The Boy Who Opened My Eyes: Part 1

I agreed to meet Mohd Asif, he had introduced himself and casually mentioned that he was visually impaired. That made me very tense. I waited for him at Chembur's Shoppers' Stop coffee shop with anxiety. He arrived there looking very cheerful. Why did he seek an appointment? He says it was to discuss his career. Some tough discussion followed. I had expressed my views clearly and without mincing words. He obviously was taken aback. He left for his residence in Mumbai. What he did not see were my tears, not of sympathy, but I must confess I was not able to understand the reason for my tears.

Some weeks later Mohd Asif called up and said he had thought about my views. And he agreed with them! I had thought in the meantime to put his interview on my blog, with his permission, of course. He obliged. After reading his story I decided not to put it into interview format, but to retain it as the orginal story. I have divided it into two parts for easy readability.

I remember this famous quote: ‘Is there anything worse than being blind?’ ‘Yes, a man with sight and no vision.’ Helen Keller. You will appreciate why.... Read on....

Mohammed Asif Iqbal was born in Bhagalpur, Bihar on November 29, 1976. He only had 50% of normal eyesight. He was unable to see the black board. His teachers didn’t realize the potential of this boy and their common perception was that he was not meant for learning. His principal frequently called his father and asked him to take out his son, as he was not performing well due to his vision impairment. He was not included into recreational activities by his cousins as he was not able to fully participate due to his difficulty in seeing them. His neighbors, family, relatives and community members thought that he was a liability on his parents and they all felt sorry for his parents. His grandmother was convinced that he would not be able to survive the life due to his disability and prayed to God for his death.

However his father was very strong. His brother along with his wife came to India from the United States for a visit. This Uncle and Aunt of Asif decided to take him to United States. He traveled to live with his Uncle and Aunt, on September 11, 1987. There, he had to learn a new language, new culture and get used to a new education system. He received his first report card with all Ds and 2Fs barely passing, and flunking in couple of subjects. He came home with great disappointment and expecting his American defacto mother to yell at him. However, she as compassionate she was, encouraged him that he was doing a good job but he could do a lot better. These positive and encouraging words ignited a passion in him and he was determined to get straight ‘A’s - over 90% in all the subjects and he did it. He accomplished straight ‘A’s in all subjects in class ten. This was a result of his strong determination and continuous guidance from his peers and teachers over the weekends, from whom he regularly sought help in learning, outside the classroom.

At the age of sixteen, he started experiencing rapid deterioration of his vision. He was depressed and began to question God as why him. He again started loosing interest in life and believed that he could not survive the life without his eyesight. In the process, he met another great soul who later became his mentor, Mr.Norm Jordon. He convinced Asif that he had two choices – either he could accept the fact that he is blind and learn alternative techniques to overcome them and do wonders or accept the fact that he is going blind and don’t do anything about it and remain miserable. Asif accepted the fact that he is going to be blind and decided to learn how to work on talking computer, talking note taker to take down his lecture notes and use scanner to convert print documents into audio formats. He continued to excel in his academic career and graduated from high school with 89% overall.

He returned to Kolkata, India in 1997. He wanted to join his family business but his father insisted that he pursue his education, as he was young. He decided to graduate in commerce and expressed his desire to his father and his friend who was a professor. The professor discouraged him and tried convincing him that his eye sight would create a major hindrance in clearing practical papers such as accounts, taxation, etc. and recommended to pursue arts degree just like the majority of blind individuals do. But Asif who turned bad luck and misfortune into victory, was committed to prove them wrong and applied for admission in B.Com. The Vice principal of St. Xavier’s Calcutta called him for interview. The vice principal sympathized with him but he strongly felt that he should do this course from a private source. Asif retorted to him that he was perfectly capable of doing that course and he was seeking only a fair opportunity to prove his capacity and credentials. The vice principal was convinced and Asif was admitted. He took lecture notes on his talking note taker and he used MS. Excel to solve his practical papers. He appeared for his exams through the help of a writer provided by the college. By this time he had gone totally blind. His hard work paid off when he became the first visually impaired to graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata in commerce. But he did not stop there.

Await Second Part........   Picture shows Mohd Asif with the President Abdul Kalam, one of the Golden moments in his life.............