Real Heroes
Category : Real Heroes
posted Date :
Total No.of views :
Total No.of Comments :
0 / 5 (0 votes)

 To the nearly 24, 000 visually-challenged readers in Maharastra, Swagat Thorat, 54, is a figure worthy of administration. Thanks to his efforts, twice a month they can enjoy something they would have ordinarily forsaken-the joys of reading a newspaper. This Mumbai-based theatre personality, documentary filmmaker and journalist is the founding force behind Sparshdnyan, a unique Braille newspaper in Marathi, which offers articles on health, music, literature and current affairs among other things to its patrons.

    Working for the benefit of the blind, has long been a pet cause for Swagat. As a kid growing up in the state’s Ahmednagar district, he remembers his earliest brush with the visually-challenged community. “On my way back from school everyday, I used to encounter a group of blind astrologers. I would stop and chat with them for 10-15 minutes. Their life-experiences fascinated me,” he says.

  Later as an adult, Swagat would go on to work closely with others like them. In 1993, he did his first project with the blind-a documentary about two schools in Pune for the visually-challenged-and in 1997 he even produced a live audio-drama based on Helen Keller’s biography. That same year, he directed another play Swantantryachi Yashogatha, in which 88 blind kids enacted India’s independence struggle. Swagat says, “During my interactions with these children, I realised they all loved to read. I felt stirred enough to do something about it.”

    Spearheading his own agency, Newsnet, at the time, Swagat produced a Diwali special issue called Sparshgandh for the next four years, which was the first ever Braille periodical published in Marathi. “People then wrote back to me demanding more than an annual issue,” he says. From 2002-2007, he spent all his effort on procuring a Braille printing machine, renting an office space in Mumbai and training his two staff members to handle the production of a regular periodical. “In 2007, when we published Sparshdnyan’s first issue, all 100 copies were sold out,” says Swagat.  Today, it is a 40-page bimonthly that reaches nearly 400 subscribers and features contributions from prominent Marathi journalists like Rajeev Khandekar and Raju Parulekar, who don’t charge a fee for their inputs. “Our subscribers re-circulate the issues to others. We also have a scheme where people can donate the subscription fee (960 INR) towards taking care of subscription for those individuals who can’t pay for the paper. We have 3, 000 such readers on the waiting list.”
    Swagat bears the production costs of the paper (30, 000INR per month) single-handedly through his work as a wildlife filmmaker and serves as the paper’s editorial decision-maker, paying close attention to the language used in it. “To write for the blind people, you have to think like them. So ‘fry the onions till golden brown’ will become ‘fry for two to three minutes,” he says, adding that stories relating to astrology, cricket and crime don’t make the cut. “I don’t believe in fate but in hard work and experience. Cricket is all over the broadcast media. As for crime stories, they affect even the sighted. So imagine the impact it will have on the blind, many of whom do battle depression,” says Swagat.
    For Sparshdnyan though, the news has only been good so far. Swagat regularly receives around 600 letters in response to every issue. It makes him happy, no doubt, but he says, “There is much to be accomplished to make education accessible to the blind.”