HYDERABAD: Jyothsna. It means moonlight in Sanskrit. The soft white beams feature a lot in Jyothsna Phanija’s writings as her words become celebrations of light. Other colours and iridescent shades follow, too, to complete the mosaic of her memories which form only from her perceptions of touch, sound, taste, and smell.
She cannot see light, but feels it. The Telugu girl who completed her doctorate from English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad in English Literature was born hundred percent blind to Telugu parents. She holds the record of being the youngest person at 25 to complete PhD in English Literature from an Indian university.
Born in the village of Kaikalur in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, she grew up with challenges, but studied till tenth standard at Andhra Blind Model High School, Narsapur. To this she adds, “Though I secured highest marks in tenth standard, the principal of Kaikalur Government Junior College, refused me admission to the college as I wanted to study History, Economics and Civics.
This infuriated me and I took it as a challenge. Those two years, I was determined to show the non-disabled people what people with disabilities can do.” She was the state topper securing 85.2 per cent marks, and received Pratibha award, gold medal and merit scholarship from AP Government. And the rest as they say is history. She went ahead for further studies and secured one more gold medal as a topper in the class in her graduation in English Literature, from Maris Stella College, Vijayawada. And later it was Masters and doctorate at EFLU which won her more accolades. Her PhD was on Post Colonial Women Writers.
Even though she cleared National Eligibility Test in English in 2011, published ten research articles in books and journals, presented six papers at National Seminars and Conferences, she faced humiliating experiences in the interviews for teaching jobs. The interviewers would often ask her questions like “How do you teach? How do you control the class? How do you take the attendance?” and she used to get miffed at the trivial nature of questions. She continued attending the interviews, and finally she got selected for the post of Assistant Professor of English, at ARSD College, (University of Delhi), where she currently teaches English Language and Literature at present to the Post Graduate and Under Graduate students.
What tools and software does she use? "Earlier I used to study in Braille, but later upgraded to the software for visually challenged people which is named 'Job Access With Speech' (JAWS). It’s a screen reader and has text-to-voice output. It has been an immense support and I rely heavily on it for reading and writing," says the 30-year-old author who’s penned a book of poems titled ‘Ceramic Evening’ which has vignettes from her village and childhood adding to her mosaic of memories. So what’s her idea of colours? And how does she infuse the same in her writing? “They take abstract forms and appear in my mind forming their own shapes,” she shares adding that her training in classical Indian music adds to her perception, “The music flows through my words and it happens naturally.”
And her inspiration and strength? "My husband Krishna has been my biggest support. I would never have come this far without him by my side," and she’s not wrong when he asks her gently as to what she’s written lately. She smiles and says nothing.
He reprimands her gently saying, "Why not? You are a writer. Make writing your everyday habit." And while she pauses to refer something in her Vasant Kunj apartment, New Delhi her three-year-old son asks her to narrate a story and as she prepares for it her five-month old baby-girl clutches her dupatta in her tiny fist. She laughs adding that it’s time to get back to writing another book. And she longs to come to Hyderabad which has shaped a major part of her journey.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org