Their Own Beacons

From the darkrooms of SKIMS six visually impaired technicians have made numerous patients happy and doctors proud. Nazir Ganaie reports.

Beeline of patients, waiting for their turns outside the main X-ray department of valley’s premiere S-K Institute of medical sciences would be amazed; that the prints they take with them come from a darkroom manned by people who cannot see.

The job of these visually impaired employees is to operate the darkroom including loading and unloading the x-ray film in cassettes. After going through the process, the x-ray prints are handed over to the patients for seeking expert opinion from the doctor.

The job of the six odd blind technicians working in the SKIMS since its establishment stands out from the rest of their colleagues in the department.

“They are so active that sometimes I feel they work better than the normal people in the hospital here,” says Syed Rafiq, a senior technologist at SKIMS. “We had never any problem or complaint about the work they are assigned. They have been performing their job quite professionally and with utmost dedication.”

“We get astounded while witnessing the blinds reporting the right spots early in the morning and leaving for their homes by their own.”

In his late forties, the grey bearded Rafiq says, “most of them (blind employees) are my seniors in the hospital. Nobody questions their job.”

For visually impaired Aijaz Ahmad Dar, 45, time and work is more precious than discussing things with a stranger or for that matter with news reporter. For him every face is strange, he believes, they live in the world of ‘sounds and imagination.’

While for his another colleague, another visually impaired technician, 35-year-old Ishfaq Ahmad Wani, years of his working experience in the state’s premiere hospital has earned him a respectful position among colleagues as well as in his family.

“Our job is to operate the dark room, we load and unload the x-ray film. This has been our primary duty since the establishment of this institute,” says Ishfaq, lauding the role of its first director, Dr Nagpal. “The light has gone from us, we don’t have any concept of light but we feel proud that we are a part of this premiere institution where our services are being utilized for the betterment of the society.”

The group of visually impaired persons posted in various darkroom centers of SKIMS includes, Rehamatullah Mir of Uri, Baramuallah, Salima Jan of Natipora, Aijaz Ahmad Mir of Saida Kadal, Muhammad Sidiq and Muhammad Sabir of Ashimukam. They say the other two Pandit blind employees migrated in late 90s while another died.

Ishfaq enquires whether this reporter is from a radio station or newspaper. After hearing that I was from a newspaper, he said “Can you record our voice and broadcast it later, because we too want to hear ourselves talking about the profession we are in?”

“We are the people who work to make a patient believe whether he is going to see the light of life. The doctors here have always appreciated our work,” Wani adds.

A darkroom is a room that can be made completely dark to allow the processing of light sensitive photographic materials, including photographic film and photographic paper. Darkrooms have been created and used since the inception of photography in the early 19th century.

Meanwhile, Aijaz comes out of the dark-room and says, “Look, if you really want to write the plight of blind community, you should go to various places and see the condition of blinds, you should see what life they are living, otherwise I feel it’s like all these NGOs who have minted money keeping the blinds on their agenda,” says Aijaz, who has few more years to reach his superannuation age.

“You know, Louis Braille started a system of reading and writing used by people who are blind or visually impaired.  This is 2012, and in Kashmir where are the schools for blinds, where are the facilities which governments have been claiming to provide us? He asks. “They want to see but they want all of us to remain blind including you as well.’

Aijaz has also worked with Radio Kashmir as a casual announcer. He says he has been listening to various discussions and political commentary programmes on Kashmir issue.

“I have interviewed the various high profile bureaucrats including the former deputy home minster. I never thought I can’t do the job which I have been assigned,” he says.

Recalling the Chari-Sherief incident, he says “I still remember Mark Tully had come to Kashmir and Yusuf Jameel Sahab reported the incident in the evening so beautifully that he narrated that they could smell the human flesh burning and dogs prowling for their food.”

“He had used all his senses while reporting the incident, I consider him the real journalist, and you should follow such journalists to write about the society.”

Lauding the role of his blind staff, head, department of radiology, SKIMS, Dr Tariq Gojwari says that their performance has been extremely good ever since they joined the department.

“All these blind technicians have been doing a marvelous job in performing their duties in the dark-room,” said Dr Tariq. “Some of them are near the age of retirement, if you will look at their job history, you will be amazed how beautifully, honestly and with dedication they have run the radiology department. They are an important part of this department.”


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