“Every child loves playing with toys and my favourite toy was the radio. I have loved the radio right from my childhood. I used to copy the singers and the people around me would ask me to sing again.”
We were moved in ways more than one can imagine talking to this hearty young man of 25. Rahul Kumar sports the biggest smile on a face that inspires even bigger smiles back on anyone listening to him. But Rahul was never as lucky as most of us are. He was born without the gift of vision that all of us take for granted so thanklessly. His life has not been a comfortable journey as it is for most of us. However, his achievements are testimony to the unbreakable truth that nothing can come in your way if you truly want to pursue your goals.
Rahul, who always has friends around him, is a gold medallist both in Bachelors and Masters Degrees in music. He has plans for a Doctorate in the same discipline. However, since Jammu University doesn’t offer a Ph.D. in music at this point in time Rahul is exploring the possible routes to fulfil these plans at any university with the provision outside Jammu. We chanced upon Rahul at the Special Convocation at Jammu University last weekend and were lucky to speak to him. Here is the conversation.
Q. Rahul, Many congratulations on passing your bachelors with the highest grades! Getting the gold medal from the Hon’ble Governor today must have its own significance for you. We also found out from your friend here that you received the gold medal for your Masters Degree from the President of the country in the previous Convocation. This must be elating.
A. Thanks very much. It is a great feeling. Even as getting the gold medal from the President felt like the acme of my life, hearing all my friends cheering for me in the auditorium today replicated the same joy for me.
Q. When did your association with music begin first?
A. When I was born, my parents found out that there was something different about my eyes. They got my eyes checked by different doctors and from these ensued different treatments which didn’t help.
Every child loves playing with toys and my favourite toy was the radio. I have loved the radio right from my childhood. Listening to the songs of those days and even now has forever been a favourite part of the day for me. I used to copy the singers and the people around me would ask me to sing again. Their telling me that I can sing gave me inspiration and that is where my relationship with music started.
Q. Where did you receive your education from? It must have been difficult finding a school for the visually impaired so many years ago in Jammu.
A. We found out that there is a School for the Blind in Jammu that had a few students in it. They use the Braille script that employs raised dots to help the reader identify the different letters of the alphabet. My father’s elder brother came to this school personally a few times before he finally brought me here for my education. I was eight or nine years old at the time.
“My deep interest in music led me to work towards the Bachelors degree and then towards Masters’. The gold medal I got in Bachelors degree moulded my thought process towards a future in music because I never thought I would receive the top honour. “
Q. I am sure everyone around must have always been supportive but on the personal front what hardships did you experience when you were younger?
A. There is no one who does not face hardships. At times you are surrounded by problems and on other times there are absolutely none. For instance, even now majority of the visually impaired have to depend greatly on someone’s voice to study the reading material or the text books in the market. Computers and mobiles have alleviated the problem to a good extent because of their audio features and I can use them both like any normal user.
There are always the common problems such as crossing the road or travelling to a place but again there is always someone to help too! You just need to be brave. God really does help those who are brave enough to make an attempt.
Choti choti dikkatein hamesha rehti hain par manage ho jaata hai!
(One is always faced with small problems but they are always manageable!)
Q. Are you pursuing only music at this point or are you engaged with something else too?
A. I have mainly pursued my career in music itself. My deep interest in music led me to work towards the Bachelors degree and then towards Masters’. The gold medal I got in Bachelors degree moulded my thought process towards a future in music because I never thought I would receive the top honour. It is a big thing for me; so big that I cannot make anyone understand this feeling.
As a child I used to think that I will have to make do with whatever little education I can manage eventually landing a small job. But when I got a gold medal in graduation, my confidence in my own ability was heightened to no end. Other than that I won The All India Devotional Song competition organized by SMVD shrine board during Navratras at Katra. Accomplishments such as these got me contemplating the pursuit of music seriously.
Q. In all your memory, when was the first time you first felt the taste of having accomplished something big?
A. There is a talent group that had arranged a competition by the name of Jammu Idol in the year 2006. I was pursuing my graduation and was quite young at the time. I didn’t consider myself a strong contestant assuming the stiff competition that must be present at an event that saw 500 contestants finally. My friends pushed me to compete even if only to get the exposure at the event and I applied.
There were just rounds and rounds and I kept getting shortlisted and reached the top fourteen. I finally won the First prize and the title of Jammu Idol and that’s when I knew I could trust my talent. This superbly reassuring feeling was also my first tryst with destiny.
Q. And when was the first time you felt the hardships become a major roadblock for you?
A. In the School for Blind, we study with the help of Braille. But when I started pursuing graduation, I was the only blind candidate in my class. The start of college was the hardest time. Commuting to and from college on a daily basis was a task in itself. The biggest problem was completing the home assignments from books that were never in Braille. This is when I questioned my decision to pursue education as a major mistake. But then I thought that if not for music, it would be another subject and no subject has books written in Braille.
I pulled myself together and requested some of my friends to help who more than happily obliged. They would read the texts to me. I would record the longer texts and bring the texts back home to make notes from.
Q. Any of these friends that you would like to specially mention here?
A. (Laughing) Different friends have helped me at different times and so it would be unfair to just specially mention any one of them. All of them have been equally important to me.
Q. How are you now pursuing music at the professional level? Do you have a Guru as most people in the professions of arts do or do you train by yourself?
A. Pandit Shri T.K. Jalali Ji, a noted classical vocalist, violinist and music director is my teacher. I learned classical music under his guidance. Currently I am training under Shri Sham Sajan Ji who is a renowned Ghazal singer and composer from Jammu. He has also given me many opportunities to sing. I practice on my own as well.
On the professional front I try performing at small events in Jammu and want to pursue a doctorate (Ph.D) in music.
Q. Is there anything in particular that you want to bring to light? Any issue that you think has not found a voice anywhere and we can be your medium to promote it?
A. Yes, in fact there is something I feel deeply sad and helpless about. I may have received gold medals both in B.A. and M.A. in music, but I cannot pursue music further at Jammu University. The University does not have provision for a Ph.D. in music as yet. If I want to do a Ph.D., I would have to go out of Jammu. For a person like me, it is very difficult especially because I require someone to attend to me constantly and to find someone who is ready to live with me for 4-5 years is near impossible. This is the greatest problem for me at the moment. I would be thankful to Jammu University if they can do something for me taking my track record into consideration.
I even wrote to the Vice-Chancellor for help but the absence of any such facility about now forced him to turn down my request.
Q. Have you tried looking for sponsorship to pursue your Ph.D. so far?
A. I do not know much about such sponsorship programmes and will research about them now that you have told me. If you can spread a word about me (laughing) , that would be great too!
Q. Before I take any more of your time, is there anything else you want to bring to the focus of academicians that can help students with complete vision disability?
A. Yes, there is something that can definitely help the future students with such disabilities. The schools or colleges abroad go to extent of printing books in Braille for their blind students or get the books recorded in Mp3 format. We don’t have any such provision here in Jammu and a student has to get someone to read the books all the time and I can assure you finding dedicated people is not easy. Our government can look into the matter where they can get the books printed in Braille or get them recorded in audio formats for these students.
Thanks Very Much Rahul for giving us your time. We hope this interview does not disappoint you!!!