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Kanchana Suggu meets an Indian heroine.

jyoti Jyoti Chassatia essays many roles. For colleagues, she is almost a superwoman. Not only does this complaints operator as the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited in south Bombay handle queries with admirable ease, she is also known to have boundless energy to answer every call with the same enthusiasm.

At home, she is a teacher to nephew Pratik and brother Rajendra. At the National Association for the Blind a second home to her, she is a symbol of courage and strength. The blind girls at NAB look up to her for moral support. She is also a Reiki master and spends most of her time curing different kinds of ailments. She has cured a drug addict, a patient in the first stage of cancer, apart from minor problems like headaches, stomach problems, backpains…

Jyoti is full of life and her enthusiasm? -- Infectious. But what is really special about Jyoti is that she has never let her handicap dampen her spirit.

Jyoti is blind.

She became blind at 27. It all began with a pulsating ache at the back of her head. The pain would subside with a tablet, but only temporarily. On May 14, 1984, she became unconscious. On regaining consciousness the following day, her vision had gone completely. ''At first I thought I was only unable to open my eyes. My father kept telling me where he was standing and what he was wearing. I tried hard, but couldn't see anything. I had completely lost my eyesight.''

Jyoti, along with her father A Chassatia, visited eye-specialists all over Bombay, but their efforts proved futile. Her optic nerve was completely damaged. ''Doctors told me there was no link between my eye and brain and that I would never be able to see again… until some miracle happens''. For three long years, her father kept her in the dark. He told her she would be able to see in three years's time. Days went by crying in her home -- and when not crying she would be drugged into slumber by the strong medication administered.

Life had become completely hopeless. She would lose her temper fast, feel ashamed to ask even family members to help her and would cry endlessly. Her only hope was her father's word. At that time, Jyoti had no other option but to wait for the day when she would see again... only to find that such a day would never come.

It was in 1986, more than two years later, that she discovered the truth. Dr Doshi, an eye-specialist in Gujarat, placed this reality before her. He explained that in spite of this handicap, she would be able to lead a normal life.

Initially Jyoti was not convinced. But after she visited Dr Rajendra Vyas, who was also blind, at the NAB in Bombay, she regained hope. So in January 1987, she joined the ladies batch at NAB's department of rehabilitation. The three-month programme comprised of training in home science, Braille and mobility and orientation. ''After the completion of my course, I became confident. I could travel anywhere with the help of my cane. The mobility and orientation classes were really invaluable.''

Today, at 43, Jyoti says she has nothing to complain about. Of course, she has had to make some compromises in the past. An M Sc in Marine Zoology, she was once a lecturer at the Maharshi Dayanand College in Parel, north central Bombay, a job she loved very much. But after her blindness, she had to give up her job as she no longer could do things like correcting journals, helping students with practicals, drawing diagrams etc.

''I knew my colleagues would definitely help me out. But that wouldn't be correct. The principal told me that if I do an M A in any other subject, he would take me as a lecturer in Arts, but at that point of time, I wasn't mentally prepared to study further. So I decided against it. I asked myself, 'What is the job that I can do best as a blind person'? and I did just that''. Looking back at those days now, Jyoti is happy to have taken that decision.

She has never let her sight impairment be an obstacle in anything she has ever wanted to do. What really made an impact on her and in a way paved way to the rest of her life was a lecture at the Blind Graduates Forum of India on Reiki -- a method of natural healing based on the application of universal life force energy to improve health and enhance the quality of life.

''I immediately called up the lecturer, Jaya Gala. I wanted to learn Reiki since that was something where blindness would not be a hindrance. I thought it would in some way help me and also my family members. I never thought of becoming a master at that time.''

So on October 2,3, 1993, she did her first degree in Reiki and then the second degree. Her Reiki master Jaya Gala was so impressed by her dedication that she decided to make her a master. ''Jyoti is very devoted to her work. She is always ready for anything. She travels everywhere without fear although many a times we get scared. She is energetic and never sits idle. Even now I can tell you that in spite of being at work, she must be giving distance Reiki to someone or the other,'' says Gala.

Today Jyoti imparts this knowledge to others. On Sundays, she takes classes at home. Her relatives in Gujarat call her up with their health problems and she gives distance Reiki to them. Jyoti spends most of her time after work over the telephone. She has people calling up from everywhere… some to talk about their problems, some to tell her how her treatment has helped them and others on how effective the lessons have been.

She enjoys talking to everyone. At times, she is also called to the NAB to help other blind girls. ''Since I am educated, the officials at NAB discuss cases with me. I am also asked to give lectures and counsel other blind girls,'' she says.

Her most treasured experience has been the two-day workshop held at Nanded for local blind women. ''My visit was very satisfying. On the second day, when some of the girls came to me saying how they sincerely practiced everything I said, there were tears in my eyes.'' The workshop was organised especially to teach mobility skills to blind girls.

In backward areas like Nanded where there are practically no facilities for blind women, NAB conducts such workshops to educate them. Pushpa R Mathani, head of department, committee for advancement of status of blind women, was present at the Nanded workshop. Recalling how the workshop was a great success, Mathani says Jyoti was a natural teacher.

''She spoke so systematically. She used simple words so that the girls would have no problem understanding. There were two other speakers, but I could see that Jyoti's talks made the most impact. That was because she spoke about very practical things like how to interact with taximen, tackle rowdies, move about completely unescorted in the city etc. The girls could relate to Jyoti because she spoke about her own experiences and how she handled difficult situations. She cracked jokes and ate food with them. The girls were inspired by her optimism, she really gave them new hope.''

Since most of her relatives are in Gujarat, Jyoti has travelled to Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar a couple of times. ''Someone has to only come to pick me up at the station, travelling in the train alone is no problem. I have even take my younger brother to Gujarat. I am confident about going anywhere.''

At home, she helps her mother with household work. The lessons learnt at NAB allow her to do everything without any difficulty. She cleans, stitches and on Sundays prepares special breakfast as per her brothers's demands. Her family consists of her mother, sister Kirti who is now married and three brothers -- Rajendra, Bharat and Devendra.

''We don't treat her like a blind person at home. She does all kinds of work. She pays the telephone bill, goes to the bank, helps children with their studies, does work at home. Everything.'' says Kirti.

Her father is no more today. ''My father was my biggest strength. He has done so much for me. When he was alive, he would come every day to pick me up at the office and drop me. Whatever I am today is because of him,'' she remembers.

Marriage is no longer important to her. ''I don't want to get into the circle of sansar,'' and follows a very simple philosophy in life -- 'Whatever you do, you should do it with sincerity and hard work. No job is big or small'. This very motto won her the 'Best Complaint’s Operator' award in 1991 along with another female colleague and also the Blind Woman Achiever's Award on January 19, 2000 from the NAB.

Jyoti's endeavour is to do as much as she can for other blind women. ''It is my wish to work for blind ladies. To me, making others happy is important. When I look at them, I feel at least I have seen the world for 27 years. But they did not even have that. I also want to spread this message that we handicapped people do not need sympathy. What we need is help at the time we require it the most.''

Photograph: Jewella C Miranda

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