- My mother is fond of saying, “one is disabled if one does not make full use of abilities”.
- Hi, I am Turab Chimthanawala, a Company Secretary from India.
- I have been partially sighted since birth and apart from this challenge, nature served another cruel blow with the loss of my father Dr. Hamdevafadar, at only 6 months of age.
- However, divine blessings and the ‘never-say-die’ attitude of my mother Dr. Shenaz, drove me forward.
- Tackling blindness has been a significant accomplishment, apart from that I would like to believe with utmost humility, that I have accomplished many other things (which many sighted people haven’t).
- At present, I operate with the assistance of a screen reader on my laptop and iPhone and a white cane for mobility.
- Here is my story of how I overcame all the odds with the right attitude and mindset and emerged successfully.
Acceptance of my disability as I was growing up
“If one makes her weakness her strength, life would be more beautiful and fulfilling.”
I am suffering from Leber Congenital Amaurosis which in layman’s language is a defect of the retina and thus partially sighted since birth!
During my childhood, I considered my visual disability as a challenge that I had to tackle to be at par with others.
With the right attitude, my mother’s consistent support and motivation, I tried to do all that a sighted child would.
I studied in an integrated CBSE school, attended classroom instruction, attended social and religious functions, and even played with other children…of course, I used technology to help me with this!
Though this mindset made me very resilient, in hindsight it had its disadvantages as well!
When I tried to emulate the other children, I failed and it killed my confidence, making me feel more excluded from the crowd.
For e.g., I bumped into others while walking (as I avoided using a stick), never managed to locate the ball while playing football etc. Thus, I was mostly excluded from all informal gatherings especially in school.
Over a period of time, things started to change, largely due to more accepting surroundings and I finally began to make friends with blindness! Moreover, I connected with many successful blind professionals.
When in college, my eyesight began to deteriorate further and I could no longer read, write or walk independently like in the yesteryears. However, on the positive side, life became a lot simpler.
For greater speed and accuracy, I began using screen reading software for working, stick for walking, scribes to write exams, etc.
By taking the requisite support, not only did I achieve the desired results, I began to ‘be myself’ instead of aping others.
So, my tryst with blindness has been interesting, right from treating my disability as a challenge to overcome, I have gradually moved towards accepting it as a trait of my personality!
Challenging the odds to pursue a career in Law and CS
My mother’s bold step of admitting me into an integrated CBSE school worked out well due to the kind support and cooperation of the teachers who lit up my academic life in all ways.
Also, my dedication paid off as I secured high academic grades throughout with merit in the 10th and 12th.
Despite being eligible for admission to many premier law schools and B schools across the country (all on merit basis), I took admission in the five-year integrated BA LLB course in my hometown, Nagpur. This was mainly due to my family’s insistence and apprehension of letting me live in totally unfamiliar settings.
I performed really well in college ranking among the top three in the University.
Simultaneously, I also decided to pursue the Company Secretary course from ICSI (The Institute of Company Secretaries of India).
Becoming India’s First Visually Impaired Company Secretary
I qualified CS Foundation and Intermediate with the help of books with enlarged text and increased exposure to sunlight.
Once I cleared CS Intermediate I commenced my training at PVS Corporate, a reputed CS firm in Nagpur, under CS Nilesh Jain.
At the initial stage, the job of a trainee involves: executing the various compliances for clients under the Companies Act and other allied legislation, from their incorporation to their winding up. This principally involves ‘filing the respective e-forms’ along with the supporting documents, on the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) website.
To prepare the supporting documents, the data had to be taken from existing documents provided by clients and from the company’s particulars on the MCA’s website. While filling in details from client documents, I used a handheld magnifier (if they were in physical form)…this was very time consuming for me as often the handwriting was too petite or too much cursive!
Sometimes, clients supplied documents in soft copy. However, they were mostly scanned. My problems were compounded as the Ministry website especially the e-forms were totally inaccessible with my screenreading software.
In short, what the sighted could do in an hour, I took several hours!
Fortunately, I had a very understanding boss (and very helpful and encouraging colleagues).
Looking at my struggles and knowing my good intellect, my kind boss shifted me to more cream work, requiring greater mental and less physical effort like helping him with client opinions, drafting agreements, researching on latest amendments, preparing procedural checklists and the like.
During this time I also actively participated in the seminars and conferences organized by the Nagpur chapter of ICSI.
Fast forward, after my training, I prepared for my CS Professional exams (Final level). Due to further deterioration in my eyesight coupled with a vast syllabus, I began taking the assistance of readers (for studying) and scribes (to write my exams).
