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The Times Of India
31 Aug 2012
Winners of a first–of–its–kind state–wide short story contest for the visually impaired tell Mirror how although they cannot see, their inspiration to write comes from infinite sensory experiences

Ibelieve any writer, blind or otherwise, is simply a medium of his mind. I may not be able to see the perfectly pointed nose of a woman or her lovely rosy cheeks but it doesn’t take eyes to discern her idiosyncrasies, her personality – those are the things I write about," smiles Sandeep Bhalerao. The 28–year–old visually impaired tabla artiste at the Bal Kalyan Sanstha has managed to bag third spot and a cash prize of Rs 5,000 in the Marathi Short Story Writing Competition organised for visually–impaired adults for the very first time by the city–based Ekansh Trust. Sandeep, who lives in a shanty in Bavdhan, wrote a grim short story titled Navi Pahaat, based on female foeticide.

Founder of Ekansh, Anita Iyer, told Mirror, "Around three months ago, we started sending out forms to various organisations working with the blind. We did not set any theme–related restrictions except the 1,000 word limit and urged participants to write stories based on the world as they see it – using minimal visual references." Organisers received around 30 entries from all over the state, out of which the top five were weeded out by writers Rajan Khan, Malhar Arankalle and Sanjay Jain. Prizes will be distributed this Saturday afternoon at the Bal Kalyan Sanstha.

The second prize too has gone to city–based woman, 56–year–old Sushma Nikam, who teaches at the Poona School and Home for the Blind Trust in Koregaon Park. Her entry is a light, humorous take on otherwise mundane situations, which take on extraordinary possibilities when faced by the blind. "I only write to amuse myself. However, I did manage to always win prizes in every essay writing competition I took part in," Nikam grins, as she furiously types away on her Brailler. "Someday, I will write an autobiography," she adds.

The stories Ekansh received, added Iyer, were not limited when it came to variety, including themes across social causes, general fiction, and some autobiographical tales. "We’re also announcing a writing workshop at the prize distribution ceremony to hone the writing skills of visually–impaired participants with script–writing, fiction writing and other professionals guiding them," she added.

Mumbai–based first–prize winner Prakash Pandagle, 42, the editor of Braille Jagruti will walk away with a cash prize of Rs 10,000. His entry is an emotional one. "Back in the 80s, my partner and I were on a train journey when she accidentally got down from the wrong side of the railway tracks. Eventually she was found safe, but my story is about the emotional turmoil while I was trying to find her," Pandagle relates. The only problem – if any – that he experienced, was that the speed of his thoughts was too fast for the maximum writing speed one can achieve with Braille.

He summarised, "How can you come up with wordy descriptions of sceneries and landscapes if you don’t know what they look like? My stories are based solely on my own interpretation of the world as I feel it – I easily describe beautiful aromas or a tender touch. Emotions are universal after all, irrespective of whether you’re blind or not."

Sandeep Bhalerao (L) lives in a shanty in Bavdhan and wrote a powerful tale on female foeticide; teacher Sushma Nikam (R) wrote a humorous take on living with no sight

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