At the tender age of 18, Divyanshu was told that he would have to learn to make chalk, build cane furniture, or become a telephone operator as he was blind now. Those were his only career options. In defiance, Divyanshu decided that no one should set limits on what he could or could not do.
Flash-forward to several years later – From running an IT company to being an avid adventurer, Divyanshu truly broke barriers.
How often do we limit the horizon of our dreams based on the reasoning the world throws at us? More often than not, we end up believing that the dream is lost even before we have tried. Divyanshu is one of those few who understood that you are the only one who knows what you are capable of. Being a fighter and loving a challenge, blindness was only another hurdle to power through.
The lost light
At the age of 18, Divyanshu’s disability took him by surprise. In a regular eye check-up, his doctor’s intuition led him to check his eye pressure. He immediately concluded that Divyanshu has Glaucoma, and will completely lose his sight. He had shown absolutely no symptoms and nothing could have prepared him for what he had just heard. For the longest time, Divyanshu stayed in denial. “The doctor told me that I was sitting on a ticking time bomb and that I would go blind soon. He didn’t know when, but he was sure I would.”
These words still did not prepare him for what was to come, and he continued to carry on with life in absolute disbelief. His sight slowly started to deteriorate and even reached the 50% mark. “Even at 50% you can still get people to believe you can see”. Life was still very normal for him and he got by even with driving, something he does not recommend for anyone to try and regrets doing so himself.
The much described horror of a dark world hit him when one fine day he opened his eyes and could not see. “There can be a countless times when you close your eyes and imagine what it is like to be blind, but nothing can create the experience of what it feels like to open your eyes and not be able to see. Nothing can replicate that.”
A disappearing world
Life was soon going to get extremely difficult for Divyanshu and there was nothing that he could have ever been prepared enough for. To learn some of the basic skills of getting by, he had to drop out of college. Despite the situation being extremely difficult for his family as well, he found them to be his biggest support system. “We just decided to brave it out”, he says. It was just as hard for his friends as none of them had ever known a blind person and simply didn’t know how to be with him. They tried to fit him in but they soon grew weary. “Many of my friends soon left and new ones came. I do not blame the ones who left, I understand”, he says.
Divyanshu was not born blind; he had seen the other side of the world. Everything he knew, he had to soon let go of. “It starts with things as basic as waking up in the morning and getting toothpaste on your brush. Everything had to be done differently now.” He remembers it being extremely difficult, but mental strength is something we starkly underestimate. How did he manage to get by? Didn’t he ever get frustrated? “I did get frustrated and I went through so many emotions. I can’t even begin to explain all of it, but I’ve always loved a challenge, and this was a new one.”
The most obvious option was to learn from a blind person. To his surprise, he didn’t know anybody. “There are so many blind people out in the world, but where were they? Reality hit me quite hard that there was not one I knew.” A Rehabilitation centre was another option – but the limiting principles they worked with did not sit well with Divyanshu’s spirit. “Every person needs to be treated with dignity, and no one should set limits on what you are capable of.” He found the skills imparted at these centres, outdated, and their principles disempowering. His only option was to self-learn. “I could be miserable all the time and swim in my pity pool”, he says. “But I chose to accept what happened and move forward.”
The blind can’t
In his short stint at the rehabilitation centre, Divyanshu was told that the blind can’t work in the IT industry. Every right denied to him was an opportunity he had to make for himself and a stone to turn. When many doors shut on him, he chose to learn computing with a little help from his friends.
Silencing the lot of disbelievers, not only did he pick up IT skills through self learning, he also ran up his own IT company for several years and walked away with a National Award from the president for his work in the field. Sadly, Divyanshu was soon set to find himself in a different kind of battle – one that would be for his life.
Death came knocking
4th December, 1998. Divyanshu was lying on the operating table. His lung had ruptured as an effect of Tuberculosis, which had gone misdiagnosed. He lay there for hours, listening to constant murmur from the doctors, who feared him to be dead soon. Ten hours of lying there soon went by and the doctors continued to fear that he would become a statistical blip. Divyanshu was set to surprise them. Driven by sheer will, he made it through 72 hours, forcing one of the doctors to give him a chance; and well, he made it through yet again.
The journey though was a tough one, being reduced to 32 kgs and brought to his knees quite literally. He had to begin with learning to crawl. This experience changed Divyanshu’s perspective on life “When you see death so close, you really learn to live”, he says “All the unnecessary things that seemed to matter disappear and life becomes more meaningful.”
The human touch
Divyanshu now decided to pursue other passions. His love for people and conversations drew him to Psychology. The path he had chosen for himself required him to step back into school, and the journey ahead wasn’t going to be easy. Institutions denied him admission on the consideration of him being blind, and this denial had begun to infuriate him. He challenged these institutions by saying, “Point out to me the law that allows you the right to deny me admission. If there is no such law, I shall get admission now, and if there is such a law, now is when we shall change it.”
His invincible spirit got him admission none the less; it however struck the egos of some of the faculty, laying out for him a challenging couple of years. They scored him well in couple of the subjects and denied him grades in the rest. He says now, recollecting with some humour, “I didn’t have to like them and they didn’t have to like me, I was there for a degree which I would take and walk out.” He proudly says that after a testing few years, he was the first in his batch to be placed. In the end, it was all worth it. Today he plays a big role both in individual counseling as well as in corporate training and runs Yellow Brick Road.
When mountains seemed too small
Divyanshu now started to make a mark in the area of mental health in India. He had been abroad and travelled far and wide to realise life elsewhere was so much more convenient as he was looked at as an equal, but India was home to him. Mental health continues to be looked at as a taboo. He dove deep into the field, looking for alternate teaching methods and training patterns to help give his patients the best of help.
In the story of the life Divyanshu led, he almost forgot to speak of his love for the outdoors. He is a mountaineer, goes snorkelling, and paragliding as a hobby and is a certified pilot, and well yes, Divyanshu does all this while being blind.
Given the perils life has put him through; Divyanshu believes that sports are the best way to unite people. He runs a not for profit organisation called Adventures Beyond Barriers, that aims to bring together the mainstream and the disabled. While giving the disabled the opportunity to fulfil their dream of adventure, it also helps make the mainstream aware of what the visually impaired can actually do. “So many of our blind runners have easily beaten those who have sight!”, he says with a chuckle.
Divyanshu for me is nothing short of a miracle, and in every way that he has lived his life he defines a better living. He says that, “Disability is not a problem, and every disabled person has accepted this a while back. The social barriers though are an everyday battle. Give us a chance and don’t write us off because you think it’s not possible.”
Effortlessly, Divyanshu defines for us not to set barriers on what we can achieve. There are going to be moments, people and situations that bring us down and limit possibilities. A strong sense of self belief can float you through the impossible. When things get tough, believe; believe that good times are just around the corner. Let not the burdensome opinions of society bog you down. At the end of these dark tunnels, what you achieve will leave you pleasantly surprised.