“Normal is not an opinion; it is a consensus”- Isabella Carter, A Shadow of a Dream.
Life, they say, is not a bed of roses. We always have to try our best to deal with adverse situations in the most positive manner.
One such person who exudes positivity and has fought against all the odds is Pranjal Patil of Mumbai, Maharashtra. She cracked the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Examination, 2017 with a brilliant All India Rank (AIR) of 124. Her story is both inspiring and motivating for the young minds of our country.
Even with 100% visual impairment, Pranjal has battled all the problems that life has thrown at her. Not once has she bowed down to her impairment, instead, she has set an example for anyone who feels restricted by their disabilities.
The Logical Indian had the opportunity to talk to Pranjal Patil in an exclusive interview where she took us through her journey.
Born and brought up in Ulhasnagar, Mumbai, Pranjal had always been a meritorious student who was keen on learning more and more.
But, at the tender age of six, she met with an accident which changed a part of her. While at school, a friend mistakenly stabbed her in the eye with a pencil, which cost her an eye. The accident was a severe blow to her confidence at the time.
One could sense a tone of acceptance in Pranjal’s voice when she talked about her visual impairment. But this was not to be mistaken for defeat.
Although she fondly remembers her visual memories, she does not get regretful about losing her vision. Pranjal is a strong woman and is aware that regrets would not get her anywhere.
She courageously embraced the mishap that had come her way and had focussed on leading her life fruitfully. But there were more troubles in store for young Pranjal, even though she had the vigour to fight them all.
Twelve months after her accident, the medicines started to have side effects on her, as a result of which, she lost vision in her second eye too and became blind for life.
However, Pranjal was determined to finish her education. Enrolled in Kamla Mehta school, Dadar, a special school for the visually challenged, she learnt Braille and started writing her exams using the system. From standard 8 to 10, Pranjal studied in a different school for integrated education where she was assigned writers to help her with the written examinations.
After staying in a hostel till standard 10, Pranjal decided to complete her high school from Smt Chandibai Himathmal Mansukhani College, Ulhasnagar.
But newer challenges were in store for her.
Pranjal’s schooling had been in Marathi medium but the college she took admission in, followed English as the medium of learning. Gaining knowledge in a new language was not easy for Pranjal, and she took some time to adjust to the changes.
Furthermore, the books and notes were not available in Braille, and that posed a huge problem for her.
“My mother was supportive during this time. I used to bring class notes from my classmates in college, and she used to read them out to me which I then wrote down in Braille,” she said.
“It was not an easy task for her too; she had to read through different kinds of handwritings and make sense of them for me. The subjects were new to her, but she tried to help me as much as she could,” continued Pranjal.
When asked if the college authorities were of any help to her, Pranjal was candid enough to say that she did not get much help from her college which not equipped to deal with students like her.
Introvert and shy by nature, Pranjal was not able to gel quickly with people. “I don’t know if it was because of some fault of mine, but my classmates could never become my friends. They were respectful towards me, but one does not only expect respect from their friends, right?” she said.
However, Pranjal was a bright and a hard-working. She stopped her college in Standard 12 with a whopping 85% in the humanities stream. “I know I am boasting about myself, but it is a fact that people hardly score so well in Humanities, that too in the State board,” she said humbly.
After graduating from school, Pranjal took admission in St Xavier’s, Mumbai. The college was far from her home, and she had to travel by local trains. Although Pranjal was confident about travelling alone, she said some people used to dampen her spirits during the trip.
“People did not like the fact that someone like me could dare to dream big, they mostly advised me to take admission in nearby colleges,” she said.
Pranjal resented the negativity around her; some days she would arrogantly reply to them, while on some other days she would turn a deaf ear to the insensitive comments.
St Xavier’s was a wholly different environment for Pranjal. The college had students coming in from educated backgrounds, and Pranjal started doubting her capabilities. But with the help of the resource centre for the visually challenged in St Xavier’s, she was able to make excellent progress.
The Resource Centre was run by Professor Sam Taraporewala who was also visually challenged and a former student of the college. It was here that Pranjal learnt using computers.
During her time at Xavier’s, she also took part in various extra-curricular activities – she had participated in Antarchakshhu, an event to sensitise people about the visually challenged. She also worked relentlessly for making books and other resources accessible to the visually impaired by talking to several authors and publishers. Meritorious as she was, Pranjal graduated top of her class in college as well.
JNU, Delhi: A new avenue for Pranjal
Pranjal enrolled herself in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) for a postgraduate course in International Relations. Scoring good marks, she applied for MPhil and PhD in the Centre for West Asian Studies and got through successfully.
JNU was a life changing experience for her where she said she did not feel ‘out of place’. Contrary to the life she had earlier, she easily made friends in JNU and had a thriving social life. With supportive professors and friends, she was doing well for herself. “JNU changed the way I looked at the world; it gave me so many good memories – it was this place that made me feel my thought process is not something that needs to be questioned,” said Pranjal with a hint of enthusiasm in her voice.
Preparation for UPSC
JNU gave Pranjal the time and opportunity to prepare for her UPSC examination. The first time she sat for the paper in 2016, she secured an All India Rank (AIR) of 773 and was assigned railway services.
But the offer letter never reached her. On further probing, Pranjal was told that due to her 100% visual impairment she was deemed unfit for the job.
Although broken-hearted after receiving such response from the authorities, she went on with her preparation and this year she secured an AIR of 124.
Throughout her life, Pranjal has been able to prove all the naysayers wrong, and this year she shut all the negativity by securing the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) – at one of the most difficult exams in the country.
The Logical Indian congratulates Pranjal Patil on her success and wishes her all the very best for her future endeavours. Pranjal’s story is an eye-opener for anyone who thinks that people with disabilities are not as competent as us ‘normal’ people.
“All my life I have been trying to prove people wrong and working against differential treatment that society tends to give to the people with disabilities. I would want to carry on this fight until the last day of my life,” said Pranjal.