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Lost his sight, not vision

When life deals a double-whammy, you can either go under or stand up and fight. Which is what Jayakumar did.

Jayakumar: A will to dream. — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

THE WISDEN Cricketer of the Century is announced. Kapil Dev stands on the hallowed podium and your hair stands on end; his achievements are incomparable; he is truly the epitome of a successful sportsperson; his success is endorsed by a jury — such stories adorn the covers of glossy magazines and make the headlines. But there are other stories, smaller ones perhaps, that never do — stories of people whose struggles and successes are neither recorded nor endorsed, stories that put the human spirit to test. This is one such story — of the power of the human mind to endure and overcome.

Born in Coimbatore 48 years ago, Jayakumar was not a usual child. When he was 15, he set about putting together a transmitter, and the following year, he set up a lab at home. A few years later, with a B.Sc. in Chemistry, he got an opportunity to set up a lab for the erstwhile Brooke Bond company in the township of Tundla, a few kilometres from Agra.

Around 1978, he started experimenting with tea. He designed instruments to source the iron content in tea. He tried to extract caffeine from tea waste; he tried to obtain a khaki dye from tea waste, thought of introducing a tea-based soft drink, as well as instant tea. These were great concepts, but may not have been viable in the economy and market of the late Seventies. In 1986, he came to Bangalore with his wife, Mahalakshmi, and baby daughter, Saidarshana, on a transfer. He had to set up the centralised Packaging Lab in Brooke Fields. But other things were waiting to happen. The family lost everything in a train robbery; there was a lockout in Brooke Bond; his wife went on leave without pay. If this was all, there could have been a semblance of relief. But they had to start, not from scratch, but from literally somewhere below that, when more misfortune was piled on the ones already in place. Jayakumar was diagnosed, during this time, of having an incurable and progressive impairment of eyesight, in both his eyes. This ailment, Retinitis Pigmentossa, means a person gradually loses all ability to see. Jayakumar could no longer take up new and interesting offers — he could barely see after six in the evening.

It was not easy to tell himself that he could not see anymore. In the meanwhile, there were the normal corporate upheavals. Brooke Bond became Brooke Bond Lipton that later became part of Hindustan Lever. Jayakumar's tenure however continued rock solid despite these multiple mergers. But a casual cataract surgery in the year 2000 aggravated his plight. He lost his right eye completely. Conflicting medical advice made the situation worse. There was no reversing the stroke of misfortune. Then came a period of severe depression. "A totally frustrating period," recalls Jayakumar.

But when fate knocks you on your head time and again, you may do something about it. Jayakumar decided to quit Levers. Shocking decision, but a bold one. The best time to stick with a company is perhaps when you are ill so you can claim the best of medical compensation. But men of stronger mettle think differently. "The management at Levers was extremely considerate," says Jayakumar. It continued to accommodate him, but he had made up his mind to leave. If he could not be 100 per cent useful, he decided he could not live on the largesse of others.

Jayakumar decided to join the National Association for the Blind (NAB). There he learnt learn how to be mobile, and in course of time learnt to come to terms with the white cane — an achievement in itself. "Acceptance of the problem is the first step to overcoming it." And knowing 48 was too early to retire, he decided to get back to business. Jayakumar made an extensive study of hosiery markets in Tirupur, Erode, and Karur. He then launched his personal marketing business in May this year. The work did not require huge investment, and quality was assured. He began marketing a range of products that included towels, napkins, undergarments, kerchiefs, mops, T-shirts, and brightly coloured children's clothes.

Trained to work on a computer using a special software, Jayakumar today accepts orders (on the Net and on the phone) and delivers the product at the customer's doorstep, anywhere in Bangalore, at very competitive prices. Recently, he bought a Maruti van, and on Sundays, displays his products in select areas. This of course depends on personal networking and the general goodwill of the people. Fortunately, organisations such as the East Cultural Association and Kerala Samajam help him approach customers in newer localities. Jayakumar does not insist on cash payment. Quite proudly he remarks that "no cheque has till date bounced!" Such is his faith in the goodness of people. Also, it is not out of charity that people buy his products. Or the fact that they are reasonably priced. They are happy about the quality of the product. And Jayakumar insists only on guaranteed quality.

His challenge now is to persuade the elite. "The elite need to be educated," he says. They need to be taught that there is no direct connection between the price and quality of a product. When he talks to them about his products over phone, "they do show genuine enthusiasm, but don't move beyond that. They still prefer to buy the same things at four times the price," says an amused Jayakumar.

No task however is big for someone who has made his mind to achieve. This may sound clichéd but the truth is that nothing, just nothing, but positive thinking has given him the courage to move on with life. Not worrying about what went wrong with his eyes, Jayakumar is all praise for the teachers and volunteers at the NAB, and speaks highly of his yoga guru, Kala Chari, who helped him find serenity within. He counsels people on the benefits of yoga, and speaks of being immensely happy at being able to give two per cent of the sales proceeds to the NAB. He, in fact, even speaks of expanding his business. Entwined in this story is the courage and faith of his wife, Mahalakshmi. This computer operator at Bank of Baroda is to be admired for her fortitude and faith. In her humility and simple cheerfulness, in her quiet acceptance of the games of life, in her belief that "each day is a miracle" lies truly a woman of grit and substance.

Milton wrote movingly about his blindness, ending with: "They also serve who only stand and wait." For people like Jayakumar, there is no time to stand and wait. People like him do not need awards to prove a point — their lives itself are a triumphant statement. Jayakumar can be contacted on 5230418 / 5917340/ or at


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