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“I listen to audio books and I know the story of Helen Keller. I love to play the keyboard”

When fourth standard teachers in Port Blair’s Government Model Senior Secondary School ask questions in class, nine-year-old G. Goutham’s hand is usually the first to go up. Impressed by his quick grasp of subjects and his memory power, they often hold him up as a model for his classmates. Goutham has 100 per cent blindness.
“Till he was around four years old he could at least see hazy shapes and avoid bumping into things,” said his mother G. Jaya who has lived in the Andamans all her life. “Now he can only make out darkness and light. If an object is brightly lit and he holds it very close to his eye he can make out the colour.” Jaya works in a guest house doing the cooking and cleaning and her husband Ganesh Murthy, who has a job in Saudi Arabia, has come home on two month’s leave for Goutham’s eye surgery at Shankar Netralaya in Chennai. “He might need a transplant but the doctors said his eye muscles are not yet strong enough to hold the implant in place,” Jaya told us. “There is also a problem with his eye pressure and they will operate on him this month.” Goutham piped up: “I went on a plane.”
Maths is his favourite subject. He will soon be able to access Braille books since he is learning under a Braille teacher; currently he listens to audio books and has heard stories of Helen Keller’s life. Music is more than just a hobby for him. “Music uski jaan hai (music is his life),” said Jaya. “From a young age he used to bang on vessels in the kitchen to produce different sounds.” When he was old enough they enrolled him for vocal music lessons. He is now learning keyboards and the tabla, and has even performed three times in programmes on Doordarshan!
Although Goutham plays with his mates in school, at home he has to entertain himself since there are no kids of his age in the area. He looks forward to his weekly outings with ‘Bhavani-ma’am’, a special educator whom we mentioned in our recent story on Aryan Biswas, and whom we will feature on EGS next week. M. Bhavani, a Paralympic champion runner, takes a group of children with disabilities out to play once a week. “I love to run and play catch-catch with my friends,” Goutham told us.
Another of his pastimes is calling up his loved ones – aunt, cousin, grandparents, big brother Sanjay – he conducts daily chats with them all. He remembers around 30 phone numbers and since his phone has a TalkBack feature he has to simply speak a number into it. In fact he has three button-phones! Each time Jaya bought him one he would complain that the phone was missing this or that feature, and finally the three combined seem to have fulfilled his tech requirements.
Goutham sorely misses Sanjay, who is 12 years older and doing his third year in aviation management at East West College, Bengaluru. Sanjay told us that he too had vision problems though not as severe as his little brother’s. “He is smarter than me,” Sanjay said proudly. “He is more mature for his age. He speaks like a grown-up.” He narrated one of Goutham’s pranks: he would overhear people saying things about Jaya, secretly record them on his phone, and come home to play it back for her! When Sanjay goes home he tries to quietly sneak into the house without Goutham knowing but he always gets caught out. (The Blind have a heightened sense of hearing.) “He would know where I was standing and come running straight into my arms to hug me,” he said.
Jaya shared a recent photo of Goutham holding a cup – “a prize for singing a patriotic song”. His favourite song is “Teri Ungli Pakad Ke Chala” (I walk, holding your finger) from the Hindi movie ‘Laadla’. But he doesn’t need to hold anyone’s hand to navigate the world. Given his outgoing nature and his bright mind, who knows, he may start lending other visually impaired people a helping hand one day.


Vicky Roy