Monday, October 20, 2014

A Visionary Eye

Dr. Reshmi Pramod lost her eyesight when she was 26 years old. But that has not deterred her. She has just opened her ayurveda hospital and research centre at Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram

On a sunny September morning, Dr Reshmi Pramod gives a sweet smile as Dominic Presentation, Kochi MLA, cuts the ribbon to inaugurate the Jeevaniyam Ayurveda Hospital and Research Centre at Kochi. The 37-year-old Reshmi is wearing a bright red saree, along with a pearl necklace and earrings. Everything is fine about Reshmi, except when you look at her bespectacled eyes. They are not focused anywhere. Yes, Reshmi is visually challenged.

And it happened in 2005. One evening, when she was standing at the gate of the ayurveda clinic at Wayanad where she was working as a doctor, she could not spot out her husband as he arrived in his car. Later, at home, when she was looking at her notes, while studying for the Public Service Commission examination, it was blurred. Tests revealed that she was suffering from macular degeneration (loss of vision because of damage to the retina).

The doctors said it was too late,” says Reshmi. “All the cells had died.” Within months, Reshmi lost her sight. She felt panicky. It had been her dream to have a career like her father, Dr. M. Bhaskaran, who runs a hospital and maternity centre at Koyilandy. So, it was no surprise that she went into a depression. “To be visually challenged from birth is acceptable,” she says. “But to lose my eyesight, at age 26, was too much to bear.”

However, the good news was that she had become pregnant, following two miscarriages, and gave birth to Diya on June 19, 2005. Then, a few weeks later, her father read out an article in a Malayalam newspaper about Habib, a visually challenged man, from birth, who was studying for his degree. “That was very inspiring,” says Reshmi. “I called Habib, and asked him about the way he read and wrote.” Habib told her about the different types of software available: Jaws, Talx and Kurzweil.

Another person who influenced her was a software engineer, Sudheer, 49, who works for an IT firm. He had lost his sight when he was 34. “Sudheer said I should continue in the medical profession,” says Reshmi. “He told me there are visually challenged doctors in the US who are able to do surgeries.”

On August 21, 2006, Reshmi, along with her husband and child, moved to Kochi, to avail of better job opportunities. While in Kochi, she met MC Roy, the Project Head for the Society for the Rehabilitation of the Visually Challenged. It was through Roy that she got a job in a firm at Bolghatty Palace. “I had to look after their Ayurveda centre and give consultations,” she says.

Reshmi dealt mostly with foreigners. And she was struck by their attitude. “Foreigners did not have a problem in accepting me even though I have a disability,” she says. “But that is not the case with Malayalis. They always look at me with sympathy. And they find it difficult to treat me on par with a sighted doctor.”  

Nevertheless, Reshmi grew in confidence, and later, she was given the responsibility of handling the Ayurveda Centre of a few hotels of the Taj and Oberoi groups.

MC Roy says, “Reshmi is an enterprising and determined person. She has a pleasing nature and always stays in touch to get the right advice.”

Meanwhile, at her new hospital, Reshmi has come up with an innovative concept: marrying Ayurveda with psychology. So, Jeevaniyam has a tie-up with the Institute of Psychological Empowerment and Research Training. “The aim is to help corporates de-stress and get relaxed,” she says. There is also a Centre for Learning Disability, a vocational training and yoga centre.

At the inauguration, Reshmi's daughter Diya sang a beautiful shloka. Of course, Reshmi has never seen her. “It was painful initially, but I have got used to it,” she says. “But I can see her in my mind.”

When asked to describe Diya, she says, “She has a dimple in her chin, like my husband. Her nose is slightly blunt, while her hair is wavy like mine. Diya told me she has my brown eyes.”

Reshmi pauses, smiles, and says, “You don’t need eyes to see, do you?” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and New Delhi) 

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