Borne by an unrelenting determination to succeed, L. Subramani has found his ray of light in the apparent darkness, writes Arjun Sengupta.
Born in Salem, Tamil Nadu, L. Subramani had myopia when he was five. Diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at the age of 15, he was about 17 when he lost his eyesight completely. For many people, chronological medical punctuations like those would be reason enough to call it quits; it would signal a grinding halt, a license to stop trying. But not for Mr. Subramani.
Clichés like ‘a grinding halt’ don’t apply to him. Borne by an enduring vision and an unrelenting determination to succeed, Mr. Subramani found his ray of light in the apparent darkness. He was the lone traveller who plodded on. He is currently working with Deccan Herald and writes on a number of subjects. He has interviewed a host of celebrities – from movie moghuls Kamal Hasan and Mani Ratnam to sports stars Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, his pen has sketched just about everybody. He now divides his time between work and family, where his wife Anuradha gives him unflinching support.
But it has not been an easy ride. He remembers those initial days of darkness vividly. “I was doing higher secondary schooling and as my sight deteriorated, I wondered how I could possibly complete my schooling. As it was too late, the government education department rejected my plea to have a scribe and so I had to write the final school exams on my own. To my disbelief, I secured 64 per cent; I was nearly half blind for those exams,” he says.
Two years later his partial sight slipped into complete darkness. “My parents were devastated and thought life was over for me even before it had started. Some relatives even suggested that I stay at home and pursue my degree through distance education; advice that I rejected,” he says.
Mr. Subramani marched on, living each day as it came, and preparing himself for the challenges that lay ahead. “My mother, N. Vijayalakshmi, supported my idea of going to college. She met various college principals, explained my problem to them and requested them to admit me. Her efforts paid off when Loyola College admitted me in 1991. I completed my B.A. and M.A. degrees from there. During my stay in the college, I met wonderful friends; some of them continue to be very close pals even today. My friends, Ashwin Chand, K.C. Vijayakumar and a few others used to cycle down to my house and record all the study materials for me. Readers’ Association for the Blind, an informal NGO consisting of educated housewives in Chennai, also chipped in with reading assistance. It acted as scribes for me and 30 other visually challenged students of my college,” he says.
It was in college that Mr. Subramani started dabbling in journalism. It was to be his calling in life. He enjoyed the thinking through his fingertips. “I enjoyed interacting with people and found knowing about them interesting. Thanks to my personal interactions with people early on in my life as a visually challenged person, I was able to learn different ways of tackling my problems,” he recalls.
After a diploma in journalism, Mr. Subramani started his career as a trainee in The Indian Express, after which he moved on to a portal called Chennai Online where he was able to exercise his pen in the service of his first love – sports. “Reporting on sports, particularly on tennis is quite easy, because you can hear the ball bouncing on both sides of the court and the chair umpire tells the score. With the help of my fellow journalists, I was able to decipher the shot that was played and record it in a palm-size tape recorder. I would later listen to it and type my reports. If I can say so, I was the first visually challenged sports journalist at that time,” he says.
Mr. Subramani’s next stint was with Sofil Information Systems, where he worked as a language consultant, reviewing documents translated from Japanese into English. Within three months he could speak the language. “The director of the company once called me and told me to teach English for seven of our Japanese staff. I found it exciting, as, with no common medium of instruction, I had to explain most of the things to them by gestures.”
Some time later, Mr. Subramani got an interview call from Deccan Herald. He was understandably elated. “A great feeling of triumph filled my heart, for I was able to convince the editor of a famous daily that I had what it took to be a journalist. From April 2004, I have worked in Deccan Herald, concentrating on editing and writing assignments. I write on several topics, including on disability affairs. Sports, alas, is not an option I have been able to explore so far,” he says.
He uses technology, for instance the speech software JAWS, for his work.
His story is an unending fount of inspiration. Prose may not have enough in it to be able to stretch across the darkness that covers his life, but if we are to learn anything from Mr. Subramani, it is this – nothing is futile.