We all need a guide, a companion soul who shows up when we are at crossroads; at the moment that could turn our lives inexorably.
When THAT PERSON happens to be a teacher, it feels as if god himself is reaching out and showing the right way.
It was July 1991, a few months after my eyesight had declined to near blindness. Mom and I were exiting Loyola College with drooped shoulders and sagging spirit. Sweat glistened on our foreheads as the harsh afternoon sun sucked any leftover energy.
A few minutes ago, we were told that the last chance we had of joining the great college had slipped through our fingers due to a simple error on our side.
“You must have noted the application number somewhere madam. Please bring it and we’ll consider admission for him,” Fr. Principal had said, looking concerned and helpless.
The reality was, we submitted the application without making a note of the number. The college was receiving about thirty five thousand applications and had no way of locating an application without its number.
Mom was frustrated. About fifteen days of running around in the sun was going waste. She wanted me to attend college and get educated so that I could work and lead a dignified life. It didn’t seem like an unreasonable goal, but circumstances and the chain of events that put us on that sunny day outside the college made that goal appear far tougher than it was.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned.
“Hey, you look as if you don’t know me,” the student said.
“I don’t even see a smile of recognition in your face,” he continued, unable to hide his disappointment.
“His eyesight has gone so bad he can’t see you anymore,” mom explained to the student, who went back a step as if someone had slapped him.
It was my friend from school, Dinesh, who spent hours seated by my side enjoying Carnatic music compositions as I sang. We were close and probably would have ended up in the same college if not for the year I had to miss due to the diagnosis of RP and the struggles to come to terms with it.
Dinesh heard us out and needed no convincing in joining our effort to gain admission.
“All isn’t over yet,” Dinesh told us. “We’ll try one more time tomorrow.”
The next day, we bumped on another school mate pursuing bachelors in the college. Ghulam had to cope with blindness from his childhood and was equally shaken to hear how Retinitis Pigmentosa had robbed me of my ability to see.
Gulam, as someone described later, was my guardian soul, an angel instrumental in my further education and how my life went from that point.
“We’ll discuss about your admission issue with someone here. You might find help,” he said taking us along the vast corridors of the college’s main building. He turned into the room bearing the sign “Students Services Centre”.
The booming voice of Professor I. E. Daniel welcomed him. Ghulam introduced us and explained the issue.
“Don’t worry madam, we’ll try our best and leave the rest to god,” he told mom and turned his attention in my direction.
“Do you know anything you had written on the application form that’ll help us identify it?”
The one thing I remembered my aunt wrote on top of the form was the words “Blind Candidate” in block letters.
“Ok…when did you submit the form?”
I probably wouldn’t have remembered the date if not for a great tragedy that struck my country in the month of May. Our former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a suicide bomber on May 21 closer to my city, which brought the country to a standstill. Between the time it took to mourn his death and continue the multi-phased elections,. It took a long time for college activities to resume. I kept the date of Rajiv assassination as my landmark and worked forward.
“June 3 sir,” I told Prof. Daniel with confidence. In reality, I wasn’t sure if I was right or wrong, but it felt right.
Prof. Daniel departed with a student in toe to the Principal’s chamber, explained my situation to the staff there and used the student to go through each application. It took a couple of hours, but the form was there.
With his booming voice, eyes full of affection and the spirit to help persons with disability, Prof. Daniel was the guru who showed up at the right time, a guru who removed a major obstacle.
Prof. Daniel went on to create the first association for disabled students in my college which has grown into a full-fledged support centre now. His modern and forward thinking ideas inspired us and made us think beyond the traditional jobs for the disabled such as telephone operation and teaching. Not that these are bad jobs, but some of us needed more challenging things in life and found people discouraging us all the time. He was there to urge us on and back us up when we needed help.