God deprived the duo of what should have been a birthright — the right to see. But chess and technology not only made them competent but also better in many fields than the sighted.
Pradhan siblings — Prachurya and Soundarya — from Odisha, now have options galore. One of the duo can become the country’s first blind international master in chess and grandmaster in the future; first blind software engineer, first blind physics professor, first blind astronomer and above all a role-model for the visually challenged community.
Prachurya, who played his first national tournament at Panipat two years ago, won the U-19 national title for the blind at Latur last year and retained it earlier this year at Mumbai. Two months ago, he finished runner-up in the All-India Fide Rating Chess Tournament for the blind at Hyderabad, where Soundarya emerged champion, defeating top seed Darshan Patel.
The Pradhan siblings would have represented India in the recently concluded Chess Olympiad for the Blind at Chennai, but missed the opportunity narrowly by failing to secure places among top 10 finishers in the National A Championship. However, the duo feels pretty confident to make it to the Olympiad next time in 2014.
“The boys are too young for the Olympiad and we are also not in a hurry for that. They need some time to mature. But I am very optimistic about them becoming the top two blind players of the country in a couple of years,’’ said Kesha Ranjan Pradhan, a former National ‘B’ player, who introduced the boys to chess and imparts coaching to them till date.
Behind their success, however, is a saga of sacrifice and dedication by a few men and women and also the story of a huge talent pool nurturing in rural India.
Pradhan siblings father, Rabi Ranjan Pradhan and his mother Jayanti had a tough time coming in terms with the fact that both their two children were born blind. It was at this juncture, Kesha, Rabi’s elder brother came to their rescue.
“He has been our saviour, showing us the way to fight back. I cannot find a better brother and a human than him,’’ admits Rabi. In 2011 Rabi decided to pull his two sons out of Bhima Bhoi School for the Blind in Bhubaneswar and the traditional Brail method of education and admit them in the mainstream educational system at Boden. “It was the toughest and most important decision of my life but I took it, realising that it is computer, not brail, which can help my sons overcome the handicap,’’ recalls Rabi.
Now when the siblings are moving along the road to success, doing well both in chess and academics, Rabi feels vindicated. “The boys still have a long way to go. But seeing their development, I feel relieved and confident,’’ he observes.
It’s a netbook, which Prachurya received as a gift from UK-based Milky Way Trust after winning the title in the U-19 National Chess Championship for the Blind at Latur in January 2011 that transformed their lives. “Jaws, a screen-reading software helps us hear the writings on the netbook screen and act accordingly,’’ explains Prachurya, who convinced his parents to buy one such gadget for Soundarya.
The siblings are fond of science, Prachurya has already proved his talent by giving a demonstration on God Particles in his school exhibition. Soundarya has keen interest in astronomy which he indicated at his school exhibition, demonstrating Dutch astronomer Jan Oort’s 1950 discovery of Oort Cloud, which proved that comets come from a common region of the solar system.
Born with Lebers Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), a disease genetically passed through families, the boys have no regrets. “We are happy for being what we are. Blindness rather has given us a challenge in life and we have accepted it positively,’’ says the 15-year old Prachurya.
Soundarya, two years younger, feels sad about the way society treats the visually challenged. “People show sympathy by calling us visually impaired, but do very little to help visually challenged become self-dependant,’’ he says.