In 2017 against all odds, I qualified as a Company Secretary, is one of the first visually impaired Company Secretary in India!
Taking no shortcuts and giving no excuses!
In Feb’2017, for the first time, I got an opportunity to live by myself. I was interning under Advocate and Solicitor Kanchan Pamnani at the Bombay High Court and thus moved to Mumbai for a few months!
Apart from boosting my legal acumen, this experience enabled me to live and function independently in totally unfamiliar settings.
For greater academic and personal development I took admission in NALSAR University of Law Hyderabad, for LLM. Here I was fortunate to learn from accomplished teachers, be exposed to very intriguing academic instruction, attend talks by luminaries in diverse fields and befriend very intelligent, helpful and loving students.
In 2018, after completing my LLM, I aspired for a career in Mumbai. However, before moving I hoped to get a good grasp of e-form filing (which I couldn’t grasp in training), and that too in a comfortable and supportive environment.
I would like to point out here that e-form filing is a mundane and clerical job, which I never aspired to do in my career! However, its knowledge forms the foundation of a successful CS practice. Also, I didn’t want my blindness to limit my exposure to any task.
Luckily, two of my seniors had launched their firm GP Associates in Nagpur and had established an expansive practice in only a few years. They kindly gave me an opportunity to learn MCA filing.
Moving from my hometown Nagpur to Mumbai and living…all by myself!
By about mid-October 2018, I began exploring opportunities in Mumbai or some large corporates in my hometown, Nagpur!
I applied to many vacancies, forwarded my resume to many acquaintances, while most were full of praise for my credentials and abilities, the buck always stopped! Irrespective of my credentials, it was very difficult for a visually impaired to get their foot in the door, more so in CS where there was no precedent!
Fortunately, on a brief trip to Mumbai, I could get a personal interaction with CS Manish Ghia a leading CS practitioner in Mumbai.
Unlike prior conversations, where my blindness (whether relevant or not), was the be-all and end-all of the discussion, he laid greater emphasis on my qualifications and experiences and how I could use them to best serve his organization. The discussion pertaining to blindness was only restricted to the functional and logistical workarounds.
After a detailed discussion with him and a senior member of his team, he offered to hire me.
Getting a break in such a reputable firm, was the best start to my Professional career in Mumbai!
During this time, I have been part of vibrant youth movements and regular workshops, conferences and talks on diverse topics.
“What is it living by yourself with Blindness?”
I have been living independently in Mumbai for the past three years. To live and travel independently, I use technology, intellect, and of course common sense!
I am organized as well…my room and especially, my cupboard is meticulously organized into drawers and boxes!
I depend on Uber and at times the kindness of Mumbai Rickshaws for my commutes. Swiggy and Zomato (food delivery apps) take care of my food cravings and I use BHIM UPI and PAYTM for payments.
Above all, I am fortunate to have an amazing band of friends and well-wishers ready to step in wherever and whenever required.
“Life of a disabled is extremely challenging.”
It is worth mentioning that life for the disabled is extremely challenging for we have to operate in a world made for the able-bodied. Thus, we have to keep chalking out new solutions.
For example, post demonetization, the Indian currency is difficult to identify for the less sighted. Thus, I keep only Rs. 50 notes in my purse. Many apps and websites are not accessible with my screen reading software (installed on my laptop and iPhone). Thus I have to depend on others.
To quote Robert Frost I’d say, ‘I have miles to go before I sleep’.
It has been a challenging yet fruitful journey thus far. With God’s grace, I aspire to embark on a successful professional career.
I have always tried trying to achieve my maximum potential. Every human has to face her own adversities, for me, my set of adversities – blindness and losing my father, hit me right at the start. Thus, I learnt to grow up with them.
I would add that in the past few years as I have begun to write and even joke about blindness, acceptance has made it much easier.
I am fortunate to have an excellent support system which has helped me cope. I am grateful to the CS institute especially the Nagpur chapter for its support and cooperation throughout my education especially Late Dr. V.K. Jain, CS Praveen Sony and CS Rohit Jain.
Turab Chimthanawala is a highly motivated Company Secretary and super enthusiastic individual. He is currently working for a leading Company Secretary firm in Mumbai and aspires to work and grow in his present job. In a few years, he endeavors to pursue a course in a top university and then work for an organization to the best of his ability.
He is also a writer, storyteller and has featured in various articles written on World Disabled Day 2018 and 2019 respectively.
(Article edited by CA Uma Krishna and image by Ankit Lodhi)
The CA Story is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel and get updates with latest stories of finance professionals.