METRO PLUS

Vision to serve

NETHRODAYA, NO. 8, Spartan Nagar, Mogappair, is a house that is nondescript to the last tile. But the lives of its inhabitants are by no means ordinary. In a sense, they are extraordinary. They were not born on the sunny side of the hedge, but are striving commendably to find themselves a place under the sun.

Though these men are exemplarily exceptional, yet the spotlight needs must be focussed on one man, but for whom the "exceptional men" would not be living in that house.

C. Govindakrishnan is that man. Blessed with only partial vision, he has set up a hostel for 15 vision-impaired college students, who are driven by an ambition to leave their footprints behind, but plagued with limited financial resources. The project is called Jyothir Bhavan (a home for the underprivileged, vision-impaired students).

It is only appropriate that the project, the first of its kind in Tamil Nadu, was launched on October 2, a day awash with the memory of a man who brought hope into the shrunken minds of his countrymen.

"None of these boys is here by clinging on to anybody's coat-tail. They are here on merit. Our doors are open only to underprivileged blind students who have satisfactory academic credentials. We take in students who have scored not less than 60 per cent in their board exams," says Govindakrishnan, managing trustee of Nethrodaya. "These students are from outside Chennai and are in no position to provide themselves boarding and lodging."

Govindakrishnan has known from bitter experience that for the vision-impaired, getting employed is never as easy as pushing against an open door. Even if they bang on the doors of employment, success religiously passes them by.

"I have seen graduates, among the vision-impaired, begging on suburban trains," he says. Such experiences provided the catalyst vision to form an organisation like Nethrodaya.

Nethrodaya is continuing, thanks to open-handed philanthropy. Tropical Technology, BRIDGE and Annanagar Times are its major sponsors.

Many other organisations have also put out their oars for Netrodaya.

"We are willing to accept help in whatever form it comes. People can sponsor a day's food for the students, which would cost Rs. 600. College students can read for them. Any offer to help is welcome," says Gopi (as Govindakrishnan is fondly known among friends).

"In this short time since inception, we have been faced with uncertainties many a time. There have been times when we have wondered where the next meal would come from. Just then, somebody would come out of the blue and provide us food. Help has often fallen into our lap, concretising our belief that the angels are watching over Nethrodaya."

The fridge, the sofa, the two-in-one player and the computer have all been made over to Nethrodaya. "We did not have to buy them."

Be that as it may, Gopi wants the organisation to be free of all such props. "We want Nethrodaya to be self-sufficient. We are sure to see that day." Gopi is hopeful.

Towards that end, a cassette Sai Nethrodaya has been released. It contains bhajans in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English. A thousand copies have sold so far.

Gopi is visibly proud of the boys he has taken under his wings.

"Would you not take measured steps on that winding stair? But these boys would shin up that stair like greased lightning. They have a mathematical understanding of spaces within the house, too. They can move around anywhere within this compound without any hardship," says Gopi.

Dreams, and not people, live in this modest house of 900 square feet. Jayapal has penned the lyrics for a song in the film Sree; Sivaraj can wax poetical and hum a tune to boot. He would soon be appearing for a voice test to join a music troupe.

Murugan is an athlete. He has bagged the discuss throw title at an event for the vision-impaired in New Delhi.

He is also a member of the national cricket team (of the blind). And of Bhupathi, Gopi says, "He is a Viswanathan Anand in the making." Gopi brims with pride. "Each of these boys is carrying a dream in his heart and has the fire in the belly to accomplish it."

Gopi wants to ensure a networking of organisations working for the vision-impaired. "That way, duplication could be avoided."

He envisions for Nethrodaya the role of a resource centre for the vision-impaired. It would also lobby with the Government on behalf of the differently-abled and create awareness about their rights.

Among its start-up projects are free accommodation for the vision-impaired, cassette library for lending, listening and recording of cassettes, a computer lab with Internet browsing facility, reading centre and career counselling.

Nethrodaya is testimony that the blind can indeed lead the blind. But that should not prevent their "vision-blessed" brothers from lending a helping hand. Philanthropic souls may contact Nethrodaya on 6523640 or 6565012.

PRINCE FREDERICK