She prowls through the early morning, looking for a mirror in the room. She looked all around, but found none. She was quite agitated, until it struck her how futile a mirror would be in thisschool.
Lenswoman Sipra Das was at a blind school, where she was having a completely different experience of life. Her book ‘The Light Within: A Different Vision Of Life’ is a journey of her 12-year long endeavour to understand the lives of the blind. “We cannot see with our eyes but we can see with our hearts. You can see with your eyes but you cannot see with your heart,” Jawahar Kaul, the visually denied principal of the school had told Das on the very first day of her stay.
Das has worked with India Today for more than two decades, covering major political developments. Amidst the hype and hoopla of news photography that has seen her travel to numerous places, she found time to document the lives of the visually challenged all across the country. She has been shooting photographs for the book for over a decade.
The book begins with a photograph of blind children walking in a file on a winter morning to their school in the village of Fardagola in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district. The most striking view is each pair of tiny hands leading the other. Another picture narrates the story of Misri Sahani, a sightless fisherman in Buddhanagara village. He is the eldest of seven siblings who lost his eyesight at the age of two. He was under treatment for two months but unfortunately, the doctor passed away. His family and neighbors believe he is a victim of black magic. Despite all odds, he never returns home empty handed, and being a competent fisherman, earns something like Rs 5,000 a month.
Each story in the book is filled with simple narratives of life. Dimple Wadhwa was forced to leave her husband. However, she decided not to remarry a normal man. “He will invariably cheat on me,” says the sightless Dimple, whose father always treated her like a normal child and educated her. She is a post graduate now and works as a Hindi stenographer.
The most invigorating feature of Sipra’s book is the life stories of her subjects show that they all have emerged from their tragedies. Sipra commented: “They brought me face to face with blinding flashes of truth that would have remained outside my ken had their amazing lives not touched mine.”
The black and white evocative frames give serenity and depth to the images and manifest the famous saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.
The idea behind the book was to capture the extraordinary lives of visually impaired through images that would stimulate genuine empathy and awe rather than the usual mix of sympathy and pity.
The book reveals their tales of struggle and survival, despair, hope, resilience and triumphs.
These people not only lived lives on their own terms but also excelled in whatever they chose to do. Says a native of West Bengal’s Malda District, Nakul, with a coy smile, “A normal girl will get pure love from a blind boy, for the latter will be a loyal husband; he will never look at other women.”
Much has been known about Das’s indefatiguable nature and inexhustible energy. But seldom has the common fan of her photographs know that she lends a loving mother’s eyes to her work on physically challenged persons.
about the Author
India’s first woman photojournalist
Sipra Das has the distinction of being the first woman news photojournalist in India. She is as tenacious and hardworking as a photojournalist ought to be. Every day, day after day, she is out the in the field from morning to late nights, rubbing shoulders with male photographers. She is witness to many a momentous occasions which are more than a spec in modern Indian political history which she chronicled mostly for the iconic weekly magazine – India Today.
There were times when this diminutive, frail-looking photographer would struggle to get a glimpse at her object because of the bevy of hefty male photographers who would often block her way – sometimes out of jealously and sometimes due to gender bias. But, Sipra never let such hurdles blur her vision and focus. Somehow, she would steal her moment to get one of the best shots, out of the lot present there.
Yet, one of the most remarkable quality of this hard-boiled photo-journalist is that she has preserved her sensitivities. And this reflects in her compilation of photographs in – The Light Within: A different vision of life.