By Mauli Buch
Mumbai, June 9 (IANS) They say reading is the basic tool in the living of a good life. In Maharashtra, some 24,000 blind people are being initiated into such a life, courtesy Sparshdnyan, a fortnightly newspaper that brings happenings from around the world to them.
An initiative of freelance journalist and theatre director Swagat Thorat, who has taken it up as a social cause, Sparshdnyan is the first registered newsletter in Braille script.
Thorat says he has intentionally left out news related to cricket, crime and superstition from the newsletter as "cricket is frivolous, crime is depressing and blind faith or superstitions are hopeless."
Published on the 1st and 15th of every month, the 400 issues of the bi-monthly are gifted to schools and institutions for the blind. However, the readership is manifold.
"While its circulation may be small, the readership is growing at a fast rate. Most issues are sent to institutions for the blind, where each copy is read by an estimated 60 or more people. On an average, the total readership is in the range of 24,000," Thorat, who edits the unique newspaper, told IANS.
Launched in 2008, the newsletter is produced by a team of freelance journalists, including Thorat who prints it at his own office in suburban Andheri in Mumbai.
And all this is being done without any kind of government support or advertisements. Thorat, who is also a wildlife photographer and documentary-maker, manages the show by selling his photographs and documentaries.
He, however, manages to get a part of his funding from individual donors who sponsor the annual subscriptions of the newspaper.
Thorat says many people are keen to get involved in Sparshdnyan. "If everything goes right, I hope to expand and convert it into a daily. With India's visually impaired population close to 10 million, I feel this could be useful."
Thorat's association with the blind dates back to 1993, when he first produced the widely acclaimed documentary "Kalokhatil Chandane".
Based on educational methods for the blind, Thorat studied the lifestyle and physical-mental development of blind students for the documentary.
Yet, it was not easy for Thorat, the first hurdle being that he himself was blessed with eyesight and could not empathise with the students.
"There were times when I used to blindfold myself and go about doing my daily chores after work. In order to properly understand the routine functioning of the visually-impaired, I had to pretend to be blind myself. There was no other way," he recalls.
Thorat, who not only learned Braille himself, but also taught 138 people the script, then embarked upon an adventure which led him straight to the Guinness Book of World Records.
In 1997, he directed a play "Swatantryachi Yashogatha" (glorious story of independence) which created a world record as it had 88 blind artists.
"The play features 88 blind artists from two schools in Pune. Based on the backdrop of Independence Day golden jubilee, this play was followed by another with 44 blind artists," Thorat said.
Even that play got wide recognition with an entry to the Limca Book of Records.
Thorat is also committed towards drawing out the best of the dancing and acting talent among the visually impaired and presenting it before appreciative audiences. He directs many experimental one-act plays, dramas, ad films and documentaries.