A teacher at heart, his ‘never say die’ spirit inspires all

Shreenarayan writing on a blackboard
Photo: © Sarita Brara

A teacher at heart, Shreenarayan believes no physical disability can come in the way of the development of a person, and everything can be achieved through hard work. His life and achievements are no doubt an inspiration not only for the physically challenged but to society at large.

His father had thought it better that he died. But today, his son has made a big difference in the lives of so many people. Here is the story of a courageous young man who lost both his forearms but still managed to equip himself with multiple degrees and, incredibly, gain renown as a teacher of the visually handicapped, besides fighting for the rights and happiness of the physically challenged.

“How are you going to write and teach Braille to the children?” That was the question put to Shreenarayan at an interview he attended for the post of teacher at an Institute for the visually challenged. The question was valid, since Shreenarayan had both his arms amputated.

“If you permit, I can demonstrate to you,” was the young man’s calm response.

So impressed was the interview board that Shreenarayan was told, “If you clear this interview, it will not be because of consideration for your physical handicap but your merit.” That was the recognition of his spirit that helped him overcome all odds and come out a winner.

Shreenarayan was in Class VI when he suffered an electric shock. Doctors told his parents that his arms would have to be amputated at the shoulders in order to save his life. His father was not in favour of amputation. “It is better that he dies. Who will take care of him? He is good for nothing without his arms,” was the man’s stand. But his mother felt otherwise. After taking some herbal medicines for a month, the boy’s condition improved so much that doctors said his arms needed to be amputated only below the elbows.

Back home, the young boy found that his mother was often at the receiving end of his father’s wrath because she had gone against his wishes and arranged for the amputation. So, he decided to leave home, and his mother gave him some money to help him till he found his feet.

With the help of some influential people, Shreenarayan was admitted to Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Institute. There he got artificial hands. “But the artificial hands would break after every two or three days,” he rues.

That was when a woman working at the institute asked him to try to write by holding a pen with his elbows. In a matter of a few months, he could not only write at a normal pace, but also do chores using his elbows.

There was no looking back. After Shreenarayan completed his graduation, he did his LLB and B.Ed., and qualified as an educator for special children as well. “When I came to study in Allahabad for my graduation, I realized that one has to fight for one’s rights, whether to get hostel accommodation or avail of the quota of college seats reserved for the physically challenged,” he says.

Shreenarayan and others like him formed a group to get their legitimate rights. “Many a time we sat in dharna (protest) or resorted to hunger strikes,” he recalls. “We had to deal with corruption at almost every step.”
Today, Shreenarayan is known for his competence as a teacher. He has also been honoured for his untiring efforts towards the education, economic empowerment and dignity of the physically challenged.

Shreenarayan playing with students at Rajkiya Mamta Vidyalaya Kodihar
Shreenarayan playing with students at Rajkiya Mamta Vidyalaya Kodihar
Photo: © Sarita Brara

His first job was to teach visually challenged students at the Rajkiya Drishti Badhit Vidyalaya Mahokhar Banda in Uttar Pradesh. The students there did not believe that a teacher without hands could write or read Braille. They even urged him to teach them orally, empathising with his disability and not wanting to burden him. And when he showed them that he could indeed write and read Braille, they were astonished.

“Since they could not see, they would touch and feel me to see whether I really did not have hands,” remembers Shreenarayan with a smile. He taught there for four years before moving on to the Prayas Rajkiye Aksham Vidalaya in Pratapgarh. He currently works at the Rajkiya Mamta Vidyalaya Kodihar in Prayagraj.

“In class he used to behave like a teacher, but outside the classroom he was more than a friend,” recalls Shishupal, a student of Shreenarayan, now doing his post-graduation in history.

His students say that they used to drop in on Shreenarayan at his home, offering to help, but he always refused these offers.

“Shreenarayan Sir is our role model,” says Ram Kirpal, who is also doing his post-graduation. “We were really surprised that Sir could handle everything independently, including washing his clothes and making his food. What I liked most about our Sir is that he is not only a very good teacher, but also cheerful by temperament and even today we seek his advice and suggestions regarding our career, and he is ready to help us in every way.”

Shreenarayan sitting at his desk
Photo: © Sarita Brara

His willingness to help others has made Shreenarayan an activist. Although he himself was lucky to find a devoted companion, he realized that often, parents were not keen to get their handicapped children married. So with the help of an NGO, he organised the marriages of five handicapped couples more than a decade ago. Now it has become an annual affair. The newly-wedded couples are given almost every household item they need to start their lives together. Shreenarayan and his group of friends also help unemployed couples generate income, whether it is by opening a shop or by some other means of employment.

A teacher at heart, Shreenarayan believes no physical disability can come in the way of the development of a person, and everything can be achieved through hard work. His life and achievements are no doubt an inspiration not only for the physically challenged but to society at large.

Courtesy: Grassroots, September 2019