“I was nineteen years old when I lost my eyesight to glaucoma. At the fringes of adolescence with a head full of dreams, I could not reconcile with what the world was trying to tell me – that the rest of my life would be spent making cane furniture and chalk pieces. It was in that almost-adult mind that the fire was born. Over the next few years, I jumped on the IT bandwagon and today, I am a clinical psychologist, behavioural facilitator and self-made social entrepreneur. Yet, even a “mainstream” job and all the perks that come with it could not quieten my yearning to do more, be more, say more. In early 2014, I became the first blind Indian to paraglide solo. With that, Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF) was born.
Losing sight myself, I witnessed first-hand all the stigma and shame that was often associated with people with disability. Instead of raging against the world, I realised that much of it was rooted in ignorance, not malice. Thus, ABBF, a not-for-profit organisation committed to spreading awareness, was established out of Pune, India. At the very heart of ABBF is the desire to spread the spirit of empathy, proving that worldviews that see disability as stigma are antiquated, misplaced and belong decidedly in the past. It is the ethos of Nelson Mandela’s words that drives ABBF’s activities, when he said “sport has the power to change the world…It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” The power of that energy caught the attention of Amitabh Bachhan himself, and after our feature on his show the Big B tweeted about me saying “his faith is what drives him forward.” Now how many can boast of that testimonial!
It was in late August that I set out on my next adventure. In one week, my sighted captain Gagan Grover and I rode five hundred kilometres from Manali to Khardung La to become the first tandem cycling pair with a blind rider to achieve a feat like that! We overcame everything from bad weather to malfunctioning cycles to get there a full day earlier than we intended to, spreading awareness and meeting people every step of the way. It was an exhilarating ride!
Fresh from the success at Ladakh, I am raring to keep going. ABBF and the various speaking opportunities to spread the message of disability keep me on my toes, and my team and I are only hoping to jump from one milestone to the next. We hope you will join us for this rather whirlwind journey.”