Fighting All Odds – Jasdeep Kaur

Jyoti Shekar

We always idolize fictional characters as our heroes and get inspired by their larger than life image. Yet, if we look around, we can find many real life people who are more inspirational than these characters. Truly inspirational, because they have achieved success not in an ideal world, but in a real world facing many dynamic challenges. They fight against odds, fight against norms and keep themselves happy in every circumstance.

We bring you one such truly inspiring woman, Jasdeep Kaur. Truly inspiring, because not only does she lead a very regular life doing things she is passionate about in spite of losing her eye sight, she strongly believes that her blindness enabled her to bring out more from within.

SABRAS 3_4Jasdeep was working for an MNC and life looked all promising in a typical sort of way, when she was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, and lost her vision in her twenties. But instead of giving up and feeling defeated, she brushed herself up and went on to quit her corporate job. With her immense positivity, she immersed herself in music and social causes. She also got married and has a lovely daughter.

Currently, she runs Kirana Gharana Music Academy in DwarkaNew Delhi. She also works for DAISY Consortium which makes e-publishing standards for the visually challenged. Not only that, she is an avid environmentalist and dedicates her time to spreading awareness about air quality.

We spoke to Jasdeep about her journey and experiences with life.

Jyoti: It is indeed a privilege for Eyra to interview someone as awe-inspiring as you. Please tell us about your journey in music and what exactly is Kirana Gharana Music Academy all about.

Jasdeep: Music and arts have always been a part and parcel of me since childhood. From early school days, I started writing poems both in English and Hindi. I learnt various folk dances and got acquainted with sitar in school. But with time, studies took priority and after completing my Masters in Computer Applications, I started working for an MNC.

My journey through life since then has been like rafting on ocean waves. This naturally awakened spiritual thinking in me. I started visiting Gurudwara as a regular morning routine. Some unique things happened with me there. I used to get goose bumps while listening to kirtan, which started taking the form of some sort of vibrations. This intrigued me towards ragas and its potential to impact our body and mind. I decided to learn Hindustani classical music. My first teacher was Bhai Charanjit Singh, who used to sing kirtan in the Gurudwara. Due to his busy schedule, my classes were not regular.

My search and longing took me to Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, who belongs to the principal family of Kirana Gharana musicians and is awarded with Bharat Ratna Pt. Bhimsen Joshi National Award for his expertise and contributions to Indian classical music.Kirana Gharana has given many gems to the music world like Bharat Ratna Pt. Bhimsen JoshiPadamshri Ustad Shakoor Khan,Padma Bhushan Prabha AttrePadamshri Mohd. RafiBegum Akhtar, and many more. The academy intends to mentor the budding talent and add more stars to the galaxy.

Though I did not realise it then, a gate to musical highway was being opened for me.

Conducting Workshop with Guruji Ustaad Amjad Ali Khan in remote village Sirasu_Primary School (1)Regular discussions with him about the current scenario and fate of Indian classical music led to the establishment of Kirana GharanaMusic Academy. The academy is based on Guru-Shishya parampara and aims to provide training in Hindustani classical music in a structured way while preserving its soul. Since its inception, the academy has enrolled several worthy students and was awarded theGurukula Bhushna State Award by Kala Vikas Parishad in 2015 for its unique teaching methodology.

We are now launching Sabras Baithak series on Guru Purnima this year. The most unique thing about Sabras Baithaks is that anyone can become the host of the Baithak, and by doing this we want to bring the magic of Indian classical music and dance to the common man.

Apart from this, we have launched an event and artist management company Mulberry Leaves Events to look for career opportunities for the deserving talent.

Jyoti: It is one thing never to have had the power of sight, and quite another to have lost it after experiencing life for more than 20 years. Retinitis Pigmentosa is a horrible disorder for which you not only need a good doctor, but also a good counsellor to accept life. How did you become so positive as to go to the extent of calling it ‘enabling’? It is a classic example of turning things to advantage with courage. What did you first feel when you came to know and how did you cope up with it?

