Nothing prevents Tukaram from doing what he wants to

The Goan Xtraspecial

Nothing prevents Tukaram from doing what he wants to

Tukaram Gaonkar during a visit to New Delhi.

Sometimes life greets you with multiple challenges, and some of them totally unexpected, uninvited. One such person is Tukaram Shanu Gaonkar – with eyes shut for life. Born with a challenge to surmount the darkness that remained a loyal companion from the time he was born to this day, Tukaram did not give up. And he doesn’t shy away to call himself blind, as he has willingly accepted this naked fact. But, he has never given up, neither when he was a kid, nor today, when he is an adult of 28.

Today, a financially independent Tukaram is working as Braille library assistant at Lokvishwas School from November 2022. He stays in the school hostel, as his hometown Quepem in South Goa is far from Dhavali, Ponda and commuting daily is time consuming. Before he was selected for this job, Tukaram used to sell home grown chillies, which he still does in the summers. “Our chillies are sold at zatras and fests, especially purument fests that are held just before the onset of monsoon. For the past two years, I put up my stall at the Caculo Mall in Panaji where I got a good response,” said Tukaram.

Not deterred with his disability, Tukaram is ever ready to support others like him, who have some or the other kind of disability. “All of us have inbuilt capacity and potential to fight our disability, given a chance. We all can emerge as winners. A disabled can very much, be a part of the society, make his or her living by doing things that he or she can easily perform,” he pointed out.

Tukaram has proved with his actions that nothing is impossible in the world. A 100 % visually impaired newborn who was born with eyes closed is lighting the path of knowledge for others like him, by motivating them to read books in Braille. Tukaram reads and speaks four languages – Konkani, Hindi, Marathi and English.

“My disability cannot be rectified. No surgery can plant vision in my retina. But my blindness had not stopped me from playing cricket, and being the captain of my team. Yes, we played the Paras Champion Trophy in Rajasthan, reached to finals and were runner up. I have played cricket in other States like Delhi and Punjab too since 2018, apart from Goa,” recalls Tukaram.

As a child Tukaram lost his mother when he was hardly a year old. “My father brought me up. Youngest of four siblings, I never schooled till I was 11. The only local school I attended was for just two months. For the teachers it was difficult to manage a visually impaired child like me, so they asked my father to put me in special school. In those days the normal schools had no resource rooms for special children. I was neglected, made to sit at the side. Dejected, I left school. Then my family came across an angel – Jayesh Velip and his father who motivated us to put me in Lokavishwas School at Dhavali Ponda. The father-son literary took me and my father to Lokvishwas where I was finally admitted. I stayed in the hostel, studied till SSC. Once in school, I was eager to continue further, so I went to Pune. But the climate didn’t suit me and I fell ill. So I had to return to Goa,” recalls Tukaram.

Back home he still faces challenges. There is no road to reach his house. He has to walk for about an hour from the main road to his home. During the monsoon, it becomes impossible to walk. The family has tried since 2000, to get NOC for the road, but failed. During his school days, Tukaram’s father used to drop him and pick him up from Lokvishwas. Daily travel was very difficult, especially during the rainy season. He stayed in the hostel for few years. Now, as an employee, he prefers to stay in hostel, instead of commuting daily to Quepem.

Tukaram’s elder siblings read out books for him during his school days. They helped with assignments too. Today, he can read Braille books, listen to audio books. MVDA software helps. In Android mobiles there is screen reader that helps in reading. Technology has helped him in many ways and he is thankful. The government has given him a walking stick with sensor. He also got scholarship for studying.

Tukaram has some words of wisdom to those having any kind of disability – “Don’t sit at home, don’t be discouraged by the disability whatever it may be, learn whatever is possible coping up with the disability, and be independent. Establish your own business, earn your living. Don’t think you are different. We all are a part of this society and have right to live with dignity. Let the society be inclusive and support us to carve our own niche. Do show empathy by offering seats to the disabled in the public transport.”

Indeed, the Goa government has many incentives, scholarships, freeships for disabled but apart from these, there should be motivation for the disabled to come out of their homes. By mingling with the society, they would gain confidence and move ahead in life. The society has to assure the parents of such disabled children of God, that they would be taken care of, even if the parents are no more!

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