Students from the Victoria Memorial School (for the visually challenged) have gone on to win many firsts, reports Rishi Majumder

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

TAKING ON THE WORLD - a blind student learning geography... his fingers on a special globe

Vikas Thakur of Victoria Memorial School went on to top his school in the SSC examinations. He’s was placed second in his Bachelor’s degree course at Ruparel college. Tushar Kamble, at the same alma mater, is considered by many a music teacher to be one of the most promising harmonium and flute players of his age. Vileen Shah, an alumni of the same is a professor of American and World
History at Harold Washington College, Chicago. The school has a line of cricket trophies (among others) and has many a Malkhamb exhibition where its young students perform astonishing acrobatic feats. But even more encouraging is the fact that most of the young ‘uns on the school lawn are holding hands or making human trains, as they laugh, screech, run and play, in a seeming underlining of their camaraderie. “Yeah so?” you’d shrug. “Maybe I’ll think about it for my child.” God forbid. For to gain admission into this respected, over a century old institution, your child would need to possess a minimum vision impairment of 60 per cent. Each person mentioned above (and approximately 50 per cent of the school’s current student body), suffers complete blindness.
“The first challenge when a student comes into the school is to make him want to learn,” remarks principal Shalan Chawal. “Ninety per cent of these students come from the lower classes.” As a result, many of them have either been kept locked up at home, or left clueless at some street corner. “We start them with yogic exercises like the Surya Namaskar and gradually encourage them to run,” she continues. “They’re taught that every time they stumble, it is human, not a result of sightlessness.” Then come the lessons: “Maths is taught by a tailor frame (an abacus like instrument), Geography and Biology by models of
the body parts and animals or maps and globes which have the boundaries jutting out and so on…” informs Mala Goenka, one of the school’s trustees. But there’s more. A library which has a magnificently diverse collection of Hindi English and Marathi books, in Braille for instance. Or electronic ‘speaking books’ which speak each word out loud and every subject lesson recorded in tapes for the children to hear. “I teach music through the concept of distances – between chord, or keys,” explains music teacher Prakash Pingane, himself visually impaired. Another blind philosophy graduate, Atul Kelkar, teaches Literature and Mathematics: “How do I tell them what an author means by ‘beautiful sunset’? I take them to such a spot, and they feel what he means.”
“One of the biggest leaps in terms of blind aids has been through computer software,” agree both principal Chawal and trustee Goenka, as they point out Galileo, a reading machine which reads out pages of any book placed in it or JAWS, a software by which each computer key pressed or window opened is read out loud. But truth goes beyond technology perhaps: “When my student Vikas Thakur went for his SSC mathematics prelims, he refused to take his tailor frame,” remembers Kelkar. “He scored 74 out of 75 by using Vedic Maths to do those complicated calculations in his head.” Just then, a human train rushes towards us at break neck speed. They screech to a halt instinctively, mumble sorrys, to change direction and run again.

This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:


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