People get curious when they hear ‘Blind Date.’ Blind date implies romantic meeting. But my meeting with her was not romantic. Not at all!
Anubhuti called up. I used to teach an elective at Tata Institute of Social Sciences for many years. Although Anubhuti was not my student, she often reached out to me for guidance.
“Sir, we need your help,” Anubhuti said. “Various companies are coming to the Institute for selection, and the placement season is coming to a close. Goma is not yet placed. She is very tense. We want her to be placed in a good organization but many recruiters are not willing to interview her. And those who interview her, do not select her.”
I was not teaching Anubhuti’s batch. Goma, a Nepalese girl, was her classmate. I knew Goma Rai although I had never spoken to her. She was a visually challenged student in Anubhuti’s class.
“What do you expect me to do?”
“Sir, please speak to her. Her confidence is shaken. Many students from my class feel that you will be able to find a solution. Please meet her Sir, don’t say NO.”
Anubhuti was very persuasive. Some students were looking up to me to help her out and I had no solution in mind. Yet I reluctantly agreed to meet Goma. This is how I often suffer from ‘Guide’ syndrome. In the movie ‘Guide’, Dev Anand comes out of a prison, reaches a village and sleeps on the steps of a temple. A Sadhu notices him at the dawn, it is fairly cold there. He puts his saffron coloured shawl with ‘Shree Ram’ written on it, on Dev Anand and goes away. When villagers notice it in the morning, they think that a new Sadhu has arrived in their village and expect him to solve their problems!
People have given me impossible tasks for which I neither had skill nor will. And the bad part is that I have accepted them; saying ‘no’ clearly – even mumbling – just does not come easily to me. As if the pressure was not enough, my wife said, “You must do something for her. Find a solution somehow” as I got ready to leave for TISS.
When Goma arrived, I became tongue-tied. I did not know what to speak, how to begin conversation. We sat in a Professor’s office. Goma broke the silence. She was clear in her mind that it is difficult for a visually challenged person to get a job. But her experience of interviews was painful. She realized that the interviews were just a routine formality; that the interviewers were not seriously considering her for a job was obvious to her. Some organizations, particularly those in the Public Sector, have a policy of providing a job to the disabled. So, the HR managers of those organizations interview disabled students, and very often it is an empty formality, just a compliance to the procedure. They often do not select anybody.
Interviews had hurt her deeply and she started crying while narrating those experiences. I did not know what to do. I had never felt so helpless. That she was not able to my tears was the only saving grace. A few minutes later both of us regained our composure.
“Sorry Sir.” Goma said, “Interview has been a humiliating experience.”
I changed the subject of our conversation to lighten the mood. Then I asked the peon to get us coffee. Basically, I was killing time to find some way of solving her problem, and the solution was evading me. I realized that I would not be able to solve her problem by the routine way of thinking. I took a deep breath and held it for a while. If you wish to move your mind from ‘emotional’ to ‘rational’, you must take a deep breath and hold it for a while – somebody had told me and I tried it.
‘How do they start the interview?” I asked Goma.
“Oh, they ask about my family, my education, I mean that is how all interviews begin. But their voice and tone soon tells me their lack of interest.”
I had done countless interviews in my career so I could imagine what was going through the mind of the interviewers.
“Please understand Goma, that the interviewer must be worried whether this girl can work like all persons with sight do. You are applying for a Trainee Manager position and usually it offers good pay.”
“Sir, I use a software called ‘Jaws.’ Using it I can work in Word, Excel and Power-point; I am as good at it as anybody else.”
“Can you give a demo?”
“Oh yes, of course. No problem. I do a lot of course work on my laptop.”
“Interviewer must be thinking – ‘Will this girl come alone to office? Or will I have to provide transportation help to her if I select her?’”
“But that is not a problem. I go to field work on my own. No help. You can ask my Field Supervisors.”
Her answers were reassuring, I thought. “Will you do as I say?”
“Of course, yes. Tell me”
“When the interview begins and after initial pleasantries, please tell the interviewer that you wish to make some statements, and three statements specifically. First, I can work like any person with sight on my laptop – there is a software called jaws which helps. Give him a quick demo and emphasize that you can work in Word, Excel and Power-point with equal ease. Then mention that you can travel and go anywhere without assistance and that he can verify this from the faculty, if he so desires. And lastly, tell him that visually challenged persons are perhaps more secure because everyone around turns very protective, unlike for people with sight. Tell him all this emphatically and confidently. Can you do it?”
“Yes Sir. No problem. I will do it.”
“This should work, Goma, and I am unable to think anything more for you.”
Anubhuti was eagerly waiting for us. I spoke to her as I came out, “Please see if you can join the interview as an observer. We will get some feedback; it might help.”
Two days later Anubhuti called up. Her happy tone was a happy surprise for me. “Sir, Goma did exactly as you said. She spoke confidently in the interview. I was allowed to attend the interview as an observer.”
Eventually Goma got a job through campus placement. But how could I unexpectedly find a solution to her problem remains a mystery to me. Was it because of empathy for Goma or was it because of the confidence students ‘burdened’ me with? I have no idea.
My real blind date was with an impossible and tricky situation, and yes, that’s why it became romantic.
And the question remains in my mind: ‘Who is really blind? One who is visually challenged? Or those who can’t see the potential and capabilities of the visually challenged?’
This is a true story. I have not changed the names – I have Goma and Anubhuti’s consent. This blog was originally published in Marathi on my Marathi Blog.
IMP:: Here is Goma’s response after reading the blog. Copied and Pasted unedited. You can also read her comment in the comment box.
“Dear Sir, reading this piece just brought fresh memories about my interviews at ONGC as I had followed those three mantras. As I have moved on in life and time restored my confidence, I do believe that people like Patwardhan sir is very few. Had there been little more the people with disability could live life of less challenge and do not have to prove their ability at every single step. Anyway I am an independent Goma today and feels blessed to be the lucky one amongst the millions due to the presence of good people like my batch mate, Anubhuti and mentor Patwardhan sir who are willing to go that little extra mile to make this world a better place.” – Goma (updated 14June2021)
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” **** “Aroehan: Creating Dream Villages in Mokhada by 2025: “No Malnutrition Deaths, No Child ‘Out of School’, Reduction in migration by 50%.”