Akbar khan: A Brief Autobiography

There is a small village called Bangasar which had a population of 300 to 400 people living in 50 to 60 houses in the year 1962. At that time, the village had no basic facilities like roads, water, electricity, school and health center etc. Even in the surrounding area of 40 kms of the village, there was scarcity of above basic facilities. This shows that the people living in such area condemned their life to be burden for them. Earlier, this village was covered in Nohar tehsil of Shriganganagar district. Now it falls in Rawatsar tehsil of Hanumangarh district.

In such a remote village, I was born on 16th August 1962 in a very poor farmer’s family of Kistoor khan. My birth was not a happy occasion for anyone in family as I was born visually impaired. Not only me, my elder brother Mohammad Hussein was also visually impaired since birth. Thus, my birth was a matter of deep sorrow in my family. The people of our village and surrounding area started cursing us and our family because we both brothers were born blind. Prior to us, there was no visually impaired child in our family. This made our condition miserable. Moreover, my family was not in the position to manage two times food.

Shri Ibrahim Khan Syed

As time passed, suddenly there happened a huge change in our lives. My grandmother suggested to my elder brother to leave the house for our betterment. My elder brother then left the house at the age of fifteen. This came in notice of my maternal uncle. My maternal uncle was residing in Sheikhsar village of Lunkaransar tehsil in Bikaner district. Two of my maternal uncles were teachers at that time. One of my maternal uncles, Ibrahim Khan, determined to turn our lives towards the brighter direction. He came to know about a school in Bikaner for visually impaired children, which provides free education up to 8th standard.

Thus, my elder brother was admitted to that school. When my brother came to the village in summer vacation after passing the first class, he prepared me also to take with him to the school in Bikaner. I was admitted there on July 1, 1969 at the age of seven. This was the real beginning of my education and my life.

In the beginning of my school days, I could not concentrate in studies but after passing 15-20 days, I fully focused on studies and I passed two classes in first year of my schooling. Next year I was admitted to 3rd standard. From here, I never looked back and in every class I stood first. Till I passed eighth standard in the year 1976, three times I topped in whole of the school.

After passing VIIIth class with free education facilities, there was question mark for further studies. The education expenditure was of 300 rupees for both of us. There was no one in the family and relatives to bear this expenditure. Therefore, my elder brother left the idea of further education for himself and decided to work in order to provide me the higher education.

While studying up to VIIIth standard, we were given training of re-canning of chairs. My brother left the education and started work of re-canning of chairs. He had supported me hugely from his earnings from ninth standard onwards. For ninth standard, I was admitted to the Secondary School for the Blind, at Adarsh Nagar, Ajmer.

In the year 1978, I passed secondary examination not only with first division but my name appeared in the merit list which made me eligible for national prize under National Scholarship Scheme. The prize was given to me on account of getting the highest marks in comparison to the other normal students. This was the first time in history of 43 years of the Blind School, Ajmer when its student was selected for this kind of award.

In fact, I did not come to know easily my result of tenth standard. There is an iteresting story behind it. One day I was standing on the city bus stand at Ajmer.  I came to know that result of secondary examination had been declared. I requested the person standing nearby to look for my name into the newspaper. I requested him to look in the first division list but he said my name is not there. Then he checked from the first division to third division lists but name was not there. I started weeping and thinking that how I shall face to my brother who aided my studies.

In the meantime, the girl from Sankhalkar family of Adarshnagar Ajmer whom I used to call as sister arrived there and asked me the reason for crying. The nearby fellows told her that my name was not in the list of result which meant I failed in the exam. But she did not believe when she also did not find my name in the list. Ultimately we came home and talked to Mr. Sankhalkar. He went through the entire list thoroughly and found out that my name was in the list who achieved highest marks. This was the happiest moment in my life which I can’t really express in words.

Here I would like to mention that the books made available up to VIIIth standard were in brail script which a visually impaired person can read by touching the paper with fingers. From ninth class onwards, all books were common in ink print for all students. The teachers used to teach through the normal books. We used to listen to them. In order to read books, we had to take help of a reader by making the payment to prepare the notes in brail. There was difficulty in getting good reader in subjects like English, Sanskrit and Music. After preparing for examination, the real problem comes for writing the answers in the examination for which controller of examination provides us writer who is less qualified then us. We listen to questions read by the writer and then we tell him to write the answer. This is the only process used for blind students till date. The availability a good writer who has a good pronunciation and good reading & writing speed depends upon our luck.