Jasdeep: Well, doctors take utmost care not to give their patients a shock, so the information that I may go blind came quite after I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. It was like knowing the depth of a problem bit by bit. Moreover, I was one of those carefree kinds so the sorrow didn’t really cling to me.

My life changed when I fell from the stairs of the corporate house that I was working for. My tailbone got fractured and I was advised bed rest for six months. This was the time that I started feeling worthless. After hibernating for a year, I decided to look for some work that I could do from home. I tried my hands on several things, but the breakthrough came with the opportunity to work as a technical writer for DAISY Consortium. Here I learnt how competent visually challenged can be.

This opportunity also awakened the artist in me. I started writing a blog where I published my poems and short stories, and also started learning Indian classical music. The life since then has never been slow and worthless. Rather it is more meaningful. Working for a corporate would never have been so fulfilling. I am doing everything that I feel passionate about, whether it is promotion of music and arts, doing something for the society, or surfing my inner world!

I ventured into this world only because I had the opportunity to hibernate and search for something beyond – aesthetics andspirituality. There are still many ups and downs, but my spirit is high. I truly owe this to all the people who always supported and believed in me – my husband, endearing daughter, entire family and all the lovely people I meet!

Jyoti: That is a very positive way to look at life! You mentioned your work with DAISY Consortium, which makes standards relating to e-publishing for visually challenged people. It is such a wonderful initiative. I feel that we still do not have enough ‘challenge sensitive’ conveniences in India. What progress have you made with this and how does the e-world work for visually challenged people?

Jasdeep: Technology has indeed equipped the visually challenged with immense opportunities. We have screen readers for computers and smartphones that convert text to speech, making it possible to work without using eyes. Visually impaired can now read books, surf the net, create documents, do accounting, develop software, use social media and apps on the phone, etc. just like the sighted. There are many other gadgets too that have made our life easy like talking watches, thermometers, goggles, etc.

It is the vision of great visionaries like Mr. George Bush, the founder member of DAISY Consortium that has transformed the lives of the differently abled. The mission of the consortium is to make every publication ‘born accessible’. This means that all accessibility features will be in-built in the publication. Though we are going leaps and bounds towards that direction, we still have to sensitize the developers to be conscious of the accessibility requirements while creating a software, an app, a publication or an internet page.

If all the developers take care of some simple accessibility norms, the digital world will be the same for visually challenged as for sighted!

Jyoti: Another important activity that you involve yourself in is the fight for environment. Please tell us about your work in this area.

Jasdeep: Deteriorating air quality had always concerned me. I stopped bursting crackers when I was an adolescent. But when my daughter was diagnosed with cough variant asthma which used to worsen after Diwali night, I decided to take some actions to curb it. I started by writing articles and sharing it on social media. I started requesting people not to burst crackers personally and it really worked!

Last year, I was invited to be a panelist in the workshop on deteriorating air quality conducted by Gurgaon First, an NGO working on sustainable living for the people living in Gurugram. Doctors, government officials and many social activists participated in the workshop. I would like to share a few things that we as responsible citizens can accommodate in our lives:

1. Plant trees wherever possible.

2. Keep indoor plants like money plant or snake plant in our houses that help in purifying indoor air quality.

3. Reduce the use of own car. Pool, use metro, or other public transport.

4. Walk for short distances. It is a mild workout for your body too!

Jyoti: This is definitely something we should all work towards, a sustainable environment. You know, after facing so many challenges, losing vision, leaving the corporate life and having a family of your own, and yet managing all of your work responsibilities, you are indeed a hero to us. What would you like to advice our readers about handling difficulties and coping with life? I mean, there are a lot of people who talk about courage, determination etc. but getting there is a task, and according to me, we cannot do it unless we embrace our fears to soothe them. What is your take on this?

Jasdeep: If you are thrown in a large body of water, you have only three options: let yourself drown, float or learn to swim. And someone rightly said that we regret in life what we did not do more than what we did.

Life, in my view, is a wonderful journey to experience. When you accept the situation as it is, acknowledge your fears and anxieties, and hold yourself responsible for all your actions, it becomes an adventurous expedition. Who doesn’t get a kick from a thrilling excursion!

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