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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”!
Preeti Monga
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Media Coverage
Published in THE TIMES OF INDIA on November 25, 1989
 

His MUMMY CAN SEE WITH any part of her body, thinks Mark Brown. His elder sister Fiona, infinitely wiser by two years, hotly counters, "You are very stupid Mummy cannot possibly see with her legs." Mummy, in fact, has almost no vision at all, and perhaps her children's speculation about her omniscience despite what they can sense as being an 'unusual' condition, speaks more about the nature of Preeti Brown's achievement than anything else ever can.

Though there is a lot else. At 30, Preeti is a successful aerobics instructor and spokeswoman for a generally unaddressed issue which has to be faced and overcome by the blind. Walking tall and lissome at five feet seven inches, packaged in a lean, athletic frame of 53kgs, Jane Fonda would most definitely take a bow. But then Preeti's affair with aerobics is buttressed by an insight that has helped her lead a more satisfying life: she feels that one of the central problems of the blind is central problems of the blind is navigation, which makes them cling to the floor, drag their feet and walk with a shuffling gait-a lack of 'body confidence', which undermines their total personality. She has found that even the most brilliant of visually handicapped scholars is in serious confidence-shaping trouble when he has to move. This is what she has beaten with the help of aerobics, with such remarkable success that the handicap takes time to register-two weeks in the case of her husband, after he first met his wife-to-be, who also happened to be his neighbor.

As in the case of all such treks to fulfillment, the road had large measure of bumps, which repeatedly knocked at the door of resolve. The handicap dates back to when Preeti was 21 days old and received a small pox vaccine to which she was drastically allergic. The rash subsided, but by then the optic never had been paralyzed and her vision began to deteriorate-and the uphill struggle began, with the help of extremely supportive parents. As the latter were opposed to blind schools which they considered to be demoralizing and ill-equipped, Preeti was enrolled into Loretto Convent, Delhi, at age eleven. She however, discontinued after three years. As the integration process had not worked out as happily as it could have, it was impossible to gain admission into and other school was not considered, Preeti began to devote her learning skills to the sitar. After practicing 8 to 10 hours a day, she achieved a high degree of proficiency, but began to lose interest when she realized that she did not have the inner talent required for true fulfillment, however much she tried to compensate with effort.

At 17, she spent a year with relatives in Calcutta and learnt swimming along with the other social skills which those with sight usually take for granted. Her parents were subsequently posted to Goa, where they spent four years which saw Preeti picking up household skill and reading as much as she could with a magnifying glass especially prepared for her. Shortly after her return to Delhi, a new phase opened up in Preeti's life, which included the excitement of marriage and children. In between her babies, Preeti passed the Class X examination from the Indira Gandhi Open University. She was preoccupied with motherhood and its trappings until her children began to walk and began to going to school. Helplessness and depression descended as the lack of academic and physical prerequisites stood in the way of her adopting a career to vent the creative energy she had. She thought consistently about avenues -until an obvious one suggested itself. Overweight since birth-"My maximum has even climbed to 75kg.", she says-she was an avid watcher of the Stay Fit programme on Doordarshan, through her mother's eyes of course. She began to see in aerobics the promise of not only a slimmer self but a career and a way of lending marrow to her confidence. As soon as her resolve strengthened itself, she called on Veena Merchant, who had put the television programme together and is a respected name in the field of aerobics. Unfortunately, the only slot which was vacant was that of an instructors training programme-not the best option for Preeti. But a one-and-a-half hour talkwith Merchant caused the latter to give in to Preeti's resolve and the classes began.

"I was 63kg when I began and my stamina level was so low that I fainted right after the warm-up" says Preeti, while pinpointing the need for organizing physical fitness programmes for the visually handicapped.

After guiding Preeti on the basics (with the help of touch instruction, picked up easily.because of Preeti's familiarity with exercise jargon a-la-Doordarshan), Merchant left for the United States leaving the Programme in the hands of a new instructor, Charlie. And it was Charlie's sensitivity which played a mojor role in equipping Preeti with the toughness she needed to face life on her own. "Without the rest of the class realising that he was doing it for my sake, Charlie repeated the same exercise routine for a month, helping me to do away entirely with my fear of faltering," recounts Preeti with gratitude, who now realises that his was not a routine adhered to in the field of aerobics.

In December 1987, four months after she had begun classes, Charlie planned to go on leave and a new instructor had to be found to fill his shoes. Preeti suggested that she be given a shot at it for the next 40 days, and t her surprise, was given the green signal. On the first day that she began giving classes to those who till the day before had been her fellow-students, the expected dynamics of the delicate situation showed up, via comments and criticism regarding Preeti's movements. Once again. Charlie intervened with intuitive wisdom; he called each of the student's to run through the routine in front of the class and their inevitable fumbling proved in the most decisive manner possible that merit, not sympathy or pity, had dictated the choice of Preeti as an instructor.

After teaching in Merchant's organization until February this year, Preeti felt that she was ready to start out on her own. Father Victor Brown of St.Thomas' church offered the use of the church offered the use of the church basement from 6.30to 7.30 a.m. on an honorary basis and Preeti launched her classes. Soon, the number of students welled up to about 40and she began evening classes at another place in Anand Niketan.

While her brother took her to the morning classes and exercised with her, her mother did the same in the evening. Both acting as her eyes in spotting and helping those unable to cope. Her husband and father also filled in when needed.

In July, Preeti and her family shifted residence to East Delhi-an experiment to test out whether she could cope with all the household work entirely on her own. Unsurprisingly she could, and now functions even without the help of a servant. The shift in residence meant, however, that the venue of her classes also be shifted to a more convenient Location- the Aroma Health Centre at Madhuban. The arrangement, this time, being a purely professional one with regard to payment, as she nurses a fresh clientele. Preeti has also been devoting a large chunk of time to lecturing in schools about what she has learnt from her own experience- that one of the best ways to help a handicapped person towards self- sufficiency is not to treat him or her as one. She has addressed students in the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Carmel Convent, Loret- to Convent, St. Anthonys at Hauz Khas and Delhi Public School at Noida among others and according to many of the teachers and students, the impact of her lectures is uniquely powerful, "The students are really touched by Brown's message because her very presence demonstrates to them that it can happen.

A handicapped person should not be handicapped further by a society which looks only at the disability or by a will which crumbles easily under this pressure", says Poonam Chopra, the English teacher for class X and XI at Jesus and Mary convent.

Preeti's participation in a car rally for the blind in September last year, which later led to her teaching aerobics to the visually handicapped children was greatly responsible for strengthening her insight about the magic that this sort of exercise could work if practiced from a young age. "On the first day, they said 'Hum thak gayen hain'.(We are tired), after just two minutes. After a year, they asked for more and even their teachers commented on their loosening if movement, which relaxed and bolstered them physically and mentally", says Preeti. She plans to apply herself in a larger degree to sharing her views with her co=sufferers and looks forward to the day when the visually handicapped would be allowed to join normal schools instead of ones in which the all-embracing presence of their handicap, in varying stages or forms made them feel like aliens in the world outside, which could see.

"I constantly try and think of ways in which I can reduce my dependence on others-for instance, getting all telephone numbers together on a cassette-but do not feel hesitant about asking for help when I need it and have found that always the reaction is a matter-of-fact one." Perhaps some of the light-heartedness and practical approach to her problem stems from the unstinting support of her family, including her two little children: While proffering their better selves most of the time, they even stop breathing when they pass mummy en route to a mischievous goal because you never can tell about mummy and her special insight.