Live, Love, Laugh

Written By

Lakshmi A

Sushmeetha Bubna Loading

I get up in the morning to the doorbell. I open the door with groggy eyes, wondering who it is at this time! Lo Behold! My parents, siblings, friends, students and teachers are singing Happy Birthday! My husband and children come running out and flank my sides, making sure I don’t faint with surprise, or take my stick and bash up the people outside with shock! It’s my 60th birthday!! My talking device starts to read out all the messages that I have received – Messages that make me blush with pride and satisfaction. “You are a good human being”, “We are proud of you”, “You have supported, helped, and guided us in our lives”, “You have changed our lives and enabled us to achieve the heights where we are”, “Keep up your sweet smile”. There is a festive atmosphere at home, and I can smell the delicious chocolate cake being set up.

Now a stronger coffee smell bullies its way into my nose, wafting as it does daily from my neighbour’s flat, and wakes me up. The chocolate aroma and the birthday party were just a recurring dream – a dream I always have when I go to sleep after thinking about my childhood.

I was born to a Marwari family, to a doting set of parents. I always knew I was one among thousands – I was very special in my own way. Always a happy go lucky, first bencher, my friends always considered me very scholarly. They say people either learn visually or through listening. I was the latter always. I realised this early on when I would listen to my older sister read aloud while studying. Later, I would prompt her with the right answers when she was revising. My classmates never treated me well. They called me names and often would make fun of my looks and my thick glasses. I did not have friends back then. So much so that I would need to beg my classmates for their books and notes. My relatives often lamented “Oh! God, Who will marry her? How will she lead her life?”. It was then I decided that I would only marry a man who accepts me the way I am and not because of my family name.

I had to ‘bunk’ school now and then. So, when my passing the 10th standard was a concern, and my school principal refused to let me appear for the exams, it was my father who demonstrated complete faith in me. My parents and siblings would religiously borrow books and copy notes from my classmates. My father then got on board a teacher who would read out and record what was taught in class from these notes, with the explanations, and these were played to me. With the assistance of the teacher and the cassettes (oh yes – we had the tape recorder then, and a radio too!!!), I passed my 10th standard in 1989.

But college was a different story. We were a gang of 8 outstanding girls – we stood out of the class several times, thrown out by teachers since they caught us talking. To be honest, it was not gossip or chit-chat that we were guilty of. All of those were purely academic discussions. Looking back, I wouldn’t have cleared my Commerce exams without those discussions with my seven friends.

On the very next day after my final year exams, my father plonked me in our auditor’s office and asked me to work there for a year. He wanted me to gather knowledge and experience of working as a junior before I joined our family business. While at it, I also pursued my Diploma in Administrative Management 1995, which I was quite keen to do.

After finishing my course, I joined my family business, initially managing stock records, handling dealer channel, assisting father in book-keeping, etc.

Ding dong! The doorbell rings for real this time. I call out “who is it”. “Main hun madam”, shouts back my daily help. I feel my way to the main door, to let her in.  You see, my eyesight had been affected by cataract when I was four years old. I underwent several surgeries for removal of cataract but lost my one eye at age 10. To make things just a bit more interesting, I had a retinal detachment in my working eye when I was 13 and 15(the year of the dreaded board exams!). I learnt from my doctor told that one out of thousand children born with a cataract, get the recurrent retinal problem…there you go! One in a thousand again!

I had to get the examiner to read the question paper while I blindly (literally) scribbled the answers on the paper, only using my senses to guide me to write in a straight line. Heck, I even drew a circle for my geometry exam, all by myself! In my world, people were just blobs of color..there would be a blue blob, a yellow blob and so on. I would ask my friends which colour clothes they planned to wear the next day. I would smile at all the colour blobs that appeared the next day in pre-planned colours. That made me a rather popular kid in college – everyone thought I was rather smiley and friendly. Well – at least there are the good side effects!

At 24, I underwent three surgeries in a row to save my existing eyesight. But life had decided just to throw its curveballs at me, and I lost my sight completely! It was a rather big blow to me. Getting a simple glass of water felt like climbing Mt. Everest (of course, with the add-on cutlery breakage costs). I underwent a rehabilitation course and learnt skills to adjust to my new world without even blobs! The rehabilitation course also, for some reason, taught trade skills that did not match my career aspirations. I was also made to do pretty demeaning things, like being asked to queue up for a vada pav or a packet of biscuits at the blind homes.

It was during this that I learnt about The Hadley School for the Blind in the USA. They had exclusive correspondence courses for the blind. I enrolled in a course called “Independent living for newly blind”. Here I learned many tips and tricks to live independently and simple things like being organised, keeping things in for quick and easy access. Another course “What is computer” from the same school helped me to nurture my interest in technology further. Here, I learnt about various assistive aids for blind to access the computer, like braille key tops, screen reading software or text to speech software/hardware and much more. After obtaining this information, the sky was the limit.

My father helped me purchase one of the assistive aids by spending quite a bountiful. He wanted to help me do my best. I trained myself in operating computers using screen reading software.

I desired to learn it more professionally.  I approached many leading training institutes and was denied admission by all of them. They had never taught a person with visual impairment and had no such skills in house. That was when my father and I decided that I would learn computers and train people. This incident was my inspiration to start Voice Vision on 3rd April 2000. I currently split my time between Ascent Networks, my family business where I work as the CEO, and Voice Vision. Now, almost 17 years later, we have touched the lives of more than 100 students in a positive way.

Well, off I go now to run my two companies!

Read part 2 of this article to know more about what we do at Voice vision and how you can help!

SiyaWoman released a 2017 calendar of inspirational women on 4th January. Every 2nd Friday of the month, SiyaWoman will run an article on the featured inspirational woman in the calendar.

Sushmeetha Bubna, the subject of this article, is the #AtypicalWoman, featured in the month of January. The article has been written by the editor after learning about her in detail, in the first person. The part 2 of this article will be published on Tuesday – 17 January, with all the details about Voice Vision.

For more information, please write to us at contact@siyawoman.com. Please leave your comments below.

Editors note: I fell in love with Sushmeetha’s voice – her happy laughter, her ‘can do it’ attitude’and tenacity. After speaking to her, I tried a simple exercise. I tried to just stare at a single point and carry out my chores. I realised at the end of 2 mins that my brain was buzzing with high focus and activity. It left me wondering – how sharp the brains and other senses of people could be, who show a diminished ability of one of the five senses! You should hopefully see some outcome of this thinking process in the upcoming weeks.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lakshmi Ananthamurthy, almost 40, is the founder and CEO of Siya. She is the Jack-of-all-trades, master of none and has dabbled in Music, Travel, Reading, Sudoku while working in senior level corporate positions across the globe. She is the mother of two young children, who keep her active but not enough to help her lose her baby weight. She tries hard to not take herself too seriously, and is seriously working at it.

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