Despite being born blind, Tiffany Brar is the face of an organisation that heralds the dreams of those bereft of sight. In this interview, she tells Greeshma Sukumaran how agonising it was to lose her mother at a tender age, to learn to live again, and her determination to help the visually challenged rediscover themselves and live a life of dignity.
Perhaps things would have taken a different turn if Tiffany Brar, a petite woman, now in her thirties, had not faced head on the myriad challenges that life has been throwing at her with uncanny regularity. Maybe there wouldn’t have been Jyothirgamaya, an organisation that endeavours to empower the visually challenged in different aspects of life and impart skills to live fully and independently in the real world. Or there wouldn’t have been a Tiffany Template for the visually impaired to identify the different currencies in use.
Even worse, life would have been a lot different for others trying to relearn how to live after losing their sight. Oozing with confidence, Tiffany has taken the less trodden path to help many rediscover the independence they have lost.
Tiffany Brar’s is an inspiring tale. Her extraordinary courage and perseverance has brightened up her life and that of many others deprived of sight. “I am just pleased that I have got the opportunity to do something for all the blind people and it’s a blessing to be part of this important movement,” she says. Born in Chennai, where her father, an army officer from Punjab, was posted on assignment, Tiffany changed schools frequently as she travelled the length and breadth of the country with each of her father’s posting- Darjeeling, New Delhi, Thiruvananthapuram and later Wellington. For the young Tiffany, it was her mother who sheltered her through childhood. Her doting mother would take Tiffany with her to places she otherwise could not have gone on her own, and showered her with utmost love and care. That was before the cruel hand of death took away her mother. She had barely turned 12.
“That was a tough time,” she reminisces. “I had to do everything by myself.”
Imagine, at 12, you have to start all over again. But she stood up, determined to walk by herself. After her mother’s death, her dad’s next posting was in Delhi and the little girl found herself lost in a big city. Tiffany opted to return to Thiruvananthapuram, where she would end up spending her teen years and the city remains close to her heart.
Wellington and Beyond
Tiffany did her schooling till 11th standard in Trivandrum before moving to Wellington in the United Kingdom, again as a result of her dad’s posting. Here, she met Vinita akka who gave her life a new direction.
Vinita akka was a domestic help at the hostel in Wellington, an establishment that would become Tiffany’s new home. Beginning by teaching Tiffany the little things around her, she helped Tiffany find her way around the house, fold clothes and make her bed. A new world was unravelling before her. After schooling, she went on to complete her degree in English literature in 2006.
Wedded to a Cause
Jyothirgamaya Foundation, which literally translates to, “leading to light” came into existence in 2012. Tiffany felt the need to establish an organisation for the visually challenged and the unique concept of a mobile school stemmed from her belief that, “If the visually challenged find it hard to access a school, then the school will come to them.”
Tiffany has been the face of Jyothirgamaya since 2012. She has trained many blind people in Braille, mobility, basic computer use, and life skills. She has recently initiated a pilot project titled, Road to Independence, which conducts training camps in all districts of Kerala. Through such efforts, she is hoping to reach out to the blind in large numbers.
Tiffany has travelled extensively inside and outside India; her impairment, never a hindrance.
She has been spearheading several initiatives to support and embolden the visually challenged. She remains a towering influence in the lives of people around her, giving talks and conducting programmes.
Besides the involvement with the organisation, Tiffany has also scaled many personal landmarks.
She has successfully done skydiving, paragliding, tandem cycling, and rope climbing. She encourages her students to try different things that the society would generally not associate with the visually challenged, because she believes disability should never be a hindrance.
Currently, she is engrossed in a project that has seen the launch of a preparatory school cum kindergarten for the visually challenged in the city where she lives.
“We have to make our roads accessible, public places friendly and parks open to everybody,” she insists. Having had to face many hurdles during her schooling, she would not want others like her to suffer or lose out on opportunities.
According to Tiffany, the lack of pre-schools for such children prompts their parents to send them to special schools. Through this initiative, she is hopeful that the visually challenged will get the best education at a tender age. Smt. KK Shailaja, Kerala State Minister for Health, recently inaugurated the one-of-its-kind preparatory school cum kindergarten in the State of Kerala. In the first phase of the project, children at the school will be provided Braille kits and training in the usage of technology, life-skills training, besides an opportunity to play games. “This programme is not just about learning.
After they get familiar with the basics, they will be encouraged to take up bigger responsibilities in the society,” she explains. “There will be plenty of activities to challenge their notions on the limitations imposed by blindness and show them the limitless possibilities before them and the fact that the world need not be a complex puzzle for a blind person to solve.”
As I sat down at my desk to sketch this piece, I chanced upon a new video of Tiffany that has gone viral. In the video, a young woman with short curly hair is seen addressing a young crowd on gender, equality and the challenges the visually challenged face in life. Here, she comes across as a confident, eloquent, charged and committed individual who has set out to make a difference in society. Oh, and she seems angry at public and government apathy. “The world is equally ours too,” she asserts while brushing aside negativity that the visually challenged evoke. How true of her struggles. After all, who dare stand in her way when she has taken it upon herself the role to conquer the world?