Karthika – a beam of light in a world of darkness

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How would it feel to live in eternal darkness, unable to see the colour of the skies, the birds and the flowers?

Ask Karthika. She knows what it is like to see the world and one's loved ones through crystal clear eyes only to have it all snatched away one fine day. She was but a child when she fell into the lonely world of perpetual darkness.

But…"The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched; they must be felt with the heart," said Helen Keller who became not only blind, but also deaf, following a crippling brain fever. Motivated by Keller, she set out on her solo journey, braving blindness to carve a niche for herself in the world of vision.

From a small-time town in Kottayam to the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad is a journey not many can make. Here's the story of a blind girl who did just that!

The bright and chirpy little Karthika was one fine day getting ready for school when all of a sudden she sensed she could hardly see through her left eye. It was as if the light had gone off from that eye. Her mother dismissed it as the natural effect of a split-second of darkness after one rubs an eye vigorously and then opens it. But things took a serious turn when Karthika came home from school the same day and told her parents that her left eye was still dark. What followed was a frenetic series of hospital visits.

Little did the family realize that there was going to be a double disaster. A lot of time was eaten up by the time the right diagnosis was arrived at and the apt treatment started. By the time the actual cause of the ailment was found, tragedy struck and little Karthika lost her right eye too.

It apparently was a cancerous tumor in the sinus that had robbed the child of her vision… that too, for ever. The usual cancer treatment assured that the child was saved, but not her vision.

Karthika, a picture of stoicism

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The tumor blocked blood supply to the eyes causing them to lose vision. The chemo and radiation therapies that followed did untold damage to the nerves surrounding her eyes and all hopes of future eye transplants were ruled out.

It looked like fate had aligned itself against Karthika. She did not get to see a doctor the first day itself. Later, even expert doctors at the prestigious Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai failed to diagnose the disease. When the final diagnosis was arrived at, she was referred to Sree Chitra in Thiruvananthapuram, where the absence of the chief neuro surgeon stalled treatment. She was then taken to a private hospital. It was during this helter-skelter period that blood supply to the right eye too got blocked.

Though her mother and doctors tried to hide the truth from her, Karthika says she was well aware of what was going on. She heard the doctors telling her mother that from then on, the child would need support to walk. That is, she would need a second hand to lead her forward. She was blind!

A rock called Karthika

Jayachandran, Karthika's father is a motor vehicles inspector and mum, Shyama, was a teacher. Karthika remembers how her parents kept crying for days on end, knowing the plight of their daughter and not knowing what to do. The tears stopped flowing when Karthika announced her resolution to carry on with her studies. This charged them with courage. And when her young brother said he would give of his best to his sister, a miracle of sorts happened to Karthika and the family.

The journey began with Karthika insisting on joining a school for the blind. Though she lost a year, she was happy to join class four in the Government Blind School, Olassa. Karthika's mother quit her job and was always at hand to help her daughter who mastered Braille without much difficulty. The mother-daughter duo’s efforts bore fruit and their march forward though fraught with hurdles, was quite a successful one. Her mother would master the lessons first before teaching her daughter. Karthika's mother opened up a rainbow of possibilities before her daughter. She taught the child what pure imagination would be like. She egged her on to dream and reach out for the seemingly unreachable and read out to her stories that inspired her to rise above her disabilities.

By class eight, Karthika had successfully moved on to a regular school where she sat with regular kids. The teachers in Kanakkary Higher Secondary School where her mother once taught, extended all help. Usually, students with impaired vision are exempted from cracking tough math problems. But not for Karthika. She worked on the toughest diagrams and mastered all of them. And how? Diagrams were patterned with match boxes and match sticks over which Karthika was made to move her fingers. This task was mastered not only by her teachers, but also by her numerous friends who vied with each other to teach their friend all about diagrams. All efforts paid off when Karthika cleared her SSLC scoring A-Plus for all subjects.

Gratitude to all

The young girl takes a trip down memory lane as she talks about her school days. She has not forgotten her old friends and remembers all of them, says her mother. What she owes them goes beyond mere gratitude, says Karthika. It was with genuine joy that students of Mount Carmel School, Kottayam, welcomed her where she did her higher secondary course. Though the principal, Sr Linnet was all for bringing her class to the ground floor, Karthika was averse to it. Though lacking in sight, she was physically fit and hence refused to accept any special offers the school extended. The fierce determination that played on her face was reason enough for the school to help her in whatever way possible.

Karthika moved on to her degree course scoring full marks for plus-two. Studies thus far had gone without glitches. But college saw her life taking not one, but several beatings. Her disability was reason enough for the management to deny her a role in competitive stage items. They even barred her from going on college picnics and tours. But none of these upset her. Her goals were not limited to just one plan. Karthika scored a commendable eleventh rank in the entrance exam conducted by the Hyderabad-based English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) where all possible encouragement and physical facilities were arranged for students with even the smallest of disabilities.

On a philosophical high

Looking back, she recalls she had every reason to be down and out, so gruelling was the cancer treatment with no light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps it could a child’s resilience, says Karthika. The fact that she was too young to comprehend the enormity of her plight could be the reason why she failed to feel bitter about things. Or perhaps, she was too small, too innocent to think of the deeper consequences of her plight.

"How will I go to school, how will I read?" These were the only questions that really bothered her. Darkness and gloom got dispelled in the face of the intense love from her parents and countless other caring souls around her. As she grew up, along with her grew the latest technology, which offered several possibilities to the blind girl. Vision impairment was no longer a handicap.

The family takes a holiday every year.. and guess who enjoys it the most! Karthika, no doubt, says her mother. One such trip was to Lakshadweep where Karthika's underwater activities were looked upon with awe. The guides, seeing her enthusiasm, joined in the fun. She really motivated them, says Karthika's mother.

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Don't hold me back

Though the family was happy with her scores at EFLU, her mother could not think of Karthika making it to the place all by herself. However, the family's comfort lay in their daughter's strength of mind. She was capable of judging people and saying a firm 'No' to things that went against her values and conviction. She could size up a person the minute he or she would strike a conversation with her. The university and everyone around were ideal for her temperament.

"There was a time when she needed me for every little thing. Now she turns to her friends for what she herself cannot do," says her mother.

Father and brother her allies

Though her mother was her right hand, her father was her arbour of love. Her brothe Jayakrishnan, junior to her by seven years, was in effect a big brother. Once when her mother hurt her leg, it was Jayakrishnan who escorted his sister on their outings in Kottayam. The brother-sister duo was a familiar sight in the little town. Karthika is a telling example of how one can live without eyes. All our other faculties are awake then, she says. She proved this many a time by winning speech, recitation and poetry writing competitions. She was also quite an ace at Carnatic music.

A great dream

Like all young women, Karthika too harboured the dream of becoming a teacher. That dream faded when she learned how much technology had helped students like her to score well and achieve success. So the teacher dream faded and she wanted to major in any particular branch of computers with which she could help others like her. This dream too is fading and now she is convinced that civil services would give her the best platform from where she could serve others and help others with disabilities achieve big time success.

Our eyes truly open when others paint for us a canvas of opportunities. And that's what Karthika is up to these days... trying to give a shot at civil services.

As Helen Keller said: "Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence."

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