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Not cowed down by darkness

Tomorrow is the Day of the Blind, a day when the world ponders over how the sightless cope. ELIZABETH NINAN meets Ayyappan, who fought both blindness and poverty and beat fate.

HIS WORLD turned dark while he was still a toddler. For the one and half-year-old baby of Painkan and Cherukodi, a Scheduled Caste couple of impoverished background from Uramana village (near Piravam), life seemed doomed as malnutrition robbed him of his eyesight. But this cruel turn of fate failed to kill his spirit. He is A P Ayyappan, B.A., B Ed., LLB, the social-science teacher at the Govt. High School, Mulanthuruthy.

And if LLB with B Ed. is not qualification enough to awe you, he has a diploma in light engineering too. He was formerly the vice-president of the Kerala Federation of the Blind for three years. And the Rotary Club of Mulanthuruthy presented him with a certificate of appreciation earlier this year, in appreciation of the spirit, which guided him to reach far in the face of adversities. As, for this Maharaja's College alumnus ('1974), life was one uphill journey, puffing and panting to keep pace with the rest of the world. Today, Ayyappan thanks God for his achievements. "I was lucky to be sent to a school at that time. Everything is God's grace'', he says. Uramana in the 50's was a small village and Painkan, with education upto second standard, didn't have any idea on to how to educate a blind son.

And so, while all his siblings went to school, little Ayyappan stayed at home. His luck changed when an acquaintance told his father about the School for the Blind at Aluva (free school run by missionaries), insisting that he sent Ayyappan there to study. So Ayyappan finally got to start school at the age of nine. In the fifth class, he joined the Govt. School for the Blind at Kunnamkulam and after some dramatic turn of events finally topped the school a year late. (The school authorities apparently forgot to mention the fact that he is blind in his mathematics paper because of which he failed to get 30 marks for graphs). He went to Indore (M P) on a Lion's Club scholarship and did a diploma course in light engineering, later, joining a soap factory as a daily wage labourer. As the pay was not enough to sustain himself, he returned home, in time to join Pre-Degree at Maharaja's College, Ernakulam.

Ayyappan counts the five years he spent here as some of the happiest years of his life, though financial worries haunted him at this time. "My student life at Maharajas College was a very happy one. Everyone (both teachers and students) were helpful and co-operative'', he says. Financial difficulties were mostly overcome with help from his sister, Ajithakumari.

After passing B.A (politics) in first class, he joined for LLB at Govt. Law College, Thiruvananthapuram. The Law College also was a happy place with good people around. And his contemporaries include T M Jacob. But life was about to turn tough for him. In his final year, he applied for some jobs. But as Ayyappan reminicises, "I found that being blind was working against me in getting a job even in those areas where I was qualified.'' And so finally he decided to apply for a Govt.Job (for the post of a teacher) without mentioning that he was blind. And this time he got an interview card. But the members of the interview board were not very happy about being faced by a blind person. And Ayyappan had to face a long interview with 65 questions. Though he answered well most of their questions (he was second), they were still apprehensive of selecting him as they were not confident of his ability to handle the class.

Finally, Ayyappan convinced them to give him a chance to prove himself during the six months probation period, failing which, they could always terminate his appointment. Needless, to add, he was selected and teaches his favourite subject to-date. But his experience with the interview board makes him request those with sight to treat handicapped people with care. "Often what they need is co-operation and recognition of their skills, not sympathy'', he says.

Ayyappan today lives with wife, Omana and his two children (Shabarinath and Shabana) at Mulanthuruthy. His children help him with his reading now and he spends his spare time listening to music, news and cricket commentary.

Ayyappan hopes to do a lot more with his life. "I want to do some voluntary work to help the blind. May be after I retire I'll get the time for that'', he smiles, eager to lighten up the world for those unfortunate like himself, who has been denied `light' in their lives.

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