Published: 19th July 2018
Blind Poets Society: How this Braille Poetry Magazine in Bengal has been inspiring the visually impaired for two decades
Sparshanandan Drishtihinder Braille Patrika is a West Bengal-based annual publication that was first published in 1999
We seldom realise how blessed we are to be able to imagine things, derive meaning from ideas, images and sensations around us. The things we see around us play a crucial role in forming our imagination. But imagine the plight of visually impaired people, especially those who have been blind since birth. They don't have the luxury of imagining because imaginations are essentially the sensations that are stored in our memory and they don't have any memory of an image to recollect. Blind people only have auditory imaginations and their dreams are auditory as well.
There have been several initiatives in the past to help blind people study, work or get on with their regular lives, but there's hardly been any effort to create an opportunity for them to spend some quality leisure time. That is until a West Bengal-based organisation came up with a yearly braille poetry magazine, Sparshanandan Drishtihinder Braille Patrika. First published in 1999, the magazine’s simple white pages open a colourful world for those who have no memory of images or sensations. "Visually impaired people also have the right to showcase their talent, do what they like. But there has always been a vacuum in this field, we wanted to fill that, do something fulfilling about it. Thus, we decided to tap into this aspect and started the country's first braille poetry magazine," says founder Satyajith Mandal.
Penny for your thoughts: This magazine for blind lets them express their thoughts
Poetry is a form of expression of experiences, its interpretation and imagination – mingled together. The works of blind poets differ starkly to the works of poets who can see. “Their idea of surroundings is not based on images. They feel it, unlike the people who can see,” adds Satyajith, who is also the editor and publisher of the magazine.
“It is quite an experience to read their poems, thus we provide them with a platform to express themselves by organising several programmes like poetry festivals and competitions. We focus mainly on schools where we distribute our magazines every year. The magazine generally contains about 60 to 70 poems written in Bengali,” explains Satyajith.
The competitions also offer prizes ranging from Rs 300 to Rs 1000 for the top ten poets. They also have a special Sparshanandan prize of Rs 4000 for senior poets, which they have started giving out in 2014
The organisation has also been successful in encouraging many older visually impaired poets to come forward and showcase their work. People travel from several parts of West Bengal to come and participate in the reciting competitions and festivals.
Sanju Panna, a resident of Alipurduar travelled over 600 km just to elocute one of his verses at a literary meet organised by the association. Sanju, who has been visually impaired since birth and partially dumb travelled alone on a train for one and a half days. “The enthusiasm of those who send in entries for our magazine is overwhelming. Sanju's poems are so inspiring and his mere attempt to travel alone just to recite them is a huge revolutionary step for this community. We would like to encourage more people like this to come forward and showcase their talent on our platform” added Satyajith.
Poetry has always been an inspiration for 45-year-old housewife Rita Banerjee, she started writing them since she was a child. “Whenever some incident triggered a sensation within me, I penned that down. It is not just a form of expression for us. Poetry gives us a sense of freedom,” says Rita. "Every year I recite at the poetry festival. These people are doing a great job. It's a great platform for us and we would like this initiative to reach more and more people across the country," she adds.
Satyajith claims that their initiative is a first-of-its-kind in the world. "We want to travel across the country and spread the word so that more people get the opportunity to do what they love," he concludes.