“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision”—Helen Keller
Sight is a function of the eyes, while vision has to do with the mind. It has to do with where you want to go from where you are. Of living a life that matters. It has to do with seeing things at a deeper level.
Helen Keller would have known. One of history’s most remarkable women, she was both blind and deaf, but she overcame her handicaps by learning Braille and typewriting, by graduating from college, and dedicating her life to the betterment of the blind and deaf. She had a vision.
Many of our poets have said the same thing through their work too. Do recall Pandit Sudarshan’s words for singing-actor KC Dey in Dhoop Chhaon (1935): Man ki aankhen khol baba. The fact that like Helen Keller, KC Dey was was also blind and here dispensing much the same advice, makes for compulsive listening.
Shailendra too offered some thoughts on the idea of the mind’s eye. In Chhoti Chhoti Baaten (1965), the protagonist Motilal dies at the end, and this Manna Dey classic song is brought on: Andhi hai duniya pyaare, matlab ki duniya, dil ka kare na koi mol pyaare. The song proceeds with these words: Aankh ke andhe laakh mein ek-do, man ke hain andhe hazaar. DN Madhok too, was talking about the mind’s eye in Bhakt Surdas (1942), a biopic on the blind saint who had lived 500 years before. Here was KL Saigal singing Nainheen ko raah dikha Prabhu, with its Ek baar Prabhu haath pakad lo, man ka deep jalaoon main.
All that is very well for perspective, but that doesn’t change the fact that blindness itself is bad news. It is particularly bad news for India, which is why they even made Hamdard, a 1953 film that, as the credits said, was “sympathetically dedicated” to the blind. India is over-represented in this area, something which we will see soon. Meantime, let’s tune in to some actors who were affected by the partial or total absence of sight in films, even as they sang away.
- Naseeb dar pe tere aazmaane aaya hoon (Dilip Kumar/Deedar, 1951)
- Muhabbat hi na jo samjhe (V. Shantaram/Parchhain, 1952)
- Tore naina raseele kateele (Shekhar/Hamdard, 1953)
- Sakhi humro atal suhaag (Chand Usmani/Rangeen Raaten, 1956)
- Mujhi mein chhup kar mujhi se door (Abhi Bhattacharya and Geeta Bali are both blind/Jailor, 1958)
Barkha ki rut aayi jhoomke (Meena Kumari/Sahaara, 1958)
- Bhaiya mere raakhi ke bandhan ko nibhaana (the sad version) (Nanda/Chhoti Behen, 1959)
- Rang dil ki dhadkan bhi laati to hogi (Mala Sinha/Patang, 1960)
- Wafa jinse ki bewafa ho gaye (Rajendra Kumar/Pyaar Ka Sagar, 1961)
- Saawan ki raaton mein aisa bhi hota hai (Shashi Kapoor is blind; with Sadhana/Prem Patra, 1962)
- Mera to jo bhi qadam hai (Sudhir Kumar/Dosti, 1964)
- Meow meow meri sakhi (Nimmi/Pooja Ke Phool, 1964)
- Naseeb mein jiske jo likha tha (Manoj Kumar/Do Badan, 1966)
- Mor bole, chakor bole (Nutan/Gauri, 1968)
- Teri aankhon ke siwa duniya mein rakkha kya hai (Asha Parekh/Chirag, 1969)
- Sun ri pawan, pawan purwaiya (Moushumi Chatterjee/Anurag, 1972)
- Nazar aati naheen manzil (Shamim/Kaanch Aur Heera, 1972)
- Pyaas liye manwa hamaara ye tarse (Nazima/Mere Bhaiya, 1972)
- Deewana leke aaya hai (Rajesh Khanna/Mere Jeevan Saathi, 1972)
- Chal chalen aye dil (Mumtaz/Jheel Ke Us Paar, 1973)
- Aye kaash main dekh sakti (Aparna Sen/Imaan Dharam,1977)
- Abke na saawan barse (Hema Malini/Kinara, 1977)
- Kaisi hoon main (Rameshwari/Sunaina, 1979)
- Haaye wo pardesi man mein (Raakhee/Barsaat Ki Ek Raat, 1981)
- Koi to aaye re bada intezaar hai (Saira Banu/Faisla, 1988)
Blindness—partial or total—can be the result of many factors. Glaucoma, trachoma, cataract, Vitamin A deficiency, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration, the last of which is on the increase globally, even as many other kinds are being brought under a semblance of control.
To combat the disability, Eye Banks are vital. In 1992, Mumbai’s Bhaskar Upadhyay started an eye bank named Samarpan, in which noble effort his daughter Falguni joined him later. Says she, ”No one has done retinal implants yet, they are extremely difficult, and in fact impossible right now. But corneal implants are happening. But it is important that corneas (the transparent outer layers of the eyes) be removed within 6 hours of a person’s death, and transplanted into a patient by an eye surgeon within 24 hours. Earlier, there were very few eye banks; fortunately there are many more now”. Even so, there just aren’t enough of them. Accurate figures of the various stages of blindness are not available for India, with the figures swinging wildly between 6 and 15 million people, from a worldwide total of some 45 million people affected.
As we speak, significant strides are being made in the field around the world, even in the difficult area of retinal implants. Two years ago, a bionic eye was successfully introduced into a British pensioner, Ray Flynn. An Indian scientist named Rajat Agarwal, educated at Nagpur and now associated with the University of Southern California developed the device in 2011, and owns the patent for it. Once the technology gets a firm footing in the medical marketplace, Dr. Agarwal will become obscenely rich. Deservedly so.
There’s also commendable research being done in other areas, such as Gene Therapy and Stem Cell Therapy.
But has blindness been overpowered? Sadly, not yet. That is why the art of cinema, which often reflects life, brings up stories of blind people with surprising periodicity. The latest to join such films is Kaabil (2017), in which both Hrithik Roshan and Yami Gautam are blind, with a beautiful song to which they mime: Main tere qaabil hoon ya tere qaabil naheen.
Meantime, last week was celebrated the birthday of blind musician Ravindra Jain, who had passed away in late 2015. He had once made a comment, that if the doctors ever gave him the ability to see, he would love to see the face of singer Yesudas first, whose voice Jain had employed so many times. Seen from the medical treatment angle, Ravindra Jain was born too early, but if he were to be born say 50 years later, how would he have composed so many melodious songs for the divine singer, including Jab deep jale aana (with Hemlata), and ironically, songs in the 1979 movie Sunaina, meaning beautiful eyes?
(Photos: Top, Abke na saawan barse; middle, Saawan ki raaton mein; lowest, Mera to jo bhi qadam hai)
Originally published: 5th March 2017)