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Traffic at fingertips

Around 63 cars vied for victory in the Blind Man's Car Rally, reports Sriram Narayanan.

india Updated: Feb 12, 2007 02:58 IST

Rajendra Dhanuka (35) seems pretty suave behind the wheel. The 35-year-old valuer is piloting his Honda City on a turbid Sunday morning and cheekily asks his navigator if he is allowed to overtake.

Arun Kurkute (36), his navigator, smiles affirmatively. Dhanuka promptly downshifts a gear and floors the accelerator, hurtling his mellow gold Honda City down Cadell Road.

Meanwhile, Kurkute's slender fingers are feverishly moving on an embossed sheet of paper. Charting his way through a route map, perhaps? Not really. Kurkute is completely blind. And what he has on his hands is a sheet of landmarks and directions in Braille.

And like theirs, there are 63 other cars vying for victory in the Blind Man's Car Rally. Each driven by the owner and navigated by a visually-impaired person. A perfect case of the blind leading the sighted.

Organised by Round Table India (RTI), part of the international NGO Round Table International, this is the third such rally in Mumbai; the last one was held in 1994. The NGO has already built 1,100 schools at the cost of Rs 75 crore and has educated 6,00,000 students.

"We provide primary education by building infrastructure for across the country and by 2008, aim to educate one million children," said Paresh Chaudhry, a member of RTI and corporate communication professional with Hindustan Lever.

Flagged off at Worli seaface by Ajay Devgan, who is a goodwill ambassador of RTI, the route touched Five Gardens, the leafy lanes of Dadar and Shivaji Park to the grandeur that Ballard Pier and Nariman Point that is nearly deserted on non-working days.

Dhanuka was all praise for Kurkute. "Arun quite expertly guided me through those tiny lanes of Dadar's Hindu Colony, which is so easy to lose your way in," he said. "I like his confidence and the world they live in."

However, the pair missed one stopover and did not qualify as finishers. Both seemed the least perturbed, though.

"It was a lot of fun and it is not often that I get to interact with other people," says Kurkute. Besides being a Masters in Social Work, Kurkute is also doing a Phd on the sociology of the blind in Mumbai, has trekked in the Himalayas, ran in the Mumbai Marathon and plans to swim the English Channel soon.

However, out of the 63 participants, only 19 finished. Just to give you an idea of how arduous the route was. The route description in Braille very smartly avoided mentioning important landmarks. Instead, all the clues revealed were tiny, inconsequential places like beauty parlours, travel agencies and small signboards.

Winner of the rally, Zarin Havewala, is a teacher.

"I think this is a great venue for normal and visually-impaired people to interact. My navigator Ketan Kothari was so good, we won the rally," he said.

But while the visually-challenged impressed their keen sense of direction, this reporter asked Kurkute if there are any disabled-friendly cars in India. "None," came the calm but stark reply.

Email: htmetro @hindustantimes.com