[AI] "I Lend My Eyes" - An inspiring story of a grandma

Sudhir R (NeSTIT) sudhir.r at nestgroup.net
Fri Feb 22 06:42:06 EST 2008

"I Lend My Eyes"

For innumerable blind people, this grandma is a window to the world of
books and learning

By Padmavathi Subramanian

(From the Reader's Digest - India Edition - February 2008)

Seated by her bedroom window, 83-year-old Annam Narayan is reading a
book. It's a bright afternoon, but she needs a tubelight too. In
between sentences, she carefully presses the keys of a strange grey
machine that's reminiscent of an antique typewriter. "These machines,"
she smiles, "I've used them since 1971."

Annam Narayan is no everyday grandmother. And that machine is no
ordinary typewriter - it's her trusty old brailler. Annam has used
braillers to translate textbooks, short stories and college notes into
braille so that the blind can read them too. It's impossible to count
how many sheets of braille she's created so far, but Anand Athalekar,
honorary secretary of the National Association for the Blind (NAB)
estimates that it must be "several lakhs." And Annam has done all that
without ever taking a fee because, as she puts it, "God has blessed me
with eyes and limbs so that I can be of help to those whom He sent
without them."

Annam's world revolved around her husband and her two young sons,
until one day, in 1971, she read an appeal in a magazine which sought
out a reader for a blind boy. Annam decided to help. The boy was
Rajinder Singh Sethi, an MA history student. Annam used to go over to
his home for an hour daily and read to him from his books and notes.
"I found it very interesting," recalls Annam, who never went to
college. "I was reading great books and biographies and learning new
things." As she read to him, Rajinder took down notes in braille using
a braille slate and stylus. Braille codes text using a system of six
raised dots in different combinations that blind people can read by

While helping Rajinder, Annam got an idea. Why not transcribe these
books into braille myself? She got a teach-yourself book and, by
watching Rajinder too, learnt braille. Later, the NAB gave her a
brailler machine. Soon Annam was transcribing whole books into
millions of dots. "You can traverse the entire world with the six
dots," she beams.

Then one day, she says, something strange happened. She was reading by
her window when a small picture of Satya Sai Baba came blowing in the
wind and settled into her open book. It had the saying "Hands that
help are holier than lips that pray" printed on it. Annam took that as
a sign: What she was doing must indeed be her calling.

Before her marriage in 1941, when Annam lived in her hometown of
Palakkad, Kerala, she knew only Tamil, English and Malayalam. When her
husband, a Tata official, got his transfers, Annam moved to other
cities with him. In Chennai, for instance, she and a few like-minded
friends volunteered to help half a dozen blind students write their
examinations. Meanwhile, Annam was also learning Hindi, Marathi and
Gujarati, again using self-help books, and transcribing text from
these languages too into braille. "Once you're really interested, you
can do anything," she says.

Among the countless blind students Annam has helped is Garimella
Subramaniam, 45, for whom she read books, did transcription, and
worked as a writer for his college examinations. Subramaniam is now a
senior assistant editor with The Hindu in Chennai. "Mrs. Narayan is
remarkable," he says. "Her abilities and motivation continue to
inspire me." And what became of that first college kid she read to?
Sethi, now 61, was until recently vice president of NAB. He now works
for other blind people at the Helen Keller Institute, Mumbai.

Says Rajendra T. Vyas, NAB's  founder and honorary secretary general,
"It's hard to find social workers who are as meticulous as Mrs.

Annam Narayan smiles at that. "I have the greatest admiration for
those who are visually impaired," she says. "With a little help, they
can stand on their own feet. For us who are sighted and healthy,
opportunities to help them are always there."

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