R. Perumalsamy uses his love for collecting coins to generate awareness about the blind and their special needs

R. Perumalsamy was 10 when his vision began failing. He was 14 when he dropped out of school for he couldn’t see the blackboard anymore. Almost completely blind, he spent his days labouring at home until he went for a 20-day course for the blind at Ramakrishna Hospital. It taught him the basics of managing without sight.

Thus equipped, he began a small job in Ooty cleaning and arranging chairs for a company which worked for hotels. Often, international tourists at these hotels tipped him short change in their foreign currencies and so began Perumalsamy’s interest in coins.

Over the years he collected 100 coins from different nations, telling them apart by texture and size. It was in 1998, that a free operation, through Aravind Eye Hospital’s outreach programme, gave back Perumalsamy almost 90 per cent of his vision.

“I returned the ID card which said I was blind, began working as a watchman with a private security firm and starting collecting coins in even more earnest,” he says.

He began by hunting down commemorative coins issued by the Government. “It helped me learn the history of India and soon I had the entire collection from 1964 to 2012,” he says.

He bought books that listed important coins, their history and value, and tried to collect according to the various coin series they described. Among many such, is his favoured collection of all the Rs. 1 coins released from 1948 to 2013.

It was in 2009 though that Perumalsamy first saw a coin specifically designed for the blind. To commemorate the 200th birth anniversary of Louis Braille, India had created a Rs 2. coin with his name embossed in raised dots.

“I was so excited about this that I bought 300 of these Rs. 2 coins! I also bought the Rs. 100 coin which India made in 2009 with Braille’s face on it. I decided I must put together an exhibition that would tell people about the blind in India,” says Perumalsamy.

The exhibition is a short introduction to the Braille system of reading and writing. With 10 paise coins, Perumalsamy shaped the entire Braille alphabet and numbering system onto placards labelled with their English equivalents. “I want people to know that the blind can read and write and work just like everybody else. So I also introduce them to the various equipment that blind people use on a daily basis,” he says.

There are different models of the stylus and board used to imprint Braille letters, ranging from the oldest form which was large and wooden, to the latest pocket-sized version. There’s also a Tamil edition of Braille letters, Braille dice and geometry kit, and even a Braille chess board.

Perumalsamy has taken this exhibition to schools in Coimbatore along with a blind friend who shares his personal challenges. He says, “When parents discover that their children are blind, they stop sending them to school and make them work at home. I faced that and I don’t want other children to do so. When you educate and empower one blind person, he will go on to do the same for many others. That will create a better future for all.”