Lens for the inner eye: The Chetna
The visually impaired in our country would be lucky if they get the bare minimum of survival gear but do we need to stop at that? Shivani Bharadwaj, a distinguished artist and journalist, decided to give them not the aids of vision but the power to envision.
Gol kya hota hai?
Spend a minute to think of how you will answer this question for a visually-impaired person. And then, how would you get them to draw a circle? Something relatively simple in everyday life can be an unknown hurdle for the sightless. Shivani was introduced to this unregistered plight by a friend who was visiting her and spoke of the work being done in Japan for the blind. It left a deep impact on her, that her favorite world of colours, shapes and imagination was undiscovered by a large population. Even more disturbing was the realization that they were learning about shapes and forms everyday but didn't comprehend them.
Shivani, who had curtailed her professional career to regularize and increase her commitment to the children, ventured ahead to make the difference she could. Despite her early onset of rheumatoid arthritis, she went out to volunteer at the blind school at the Institute for the Blind, Amar Colony in Delhi. A demure and fragile-looking Shivani has a strong head on the top.
And then there was light
Her endeavour was not to be an easy one, she set out to teach them to draw the unseen, the unfelt, the unfathomed. She realized in her first interaction with the children that she had to step into their world and devise methods they could use. She started innovating and cultivated props (and techniques) and experimented them herself first before bringing it forth for her pupils. Shivani produces ingenious models and Braille-aided 3-D impressions, moulds and stencils and gives the students a tactile guidance in drawing.
Being a professional artist herself her briskness with brushes and masterful strokes had to be restrained to adjust to her students' pace which is painfully slow in case of some. Shivani overcomes that with her perseverance and determination. She travels from Faridabad to south Delhi's Amar Colony and Sadiq Nagar four days a week and spends quality time with the children. She is self-funded with no aid from these facilities but she takes solace in the fact that her work, which was earlier questioned, is now appreciated as it has made palpable difference to the overall intellectual capacity of her students. She has been esteemed by the mathematics teacher at the Amar Colony school for bringing depth and dimension to his geometrical concepts.
Col Pradeep Kapoor, Executive Director –Operations, Volunteers for the Blind, has acknowledged Shivani's work. He says, 'Shivani is not merely teaching art. She is teaching, encouraging and nudging them to become achievers. We need to find a lot of Shivanis as the possibilities are endless. If we can have blind architects, blind photographers, blind musicians, blind dancers then why not blind artists? Developing creativity and talent will bring alive our unique culture & project the ability of the blind in unique ways.
Shivani aspires to reach out to more and more people so that they can appreciate the need for visually challenged to create and give wings of imagination to their flight. Shivani has opened the trajectory of their minds. She says, 'there is no dearth of resources but the concept of involvement is absent in most schools for blind'. In today's world of modern technology the education for blind people is still primitive and limited.
'We require everybody to take cognizance of the need to empower these children'. You know they are evolving when they tell you that "my bread is round" or "my desk is rectangular", says Shivani. You know it is valued when the students tell you they are eagerly awaiting her next class. Her reward lies in these testimonies or like that of a parent who sent her a video byte expressing his delight on seeing his ward's drawing, surprisingly he could appreciate what many educationists cannot.
'Inside me' was born
In November 2017, she exhibited the work of these children at the India Art Festival at the Thyagraj Stadium complex and received recognition for her initiative and honest attempt to showcase this originality amongst the maestros. Shivani registered herself as a community based organization to enable her to display the zeal of the students and raise awareness for the cause. It's her attempt at inclusion, at bringing the less privileged to a common ground.
A one-woman army, Shivani decided to form a team when she was approached to extend her services to another blind school in Sadiq Nagar. She now has a team of 4 dedicated volunteers who are gradually getting more and more engaged with this service in return for the sheer exuberance they witness with their students. Thankfully, Shivani was recently approached by a friend, Harjit Singh, Chandigarh, to sponsor the volunteers' stipend. However, her desire to exhibit their work at the art fairs is funded from her personal reserves which she is not able to gather sometimes.
Chase the vision
Shivani aspires to extend the education to all the 19 schools and centres for blind in Delhi. She hopes to position this art to be an integral part of their development so that it is added to the curriculum at school. She believes rising above existentialism is every person's right to dignity as they get richer with the concept. 'The key is not in what they earn, but what they learn', says Shivani.