My difficulties did not end here. When I was in XIth standard, I had to walk alone 3 kms from my residence to DAV School Ajmer where I was studying. I did not even have 30 paisa to pay for the city bus. Every day I had to walk 3 kms on foot to attend the school. Where I was living, there was nobody to read course books for me. My living place was a workshop where visually impaired persons used to do re-canning of chairs. I also used to do this job to meet my expenses. Besides this, I managed little more income from preparing copies of books in brail script. But this income was not sufficient. My higher secondary examination was to take place in the month of March but I could not study anything till 21 January. I decided not to appear in the examination. When the Sankhalkar family came to know about my decision, they assured me to make my food arrangements at their home and told me to find a living place. I got a big support and somehow I managed a living space in a hostel of an NGO. For the bedding, there was only a thin bed sheet for me either to cover myself or to lay it on the floor. My room had three open windows from which I faced the severe cold of January month. However, I continued my studies in that room.

Despite the worst situation, I succeeded in the higher secondary examination with first division from the DAV School, Ajmer. This was a real achievement for me as a visually impaired person since I stood first competing with other normal students.

For BA degree, I took admission in Sanatan Dharm Government College at Beawar, Rajasthan. In the year 1982, I passed BA with first division with Sanskrit Literature, Sociology and Indian Vocal Music. As there was no separate college for visually impaired persons, I had to pursue my studies in normal colleges. And the circumstances in Beawar were not favourable for studies because it was difficult there to find a reader to read out our books. Other students always used to hesitate in helping us due to the fear that I will get better marks. Also there was problem of food. As there was no food facility in my hostel, I had to go to a hotel 3 kms away from the hostel. But the timing was not suitable for me. So often I had to forgo my lunch.

After a long struggle, finally I had some relief when I got a cassette recorder. Thereafter, I started doing voice recording of books on my recorder which reduced my dependency on others. That time in the whole state of Rajasthan with 127 colleges, only 113 students got first division including me.

In the year 1982 after passing out BA with first division, I proceeded to Jaipur for master degree in music and applied for admission in Maharani Girls College. At that time, the music education was available only in Girls Colleges and because it was an exclusive Girls College, they refused to admit me. Then I approached to registrar of Rajasthan University and he granted me the admission. But, when I went to the college, the head of the music department said that though, you have taken permission from registrar; it is up to us to teach you. So we would not teach you. That was very shocking statement. Thus I lost one precious year 1982-83 of my academic career.

After wasting one year, I again decided to do master’s degree from Savitri Girls College, Ajmer. I got the admission easily there. After completing MA first year, I came to know about an institution in Delhi, called -All India Confederation of the Blind (AICB) which offered a training program in stenography for the visually impaired persons. I left studies in the midst of the MA and planned to go there.

I applied for admission in the training program which was commencing from April 1984. From all over India, they selected only 13 visually impaired candidates. Fortunately, I was selected for the Hindi/English stenography training program. In March 1985, I completed Hindi stenography training with first position. I received the certificate of passing stenography from the AICB which declared my speed in Hindi stenography as 90 words per minute and the typing speed as 40 words per minute.

After completion of stenography training course, I started looking for a job in different government and non-government organizations. Wherever I went and demonstrated how I could work like a normal person, they were surprised by the way I worked and how a visually impaired person can do things like other normal person. Yet, they were not able to give me employment. Here I would like to clarify that for Hindi stenography, I used to take dictation first in brail script and then I typed the matter on the same type writer which was used by other normal persons. In this regard, the training process made me familiar with this machine and I was able to use it in order to communicate through ink print without anyone’s help.

So far visually impaired persons were engaged in music or teaching professions only. My aim for choosing stenography was that I thought of trying my luck in a new field which possibly could open new avenues for visually impaired persons.

For getting an employment, I appeared in SSC (staff selection commission) Hindi shorthand and stenography examination. In which I had to transcribe the dictation of 800 words with the speed of 80 words per minute in 70 minutes but I completed it in 35 minutes only.  Here, I may mention that besides three visually impaired candidates, all others were just normal. And at that time, no reservation was provided for visually impaired candidates in SSC examination. After the result was declared, I found out that I was the very first visually impaired candidate in the history of SSC who qualified this examination.

