When a few minutes of darkness can make one panic and helplessly feel your way towards light, here is a man for whom darkness became a constant. Yet he found light in the form of courage and determination to propel himself forward from childhood.
R Saravanan and his parents moved from Bangalore to Chennai when he was a child. All was well till his parents noticed a cataract-like film forming over his eye when he was around 9 years. A surgery was done immediately to restore his blurring vision but the film formed again, this time, sadly covering both eyes. His parents were at a loss as to how to handle their son’s disability. ‘My father worked for daily wages and my mother wasn’t educated. Having no alternative, they pulled me out of school and I was forced to stay home. It was an extremely bleak period in my life and just when I had almost given up all hope of an education, we heard about Little Flower Convent, a school for the blind!’ explains Saravanan.
At Little Flower Convent he learnt Braille and also went through extensive training for mobility. With a newly acquired confidence which came with the knowledge that he was not the only one with such disabilities and that with the right training he could overcome obstacles caused by his impairment, Saravanan went on to continue his schooling in St.Louis Institute for the Deaf and the Blind. His teachers couldn’t help but marvel at his aptitude for the different subjects, especially mathematics. Saravanan enjoyed his lessons and with the help and guidance of his teachers and the audio cassettes to aid his learning, secured 85% in his board exam, scoring 98 in mathematics to top his school.
‘Taking into account my high marks in math, I thought perhaps, I should pursue the subject but my parents wouldn’t allow it. Our family income was meagre and I had to take a job oriented course to help supplement the income. I therefore joined steno training at National Institute for Visually Handicapped (NIVH) in Chennai. I dropped my previous plan of a regular degree, but through distance education I did my BA English Literature from Madras University.” On one hand, I had finished the steno course (1998) and was searching for a good job. On the other, I had cleared the first year papers of my B.A degree. In distant mode of education, I had to manage everything- recording cassettes for study material and arranging scribes for writing my exams all on my own. It was indeed tough but I went on to do my Masters in Literature.’ It was at this juncture that he heard about Ability Foundation assuring jobs for the disabled in the IT Industry.
‘Around the same time, NIVH launched a new training project, (MT – medical transcription for VH) selecting 6 outstanding candidates. I was lucky to get that training, I learnt medical terms, drugs and basic computer skills. Considerable effort went into training to get good placement. NIVH tried their best to get us placed in Chennai, but managed only one. So they arranged placement for the rest of us interested, in Coimbatore.’
Saravanan’s work at Coimbatore was challenging. What took a regular person 7 hours, took Saravanan longer. But he didn’t let that dishearten him. He would get to office hours before his colleagues and sometimes bypass lunch-break to finish the allotted work. One of Saravanan’s most treasured moments was here – his meeting with the then President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
‘I worked here for 2 years and returned to Chennai to complete my M.A. I had always enjoyed teaching my other visually impaired classmates at school and decided to pursue teaching as a career. This led me to take the B.Ed programme.’ After completion, he was placed at a Government school and thus began his teaching career.
Presently, Saravanan is a teacher at a Government school in Chennai. He doesn’t use any of the technical knowledge he had worked so hard to learn. ‘The satisfaction I get from teaching is worth a million times that effort. There have been times in life when I have stumbled and staggered, when people were not ready to extend a hand to help but it was probably these harsh situations that has made me strong and given me the will to be independent. It was a great learning,’ he states. ‘Here I enjoy teaching children. They are all from families with very limited means and many may not be able to pursue higher education. I wish to inspire these children. If at least 5 out of every 10 I teach go on to do well in life, it would be a greater gift than sight itself!’ he exclaims.
Saravanan has something to say to those of us with sight-“If I can achieve what I have without the power of sight, just imagine what you can achieve for you are lucky to be blessed with vision. Be not blind to that fact.”