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“It is only you, who undoubtedly possesses the power to focus upon the Silver Lining behind every cloud that may shadow your life ever”!
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Media Coverage
Published in FEMINA on October 12, 2005
 

Preeti Mongia'I have a dream' is the leitmotif of Preeti Mongia's life. It's just incidental that she can't see. By Purabi Shridhar

I was always a dreamer. When I was a small child in Shimla and before I lost my sight to optic atrophy. I was notorious for getting lost. My mom and I would be walking on the Mall. She would stop to talk to some friends and I would just walk off behind some other sari. The shopkeepers, the 'fruitwallahs', the 'sabziwallahs' all knew me. They would keep me in safe custody till my mom turned up. Maybe there is a metaphor there somewhere because after I lost my sight I've never been lost.

I was in Std. II when complaints started coming about my incomplete class work. My father who retired as chief engineer, Central Electricity Authority, was posted in Agartala and I I was admitted into the only English medium school. I was not a naughty child but never did the class work. I said I couldn't read the blackboard properly. A doctor found my vision very low. He said it was optic atrophy and I might lose my vision completely. It was a shock to my parents. I was taken to Kolkata. For me, it was a big holiday - no school. I didn't undergo any trauma because my parents did such a wonderful job. Now, I know it was the biggest trauma for them. I went from one specialist to another, many tried to treat me as a guinea pig. But nothing could be done. I had a rare disability and no treatment could help. We went back to Agartala. There was not much difference in my life except that I was made to sit in the front row in class!

Preeti Mongia FamilyMy parents didn't know what to don with me! They knew blind kids are supposed to be educated in special schools, but there were none in Agartala. The best thing they did was to continue to bring me up the way they had been doing but with added care. My mother taught me everything - from studying, painting, household work and even embroidery. She was good at it and I wanted to be too. So, she got me thick threads, large designs on the cloth and put it close to my nose. It would come out untidy and I would cry. She stopped embroidering and instead took up knitting. I insisted on learning the same and till today, I knit for everyone in the family. I had to do my duties just as everyone in the family. My parents, especially my dad, taught my brother and me that everything in life had to be earned. There were no lectures, no talking down to, just simple life truths that have stayed with me forever. But I was never made to feel 'different'. When my mom learnt driving, I wanted to. My dad simply put me behind the driving wheel and sat beside me. When I realized that I couldn't see the road and was risking everybody's life, I opted out. But the way my parents handled the situation laid the foundation for my life. Later, it eased my way, allowed me to stand up and find ways to survive.

After Std. VIII, my schooling came to an end. There was a change in the school management and my 'happy inclusive education' came to an end. My parents didn't want to put me in a blind school: they had to take the hard decision not to send me to school. (Later as an expectant 24-year-old mother. I completed my education through open school). I started learning music and though I did my 'visharad' in 'sitar' I didn't want to be a music teacher.

I completely lost my vision when I was around 13 years. Earlier for some time, I could just about read with the help of a magnifying glass and perceive some light. Then everything went. Meanwhile, I was growing up. My cousins were getting married and wondered why no one wanted to marry me. Soon I met my first husband. He was a neighbor. He moved in with us after marriage and things turned sour. He was an alcoholic. He left his job and I never knew what was on his mind. I would cry 24 hours a day.

I was distraught and overweight. I'd heard about the TV program on fitness by Veena Merchant. Suddenly I thought, why not run a fitness class? I caught hold of Veena and told her I wanted to be an instructor. She was taken aback, but I was persistent and she gave in, even though I fainted after warming up! I even taught some of her classes and soon, I opened my own aerobic fitness class. It did well from day one.

I separated from my first husband. There were two kids involved and I had to be sensitive about it. Finally after 11 years, I just left. I started looking for a full time job and also joined the National Association for the Blind. I became an Ashoka fellow, taught aerobics to kids and learnt computers to become a computer teacher. A friend asked me to help sell 'Granny's Pickle'. The salary was low but since I was staying with my parents, I took up the job of sales and marketing manager in the organization. I worked for three years, launching the pickle in Delhi, Mumbai, and also marketing popcorn. I was offered a partnership in the marketing firm. I took a loan but it was all a sham - they took advantage of my disability; no partnership papers were ever drawn up.

Every dark cloud has a silver lining; I met my second husband, who was working in the same company. He is 10 years younger and it's his first marriage. We've been married now for nine years. I continued to work in the social sector. I write articles and I've even earned a few awards, including the Rotary Vocational Service Award, the Inner Flame award. The Red and White Silver award for social work and the Rajiv Gandhi Manav Sewa award. My children often ask me why I got awards! Soon after I met Geeta Dharmarajan of Katha and worked with her for a year-and-a-half.

Shroff Hospital (where I work now) asked me to join them. It's been five years and my responsibilities include PR, fundraising, trauma counseling, patient care, etc. I take an auto to work every day. I do all the household work, though my husband does the cleaning and washing up because he thinks I don't do it properly!

I have so many goals in live. It really makes me angry when they talk of reservation for the visually impaired. If you're competent I think things will come to you. I must admit that the social skills and image of the visually impaired are so poor. And the attitude is so imbalanced-either it's too high flying or too low flying, they're stark misfits. It is because their 'inclusiveness' neither is nor worked on properly. It has to be done from the day the child or the person loses vision. What society is doing is working hard to exclude, to expel the visually impaired, and to turn the person into stereotype. Neither society nor the blind person knows what to do, where's the bridge? Finding it is my goal from now on.