Besides this, I also appeared in the examination of Punjab National Bank (PNB) and at last I got the job here. I was appointed as a Hindi stenographer in Punjab National Bank, Zonal Office, Ludhiana, (Punjab) on 22 November 1985. And that took me on the strong stairs of self-dependency. At the time of appointment, I was just the fourth visually impaired stenographer in whole of India. I was the second stenographer in Hindi language and other two were of English language.  After appointment in PNB, I also got the selection letter from SSC but I considered bank job more suitable for me. In the beginning, the colleagues in bank felt somewhat strange in working together with me but slowly they all became familiar to me.

My interest in music was always there. Generally all banks organize cultural and musical competitions at regional, zonal and national levels. I stared participating in it. Several times I got  first position in Indian classical vocal, light solo and group singing competitions. Many times I got awards at national level competitions too. I got notable media attention on many occasions in newspapers and magazines. Here, I would like to mention that besides bank’s musical competitions, I have also performed many stage programs. As a music composer, I have about 50 compositions of ghazals, geets and bhajans.

I have also been invited in the panel of judges in national level music competitions organized for visually impaired persons and sometimes headed the jury. On few occasions I been invited as chief guest by several organizations like: ‘Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan’, Bikaner, Rotary Club, Ajmer etc.

Besides music, I have participated with great interest in writing essays and debate competitions in PNB and received many awards and appreciation letters. The writings have been published in various regional and national level bank magazines. In the writing field, I have written stories, poems, ghazals, essays, and memoirs etc.

After appointment in PNB, many of my interviews have been broadcasted on All India Radio and several others were published in many leading newspapers like ‘The Tribune’ and ‘Jansatta’.

Despite the major handicap of physical vision, It’s a great gift of the God to me that I have always been a positive thinker and optimistic by nature. After getting appointment in bank, my next problem was marriage. I did struggle for this too. I gave advertisements in the magazines like ‘Sarita’ and ‘Women’s Era’ for suitable life partner. In response to that, I received few letters and I had to decide one out of four girls. All four girls were physically and mentally normal and they all had qualification up to BA or higher. Ultimately I selected a girl named Dr. Rana Ruknuddin from Kanpur and married her on October 26, 1987. Now I entered in a new phase of life full of excitement and challenges and possibilities.

About my married life, I would say that generally people don’t marry to handicapped people because of the fear of same disability in their progeny. Despite being visually impaired, I and my brother both have normal kids. My both children are physically and mentally absolutely normal like others. Therefore, people who fear to marry a handicapped person thinking of the possibility of similar disability in their progeny, they can practically see that this type of orthodox view is baseless.

I was quite happy and life moved smoothly after I got job in PNB. Then, a quite unexpected and delightful moment came in my life when I was selected by the government of India for the President’s Award for most efficient handicapped employee of the year 1989. This was the first time in the history of 94 years of Punjab National Bank when its employee received this kind of recognition at national level.  On March 19, 1989, I was honored by then President of India His Excellency Shri R. Venketraman in Vigyan Bhawan, Delhi.

In the nomination form for National Award, there was a column in which they asked about working capability of the handicapped person: more/normal/less in comparison to the normal persons. Here, the authorities of my bank described me as a person with more working capabilities than a normal employee. This made me feel proud that people have recognized my hard work and talent. After I received this award, All India Radio and Doordarshan transmitted my life journey and I was interviewed by many print media too.

Arriving at this stage in life, I was still hopeful of making further progress. So, I applied for the diploma examination of CAIIB organized by Indian Banks’ Association, Mumbai (presently: Indian institute of banking and finance). The overall result of this diploma examination always stands around 4 to 5%. After many attempts in this examination, I obtained this professional diploma in 2008 and this helped me a lot in my efforts for promotion in my banking carrier.

In banking industry, computerization commenced in 1988-89 but its utility on full scale started in recent years. When computerization became popular in banks, I thought of acquiring its knowledge and training. Therefore, I approached to our bank’s authorities in 1998 to get computer training. Getting approval on my application was not an easy task. After making several efforts, the bank agreed to send me for one year’s computer training on its own expenses at Blind Peoples’ Association in Ahmadabad.

The Blind Peoples’ Association selected 12 candidates from all over India in which I was the only one visually impaired; rest all had other kind of physical disabilities. Here also, I had God’s mercy on me and stood first with gold medal which was later scheduled to be given by the Governor of Gujarat State.

