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Learning through the mind's eye

A visually impaired trainer helps her blind students find independence though computer training. Sriram Narayanan tells more.

sex and relationships Updated: Aug 22, 2013 11:10 IST
visually impaired+relationships+mumbai

Fourteen years ago, when Gangadas Chiluka boarded the train to work, he had no idea it would turn his life upside down. He fell from the train and lost his eyesight. Now, at 56, he is a sales executive for the National Association of Blind’s industrial unit in Ambernath, which manufactures office stationary .

But losing his eyesight “opened my mind to new things,” he says, tapping away at a computer at the Muncherjee Nowrojee Banajee Industrial Home for the Blind. As he tries to find his way about Microsoft Excel, a firm voice asks him, “Gangadasji, what are you doing…?” That voice belongs to Tanya Balsara. With her slight frame and bright features it’s easy to mistake her for a teenager. But she’s 27, and visually impaired like the people she teaches. Though that does not get in the way of her keeping track of her six students.

But the room is quite a cacophony of sounds. Balsara’s students rely on voice software to read out everything on their monitors. With each of her wards inserting cells, deleting rows and adding columns in Excel at their own pace, and speakers voicing each PC’s own actions, Balsara’s work isn’t exactly a cakewalk.

But she’s been teaching the computer classes since they began on January 16 last year and loving it.

Balsara is excited about the MS-CIT certification that the Maharashtra government gave the course last month, since it means she can train her students in Access, PowerPoint, Frontpage and Outlook, besides the usual Windows, Word, Excel and Internet.

“They can easily secure a government job on the basis of their computer skills alone,” she explains after class is over. As you talk to her you realise there is a big difference between Tanya the individual and Tanya the teacher.

The teacher is firm with her students and attentive to their concerns. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be let off lightly if they mess up. “I do crack jokes and chat with my students. But I want them to pass and get good jobs. So if it means drawing a line in the student-teacher relationship, I will,” Balsara says.

The individual loves music, listens to the radio even in the shower and almost became an RJ. She’s addicted to cola and the company of people. In fact, that’s the reason she didn’t become an RJ:

“After my graduation in Sociology and a course on Announcing Broadcasting Compering and Dubbing at the Xavier’s Institute of Communication, I wanted to be an RJ. But the prospect of talking into a microphone in an empty room gave me the creeps.” But despite her disability Balsara con , siders herself fortunate. She lives in a spacious house in Jogeshwari’s Malcolm Baug and thanks god for letting her grow up among very understanding people, both family and friends.

Her mother, Homi Balsara,says she was devastated when she realised that Balsara was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa. “It’s only now that I have accepted the fact that there is no cure,” she says. “But, we’re thankful that Tanya’s other senses are sharper than other people, especially her memory. That’s why she managed a first class right through school and college.”

In fact, her father Sam Balsara, who heads an advertising agency was deter , mined that his daughter would attend a regular school and college. And even now, the couple’s only regret is that they were over - protective of their daughter.

“I have been asking her to take mobility sessions for the last ten years,” says Sam. Balsara resisted since she was hesitant to walk with a stick. But two weeks back, she realised she wanted to be independent and called her father in the middle of a meeting to tell him she would start taking the lessons. Two weeks later, she’s learning to make her way around by her self, using her stick, and enjoying her new-found freedom.

Sam says Balsara is a ray of sunshine in his life: “Working in the media means no two days are the same and there’s enough to put me off. But when I come home and see Tanya cheerful think that if a blind girl can have such a disposition, what am I feeling down about?” As far as her students are concerned, Balsara’s impairment is an advantage: “The fact that she is blind makes her the best computer trainer we could have,” says Nakul, her student Balsara herself is happy with the way things are. She’s glad that her parents have never brought up the marriage topic and wishes to continue with her classes.

“Computers have opened an entirely new world for me and my students. It is like a semblance of sight in an otherwise dark world. You can’t give sight to the blind. But computer training can get them close.”

E-mail author: sriram.narayanan@hindustantimes.com