THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: If renowned writer Jaishree Misra is setting up a long-term residential home for people with learning disabilities in Delhi, she must have taken a cue from her mother Omana Nair, living in the city.
For the last 12 long years, Omana has been helping out visually impaired girls at the University Hostel at Vazhuthacaud with their studies, reading out texts which they cannot see.
Omana is not alone in this mission. Her friend and neighbour Padma Surendran; former professor of English literature at Nagercoil L Geetha, also known as Manju; and Indira, who retired as the deputy director of the Industries Department, are the foursome, who make it a point to reach the women’s hostel sharp at 4 pm every weekday.
‘’They really are so patient with us. Not only do they read, but even clear our tiniest doubts on the topic. They are a blessing,’’ says Manjusha, who is totally blind. A native of Kasargod, Manjusha is doing her graduation in Malayalam at University College in the city.
Some of these girls were plain fortunate too. Padma Surendran particularly remembers a visually impaired student Dhanya, for whom she used to read out to. ‘’She was doing her post-graduation in English and took up the works of Jaishree Misra for her thesis work. I could actually take Jaishree to her and she got it all straight from the author!,’’ recalls Padma, to which Omana gave a very Jaishree-like smile.
Currently, there are as many as 13 fully or partially blind students at the University Hostel, who await the arrival of these ‘aunties’, as they call them. The one-to-one classes, either in the rooms of the students or in the visitors’ room, go on till 5.45 pm.
‘’Their listening span is just around one hour and jotting down in Braille is no easy job. Their hands hurt with the continuous use of the stylus. So we either move on to the next person or ask them to read back whatever they had jotted down,’’ says Indira, who has been religiously doing this work for the last eight years. She is the only person in the group who is not a teacher. ‘’But she knows the ‘slokas’ the best,’’ chorus the students.
The ‘aunties’ are in great demand during exam time, when classes are held on Saturdays and Sundays as well. ‘’Sometimes, you find two of them tugging and dragging you either way. I wish my classmates and friends in the city would come to read out to these children, who are far away from their homes,’’ says Padma Surendran.
For some students, even being at home does not help as in the case of Jancy from Thodupuzha, whose both parents are blind. Vidya, who is doing her BEd after her post-graduation, is fortunate to have a tape-recorder on which she records all that is read out to her.
The reading sessions were initiated a good 15 years ago by a Sai devotee by the name Valsala Menon. The tradition continued and even Shashi Tharoor’s mother used to come to the reading sessions for a while.
The junior-most among the ‘readers’ is Geetha aka Manju, who has been coming to the hostel for just over three months. Though what she taught in college was English literature, she helps students with Malayalam literary criticism, her first love.
The students, on the other hand, know each of the ‘aunties’ by their footsteps. ‘’The moment we enter their rooms, even if we do it in total silence, they say, ‘’Hi Indiraaunty.’’ They even find out if we change our footwear,’’ says Indira.
According to Omana Nair, it was these blind girls who taught her how to save a number on her mobile. ‘’But try to explain colours to them and we hit a brick wall,’’ say Omana and Manju.
‘’Same with light and darkness. Some of us have actually asked them why they are sitting in the dark without switching on the light,’’ they add.
Ask them what they get out of this service and they say just two words - ‘Immense Happiness.’