Now I can easily work on computer. We are not facilitated by any special computer technology although we work on the same computer as others do. The difference is that we use screen reader software which gives out sound and we can listen to computer output/input occurrence and this also enables us to use internet on computers. The screen reading software is available only in English language. I learnt English typing and now I have good command in English and Hindi typing.

Here, I would like to mention that I was basically a Hindi stenographer and maximum documentation I did in Hindi. The screen reader software only speaks in English whether I type in English or Hindi font. So, I have to remember which English letter stands for which Hindi alphabet. Obviously, this is time consuming but I always focused on adapting myself to new situations and this always worked because of God’s extreme grace on me.

I really felt as happiest man on the earth when I got promotion as officer in the bank in 2009. As usual, this was also not an easy task. Earlier, visually impaired persons were not allowed to appear in promotion test but when the court order was issued in this regard, the bank authorities allowed the visually impaired persons to appear in promotion test. But, bank never provided any reservation in any promotion tests. After my promotion as an officer, I was appointed in our bank’s retail assets branch, Bikaner where I worked on the processing of loan agreements and marketing.

Again on 31st May, 2012, I was promoted as manager and was posted at District Coordinator’s Office, Bikaner. But due to my previous experience and commendable services, our higher authorities decided to utilize my services again at Retail Assets Branch for marketing, all types of follow-up and recovery of loans. I may mention that I got both the promotions through selectivity and fast track channel competing with other normal candidates.

After getting an established stand in life, I thought of doing something for other visually impaired persons. I worked as General Secretary of National Federation for the Blind, Bikaner division unit from 1993 to 2000 without any financial benefit just to serve the people. I don’t know how much I succeeded in working for the welfare of the other visually impaired people, but I am happy that during my term as General Secretary of NFB I started a memorial session on the life of great Louis Braille who invented the brail script for the visually impaired people. I succeeded in awaking the people about this legend. I spread the message in the society that how much a visually impaired can work and how society should consider us as integral part of entire humanity. While working in that organization, I presented a charter of demands for the welfare of the visually challenged persons to the government and two major demands were accepted and implemented by the government: Firstly, provision of 3 % reservation in B.Ed. and BSTC courses for disabled persons and secondly, the govt. agreed to allot land without cost for its office and other welfare activities.

Other people generally ask me as how the society treats me. I say this with all humility and forgiveness that very few people really appreciate our hardships, work and talent and give us with dignity what we actually deserve. Mostly people consider us as matter of pity and sympathy and I feel this throughout my life almost at every stage. For example, when our schooling was not started, people said I have nothing to do in life other than begging on streets. This was probably correct statement at that time due to the lack of awareness and education facilities in society. Now, because of the progress I have achieved in life by determination and hard work, I feel tremendous change in the behavior of people towards me.

People always used to scare. When I started my studies, they said, I would not be able to get a job and after getting a job, they said no one would marry me. After marriage, when I started constructing a house, my colleagues suggested that it’s a tough task, and  I should buy a readily built house only. I took all the negative comments as a challenge and kept working to show that I am not as weak and handicapped as others think.

I don’t know exactly how much I am able to pull myself up but I strongly feel that there are very few people who are happy to see me growing. They really encourage me. In my home, my wife and kids treat me as a super human. They never treated me as a handicapped person so sometimes this also creates a problem.

In my life so far, there are some people who have really contributed to my success. The first name is of my elder brother, Mohammad Hussein, who supported me financially from my education till marriage and my maternal uncle, Ibrahim Khan, who put both of us on the way to light from darkness. In this sequence, I never forget my initial mentor of life my guru Shri Ram Prasad Sahal and Jorawar Singh. They taught me the values and morals of life.

Further, in Adarshnagar Ajmer, the Sankhalkar family and in Beawar, Shri Ghanshyam Sharma’s family always considered me as their family member. They helped me a lot economically and in reading books for me. They always loved me without any expectation.

At college level, the support, affection and respect from the Sanskrit Professor respected Dr. N.C. Pathak and his whole family is unforgettable. Because of this family, I got first division in BA otherwise it was a very hard nut to crack.

Although, there are other people also who assisted me, but these few names are always in my heart and it played a major role in helping through my life journey. I feel that I have reached at this stage just because of their support and encouragement. Today, I have achieved in life which crores of people in the world could not get. With the fear of God, I accept that He has blessed me with all prosperity and happiness.

In lieu of my eye sight, God has given me the things which make me feel that visually impairment is not a curse rather it is a blessing on me.

Akbar khan