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Looking for light in darkness

Smriti Kak Ramachandran

— Photo: S. Subramanium

“WHY NOT I?”: President Pratibha Patil receiving a copy of the Marathi book “Why Not I?” from young Siddhi Desai (second from right) as author Vrinda Bhargave (right) and Siddhi’s mother Susmita Desai (left) look on at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Tuesday.

NEW DELHI: She blindfolded herself to see how the visually challenged cope with life. But President Pratibha Patil’s tryst with darkness lasted just an hour. Recalling the incident at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Tuesday, Ms. Patil said the experience made her aware of the difficulties of being visually challenged.

“When I worked for the blind I would wonder how it would be if I closed my eyes for a day…. and when I did I could not last beyond an hour,” she said speaking after she was presented with a copy of the book, “Why not I?”, based on the true story of Siddhi Desai, a visually challenged girl, and her mother Sushmita.

The book, written in Marathi by Vrinda Bhargave, is a chronicle of the Desais’ life — full of hardships and challenges.

Moved by the account of their lives, the President, who invited the Desais to Rashtrapati Bhavan, said: “ What Siddhi has done is important, but what her mother has done is exemplary. When I heard their story I was inspired and actually asked if it was real.”

Applauding the duo for their perseverance and courage, Ms. Patil said their life, punctuated with its problems, “is an example of what people can do, how despite obstacles and problems people can move ahead”.

Siddhi, a student of St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, lost her vision at the age of six following a botched up medical treatment. Having earlier lost her father, Siddhi was brought up by her mother, a school teacher. “My mother had to start from scratch and I was moved from a regular school to a vernacular one,” she said in flawless English.

Majoring in Economics and Statistics, Siddhi aspires to pursue higher education abroad. “I want to join Cambridge or Oxford. Though I haven’t made up my mind about what career to opt for, I have kept my options open. It could be research or the Indian Economic Service.”

A resident of Thane in Maharashtra, Siddhi’s mother Sushmita had to raise her children without any support from her in-laws and her parents. “But she has been infested with a disease called enthusiasm and she taught me to love my dreams. Support came in the form of my sister, teachers and friends.”

Referring to the challenges she faces, Siddhi, for whom coming first in class was a “habit”, said: “Studying and understanding lengthy and complex problems is not difficult. What is tougher is explaining what you want to say to the writer who writes my examinations for me.”

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