sure it will open more avenues for her and she can consider better career options in the future.

Spending time with her has given me a new perspective to life. Looking at the world the way she sees it (no pun intended) is so different. Things we take for granted are a challenge for her. It feels unfair but we are just blessed with sight - something we did nothing for. We just turned out to be lucky. She, not so much! With such few supporting systems to help people like her, I hope you and I can make some difference to her as enablers of better future for people like her.

If you wish to help Ummehaani or other people like her, you can become readers - read out notes while they type or writers - write an exam for them at the venue of the exam. Feel free to drop me a comment or look me up on Twitter at @Suman_Kher


  1. Suman super stuff. No really. And so good of you to do this :) I am definitely going to figure out a way to help her.. in fact in there is any time something you think I can assist with, let me know please :)


  2. Thank you for reading, Richa! There are so many people like her who need assistance for a lot of things in this world which is developed keeping only people with sight in mind. I will definitely reach out!

  3. You know helping her out was an awesome thing you did.... A lot of us talk about helping and a few actually invest the time... kudos to you...

    And to Ummehaani, all I can say is all the best... keep that spirit up!

  4. Thanks for reading, Ankita! You know it actually feels like a big deal to help someone like this. But life and systems are so unfair to these people that what each of us does to help them is really a drop in the ocean. But yes, I believe that I can't change the world. But can try to make a difference to at least one life in whatever way I can!

  5. Really grt stuff Suman!!!! Its so inspiring 2 even read such a piece and 2 actually go out and do sth lyk this must be all the more exhilarating..... just one suggestion here. ... u cn get in touch with an eye bank and then try cloud funding the expenses of getting an eye transplant done.... i m sure many of us would willingly cme fwd fr such a grt cause. ....

    1. Thanks so much for reading and leaving your comment, Shiv! But the real issue here can't be solved by crown sourcing an eye transplant for one person. That's for her family to decide. As a society, we need to become more sensitive in your attitude and enabling in our systems to ensure they get to lead at least near normal lives.