Blind in sight, not in wisdom

The centenary year may herald a new dawn in Bihar. People have woken up to new realities and are crafting their fate themselves. The B. J. Mirror.Com. dedicates this issue to salute these path breakers of both the sexes and publishes success stories of some of them. The Editor

BJ Mirror Correspondent

Genetic disorder might have robbed of the eyesight but their wisdom has not failed them. This is the story of two brothers and a sister. They have not carved out a niche to lead a life of honour but have also re-written the famous story, ‘Six blind men and the elephant’. They exactly know what an ‘elephant’ is and have learnt the ‘skill’ to ride.

Umashanker, 51, Srinivas, 38, and Shanta Kumari, 47, faced the agonising challenge of blindness even before they stepped into adolescence. The three siblings may not have been able to complete their matriculation, but loss of vision has taught them more than any examination perhaps could have. Together, they earn Rs 7,000 a month in addition to their late father’s pension of Rs 3,500.

Srinivas, popularly known as Basu, unfolded their saga: “Our struggle began in 1991 after our father, who was Telugu teacher at ADLS Sunshine School, retired. The benefits he received were spent in solemnising marriages of my two sisters. The onus was on us. I joined the local chapter of the National Association of Blind in 1992 and received training in cane work and candle-making, while my elder brother went over to Mumbai to learn how to make incense sticks. We started making these products on a small scale at our house in Mango”.

Now their world has expanded beyond the ‘Blind Workshop’, run from their nondescript house at Daiguttu in Mango and a three-room unit, gifted by Tata Steel’s urban services department at Dhatkidih. The lady luck smiled on them in 2008. They opened a new workshop. A social worker Meher Madan helped them in getting three rooms from the Tata Steel.

Both Umashankar and Basu, victims of an incurable genetic disorder, retinitis pimentos, are today owners of handicraft workshop that boasts a lengthy corporate client list and an annual turnover of Rs 2.5 lakh. Blind Workshop’s products, selling with the tag of ‘Shankar’, range from candles and incense sticks to caned chairs. While incense sticks bear a price tag of Rs 2-10 per piece, candles range from Rs 5 to Rs 25 a piece. Chair caning comes at a much higher cost, Basu said, and added “the twin units also make sanitary pads and diapers, which are supplied to healthcare institutions”.

Their visually challenged sister Shanta Kumari, who also runs a canteen at Jamshedpur Public School in Baridih, largely supports Uma and Basu in their enterprise. Their unit is also alive to social responsibilities. Initially it all began with a few like-minded blind friends and now has a staff strength of 30; ten cannot see just like their employers, six women hail from BPL families and the rest are poor people from SC/ST communities.

In March 2011, Blind Workshop notched an annual turnover of Rs 2.5 lakh. Now the brothers are working on a new range of agarbattis (incense sticks). “These will be of better quality and the fragrance will last for longer”, said Basu, who looks after marketing also. They are working out a plan to market agarbattis in different districts of Jharkhand. A jovial Basu said: “We had always wanted to do our bit for the society and are glad that we have been able to support the poor and the downtrodden in our own small way”. The client list of the Shankar brand chairs includes Bank of India, Blood Bank, Tata Main Hospital, LIC, sub-regional provident fund, central excise department and MN Dastur & Company (P) Limited.

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