Go online and record a poem. Yours could be one of the many verses the visually impaired can now enjoy, thanks to a CSR initiative, writes Pankaja Srinivasan

“Kal raat mujhe ek kavita ne jagaaya…” (last night a poem woke me up). Prasoon Joshi’s poem rings clear as a bell in the voice of Farhan Akhtar. It is the first poem recorded for a project called Your Voice, Their World. Thanks to this initiative, the beautiful big world of poetry and literature is being made available to the blind. The project is open to the public and anyone can record a poem, even their own, in their voice, easily. Already, more than a thousand poems have been contributed.

When Japanese company Omron was looking around for a CSR initiative that would benefit people with disabilities, they hit upon the idea of doing something for the visually impaired in India, which has the largest number of blind people in the world. Omron decided to use technology in some way to enhance their quality of life. In order to do that, it has sponsored 2,000 hours of recording of works of poetry and literature. The project has been undertaken by Omron along with The National Association for the Blind in Delhi and McCann Health that has contributed the creative inputs, designed the website and helped take the project online.

According to Ankur Sachin Bhatt, corporate communications manager of Omron, “Prasoon Joshi specially composed the poem for us and Farhan Akhtar agreed to be a part of the project by reading out that poem. He has also contributed preludes for the talking books. The project is actively being promoted on all platforms of the social media, facebook and twitter and there is a dedicated app too. We are now putting up booths in public spaces to invite people to lend their voices, then and there. There is a special contest till April 30. Record your poems before that and the best five will get to meet Farhan Akhtar. The poems will be donated to the NAB Delhi library and anyone can use it from their database.”

The selection of poems so far has been varied. They range from Hickory Dickory Dock to Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s verse, from Mahadevi Verma to Milton.

Recording booths

The booths are to raise awareness and motivate people to contribute a poem then and there. They are small glass enclosures with an iPad and Internet connection. The visitors log in to the site (using their FB profile) and record their poem. The booths are set up across University campuses in Delhi/NCR. A school has come up with a collection of 300 poems written by its students and it wishes to donate the same to the campaign.

NAB makes audio and gives them to students at subsidised rates. So far, we had very limited resources and, therefore, only recorded text books. But with this initiative, we can now do much more. Even as we speak, more than a thousand poems (1,118) have been recorded. With this project, we hope we can create a huge collection of work. We will compile these poems into CDs and distribute them. We want to sort the poems according to their themes and make them available to people. We want to create awareness about the enormous need for reading material for the blind. NAB has a network of 64 partners, and we will be sharing this material with them. For the moment only English and Hindi poems are being recorded. - Prashant Ranjan Varma, joint secretary, National Association for the Blind

To run a campaign with poetry at its heart and to serve the visually impaired through it, is a unique opportunity and I was more than happy to pen a poem to get this kickstarted. Omron is a valued partner for us and I am glad that we have partnered with them to steer such a novel initiative. - Prasoon Joshi

If you want to contribute a poem, visit Your Voice, Their World