A boy lost his eyesight to a hereditary disease and was restricted to his home. After failed attempts to take his own life, a radio talk rekindles his hopes and gives him a direction. A decade later and various examinations after, Tariq Bashir teaches history in a college, reports Farzana Nissar
A young tall man, with golden bushy hair, wearing a pleasant smile delivers a lively history lecture to his class in his deep melodious voice. In the pin-drop silence, the students are attentive and nodding to what he says.
What is different in this typical classroom is that the teacher is unable to see his students. He may have the vision of managing his class but he lacks eyesight. He, however, does not look like a blind. He carries no walking stick and usually does not require a support.
Tariq Bashir, 38, hails from Andoora belt of Shangus, some 73 km south of Srinagar. An Assistant Professor, he teaches history at Government Degree College, Uttersoo. His teaching apart, Tariq is being seen a model: ‘how a man can still manage his life without even eyes’.
Born as one of the twins to his mother, Tahira Begum, Tariq was a normal child and his initial years were full of brightness. In the fourth standard, his parents and teachers noticed that Tariq had some problems in reading the blackboard. They mistook it for his clumsiness. But when Tariq was 11 years, his eyesight began to obscure. Soon, doctors diagnosed him as a case of incurable disorder, Retinitis Pigmentosa, a group of inherited eye conditions that leads to blindness. Tariq had already lost half of his vision at that time.
“It was a severe shock to me and my family because it came out of the blue”, recalls Tariq. “But life had to move on.”
Tariq lost eyesight but not the hope. So, he decided to continue his education. Raised alongside his twin brother, Farooq Bashir, Tariq passed his matriculation examination. By then, his conditions worsened and he decided to quit studies.
“Those were the days of the 1990s and the conditions were unfavourable,” Tariq remembers. “Since I had to move out of my village for further studies, it was very difficult so I almost gave up that time”, says Tariq.
Sitting home, Tariq contacted organizations like National Association for the Blind – Delhi (NAB) and National Institute for the Visually Handicapped, India (NIVH) in Dehradun. These organizations were ready to offer him a chance to continue his studies in their centres but the concern of his parents did not let him move out of the village.
“Those were the most difficult times as I thought I was useless. I suffered from major depression and even considered committing suicide number of times. I even ran away from my home,” Tariq said. “Fortunately I survived”.
In those idle years, Tariq discovered his love for the radio. He started listening to the programmes for differently-abled people with interest. One day, he heard a visually impaired person detailing the struggle of his life and how he survived. “I was inspired by his life and it was from his interview that I got the concept of the scribe,” Tariq said. “I got to know that a person can accompany me to the examination hall and write my papers.”
After a gap of eight years, Tariq restarted his studies in 2002. He wanted to study medical subjects, but he chose Arts because of less practical works and history became his favourite subject. He passed his twelfth class examination with first division and emerged topper in his school. This encouraged Tariq further.
Tariq then joined Government Degree College, Islamabad and began using a tape recorder to record the lectures. At home, his father used to read the texts for him and recording the points and listening to them back helped him to prepare for the examinations.
Tariq’s father, Bashir Ahmad Khan is a retired headmaster. His father almost dedicated his entire time for Tariq. “My father played an important role in my life. He read books to me, accompanied me to studies and always dedicated his time to me”, a grateful Tariq said.
Bashir Ahmad is proud of his son and considers him to be a role model for others. “My son is living a life of discipline and passion,” Bashir said. “Instead of letting his disability become an obstacle in his way of life he worked very hard to build a career as an educator and built a better life for himself and his family.”
Completing his graduation in 2006, Tariq bagged a seat for post graduation in history and Education, in the University of Kashmir in open merit. Though he had a claim for a seat on the basis of his RBA (Reserved Backward Areas) status and disability category, he opted for the open merit category.
Tariq was in his first semester in the University that he was appointed as a school teacher on a contractual basis. Tariq refused the job.
During the University days, Tariq became aware of various rights of differently-abled people. With his friends, he started the Disabled Association of Students of Kashmir University.
In 2008, Tariq completed his post-graduation in history and BEd through distance mode. In the same year, he stood first in M Phil Entrance Test. In 2009, he joined as general line teacher in the education department. Later, Tariq qualified the screening for 10+2 lecturer and in 2010 he joined as history lecturer in state-run Higher Secondary School, Shangus. Interestingly, the school refused to accept him because of his visual impairment and was readjusted in DIET, Islamabad where he served for five years. During this tenure, Tariq qualified SET (State Eligibility Test) and NET (National Eligibility Test) examinations. In 2016, he was appointed as Assistant Professor in history in the higher education department in Open Merit.
Tariq Bashir credits modern technological tools for making his life easier. He makes use of a variety of software programmes to stay updated. He readies for the class at home and his twin brother, a school teacher at Brari Angan, drives him to his college and later picks him up. The twins live with their parents in a joint family.
“There are a number of talking software’s available nowadays. I have an app that converts printed text into high-quality speech and there are audio books available offline,” Tariq said. “The talkback feature in androids is a service that gives you voice overlay of what is on the screen at any point. This undoubtedly is a great advantage for me now.”
After achieving what normally is very difficult, Tariq finally decided to settle in his life. In 2011, he married Mahina Lateef. She is post-graduate and has bachelors in education. However, she has decided against working and is a full-time homemaker. The marriage took place through a friend but Tariq met her before marriage. She lived in Brah Ranipora, almost 15 km away. “She said the problem in you could have been in me,” Tariq remembers her saying. They took marriage vows later. Now the couple has two daughters and Tariq thinks of his marriage as an effective partnership.
“My wife is well educated and is completely able. She didn’t see my blindness. She is an understanding partner and helps me in every possible way”, Tariq said.
Tariq is seen as a daily motivator by his colleagues and students at the college. “Tariq is doing a wonderful job and he has displayed his courage to overcome life’s odds,” Bilal Ahmad Shah, his colleague at the college, said. “It is rare to have a blind professor, his class offers an incredible memory. He is a hardworking and caring teacher who is always there for his students. He manages his class with voice interactions and is truly an inspiration for us,” adds Rumi Jan, one of Tariq’s many students.
Tariq says he sees it as his achievement to be a teacher. “I am in love with teaching and I never get bored,” Tariq said. “I want to work as a teacher as long as I am healthy.”
In order to not grow bitter, Tariq sees beauty in life and doesn’t dwell on what he would have achieved if his sight was not gone. “I too have some wishes. I desire to see my kids, to drive myself and to do a lot of things on my own that I cannot do,” a sad Tariq said. “But if I sit and cry on what I don’t have, it will just be wastage of time and nothing else.”
But the history teacher gets solace from what great Urdu poet Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib said:
Ranj Say Khogar Hou Gaya Insaan Tou Mit Jata Hai Gum,
Mushkilein Muj Par Padien Etni Ke Aasan Hogayien.
(For a person habituated of sorrows, sorrows disappear. So many difficulties fell upon me that everything became so easy.)