On an otherwise regular Sunday morning when buses stopped languorously at vacant bus stops, and flower vendors outside temples sold reels of jasmine by the minute, Hotel Savera was the starting point of an ingenious adventure.
R. Dhanraj, a Tamil schoolteacher strapped his seatbelt and grabbed his copy of the Braille route map as soon as it was handed to him. “Ready?” he enquired of his team mate and driver M. Sanjay, fielding coach, Tamil Nadu Ranji team.
And then, without wasting any time, he read from his rally route. “Cross the second lane and turn left onto T.T.K. Road. For the first 8 km, drive at 18 km per hour,” he said, as Mr. Sanjay constantly updated him on where they were, as they went on a maze of a ride through Myalpore, Adyar and Anna Nagar.
Theirs was one among a stream of 100 cars that slithered out of Hotel Savera exactly every 60 seconds, and set out on an unknown path which revealed itself line by line through the directions given by a visually impaired navigator armed with a Braille route map.
The annual car rally for the blind is led by visually impaired navigators, who team up with sighted drivers to go on a 40-odd kilometre rally based on a Braille route map handed to the team a minute before they start.
The 25 annual rally organised jointly by the National Association for the Blind and Madras Motor Sports Club, recorded its highest number of participants this year.
While the navigators ranged from a class V student S. Gayathri to K. Rajan who has participated in every rally so far, the drivers ranged from Madhavi Latha a Paralympic swimming champion, to businessmen such as Hemant Singh who were participating for the first time.
The rally is centred on the time, speed and distance (TSD) format, where precision trumps speed, and the route is drawn and tested by MMSC members.
“Teams get penalty points for being early and late,” explained P. Chandrasekar, honorary secretary, National Association for the Blind.
The teams not only have to be at the right place at the right time by travelling the right distances, but also need to keep an eye out for marshals on the route who make an entry of the time they drive by.
“Normally, one doesn’t associate motor sports with the visually handicapped. This is an opportunity for them to work in sports and lead a team,” said Gopal Madhavan, chairman of the rally and organising committee member, MMSC who was instrumental in launching the rally in the city.
C. Sylendra Babu, additional director-general of police and actor Karthi flagged off the rally.