In December 1988, I quit my job in Advertising. I had decided to take up projects with blind and visually impaired people. I was determined to change the way blind people lived and the way the World perceived them. I started going out and meeting people. Started sharing my vision and my ideas. There was a huge amount of scepticism around. Several relatives and friends asked me if I knew what I was doing.
This was a major leap of faith. My wife and I had absolutely no idea as to what was in store for us. The only certainty was the passion we had for our mission and the conviction that we were responding to a divine calling. My Advertising boss Jog Chatterjee advised me to meet up with his bureaucrat friend Bhaskar Ghose who in turn connected me with S N Menon who was the Joint Secretary (JS) in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government Of India.
I had a series of insightful meetings with JS Menon. He advised me to travel around and visit some of the leading organisations working in the space and also meet with prominent personalities in the field. A few names he suggested included Lal Advani, A K Mittal, Rehmat Fazalboye, Meher Banaji and Santosh Rungta- all doyans who had tons of knowledge and experience. These meetings gave me some direction to start with.
In the meantime I was talking and sharing my thoughts and plans with my mates from college, friends in the Church and also some of my colleagues from Advertising. One such conversation was with C B Samuel who headed a Christian organisation called EFICOR which was involved with relief and development work. He got interested in my ideas though they were rather premature. He invited me home and later to his office and held extensive discussions with me both regarding my proposed projects and also my faith. He offered to take me on as a Community Development Officer (CDO) at EFICOR for two years. He said that I would be paid an honorarium of Rs.1500/- per month and that would also give me the time and opportunity to travel and get an understanding of what I was getting into. I was delighted. This was indeed a promising start.
Mindset change was one of my major concerns. Given my Advertising background, I was inclined to do something about this mindset issue. I decided to make a TV serial. I wrote a story of a little boy named Anand who was blind from early childhood. He battled through life and made it big. The narrative touched upon aspects such as parenting, education, extra curricular activities, profession , family and social life. I called the story Abhilasha and was keen that the serial should be directed by a well known and respected director. I shortlisted Satyajit Ray, Sai Paranjpe, Syed Mirza, Amol Palekar and Shashi Kapoor. I shot out letters to them introducing myself and giving a brief on the serial.
Did not hear from any of them. No surprises there I guess. I decided to give them a call. I managed to get the phone number for Shashi Kapoor. I put in a call and as luck would have it, the phone was picked up by the great man himself. I quickly made my introduction and told him about the letter I had couriered to him. He asked me to resend the letter by fax. The following Sunday, we got a telegram from him saying ” Received letter. Very interested in the project. When can we meet?” My wife and I were thrilled. I traveled to Mumbai by the earliest available train. I was excited. I was meeting a filmstar for the first time. Besides, the prospects of the TV serial becoming a reality seemed very possible.
Shashi Kapoor was a warm and friendly man. At our first meeting I gave him a quick run down on my life and a brief on the serial. I gave him a copy of the story. He took a look and told me that we should meet up a few days later. When we met up for the second time, he told me that he liked the story and that the serial should be made. Over a lunch of fish and chips the following day at his home, he asked me as to how I proposed to take the project forward. Of course, those days Door Darshan was our only option. I told him that I would get in touch with the TV company and start working on the formalities.
While the TV serial project was gaining ground, I continued to travel to different locations visiting various organisations. In the autumn of 1989, I visited the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped (NIVH) at Dehradun. Staying at the NIVH guest house, I was woken up early on the second morning by the sound of cricket commentary. I quickly dressed and stepped onto the adjacent playing field. What I saw and experienced was fascinating. I saw a group of blind kids playing cricket. Most incredible. The ball rattled as it moved. The players were tracking the ball hearing the sound. The passion was huge, the enjoyment was obvious and the action was mind-boggling. I realised that I was witnessing something special. A scene that was going to shake and completely change my life. A little voice in my heart told me that this was going to be my first project.
“In His time, in His time
He makes all things beautiful
In His time
Lord, please show me every day
As You’re teaching me Your way
That You do just what You say
In Your time”