It was like any other day in school for six-year-old George Abraham. He went to La Martinere school in Lucknow, where he lived with his aunt. The school was open to boys till the fourth standard.
That day, as usual, the teacher found that the little boy was holding the book next to his nose. She complained and George had to undergo several eye tests. The doctors found that his retina was damaged beyond repair, and said he would lose most of his eyesight.
George’s parents, who lived in Hubli, Karnataka, came to Lucknow to take him back with them. His father was an engineer with the government and was posted to remote places. That was in 1964.
Thirty-four years later, in 1998, came his greatest moment of triumph. George Abraham, had successfully organised the World Cup Cricket for the Blind, in Delhi. Teams from New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan, England, Sri Lanka, South Africa and India participated in it. In 1999, Wisden, which is like the Bible of cricketers, mentioned his contribution to the sport. Cricketers like Steve Waugh and Sachin Tendulkar supported his cause, in television advertisements. The President of India gave away the trophy to the winning team.
For the players it was sport as usual. And once the spectators had got used to the special rules like underarm bowling, it was a competitive game like any other. The cricket ball has ball bearings inside and thus makes a sound, enabling the players to bat, field and catch.
George became known as the man who used the game of cricket to encourage a competitive spirit and confidence among the blind. He is the man who singlehandedly put cricket for the blind on the world map, literally. Since 1990, he has successfully organised cricket championships for the blind at the school level, and at the state level.
His list of achievements is large. In 1996, he was one of the five Indians chosen to carry the relay torch at the Atlanta Olympics. Today, he conducts communication workshops for high-level executives in companies like WIPRO Infotech, among others. And for the past two years, he has been holding workshops for blind youth all over the country. His message to them is that they should try to be achievers in some field or the other. They should reject any gesture of charity. In 1993, he received the Sanskriti award. It was to recognise that he has the potential to do even greater things.
If you ask him how he did all this, he mentions the five Ds: dream, desire to fulfil the dream, discipline, determination and dedication. But all this did not happen in one day.
To learn about how it happened, it is necessary to go back to his childhood. Though the doctors had advised the boy’s parents to put him in a blind school, they chose to put him in a ‘normal’ school, the Kendriya Vidyalaya.
That was the best thing they could have done. For, after making fun of him initially, George’s classmates realised that he was not only just like them, he was better at studies and sports than them. More importantly, he was willing to guide them. From then on, they read to George and he explained. It was a perfect give and take arrangement. That was the beginning of George’s journey to excellence
The Boy who Lacked Sight but Had a Vision
A star student throughout school and at the prestigious St Stephen’s College, George excelled in studies, music, debates as well as in state-level athletics. He feels that it was his mother’s confidence in his abilities that helped him come so far.
But, he entered the darkest phase of his life after he finished college in 1980. His mother’s death left him shaken. For the first time, he felt that his lack of vision was a handicap in getting jobs. He was back in Kerala with his father, and depressed.
Then, one day, at 4 am, he realised something: that he was the only one who could help himself. Borrowing Rs. 500 from his father, he came to Delhi, stayed with a friend in his hostel room and started looking for jobs in advertising. Having somehow got an appointment with the chairman of a big company, Advertising and Sales Promotion, George impressed him with his sheer confidence. The job was his! In 1984, he shifted to the advertising giant, Ogilvy and Mather, as copywriter.
The turning point came in 1988. George was 29 years of age. He went to a blind school for the first time. He was horrified to see how blind young people with lesser handicaps than him had no confidence at all. For two years, he travelled on a grant provided by a non-governmental organisation to decide what he wanted to do.
One day, he saw some blind children playing cricket in Dehradun. The ball had ball bearings inside. The competitive spirit was tremendous. That’s when he decided to use cricket to boost the competitive levels among the blind. It was also a way of telling the world to treat the blind as people with the potential to achieve anything. Like normal people.
It is not surprising that Discovery Channel should have picked him as one of the Discovery people from India.
“There is a lot of truth in the saying that when you give you receive in multiples of what you give,” says George. When he was 10, his mother once said that she believed he would write his autobiography. It was her confidence in him that has taken him this far, says George. And he is ready to travel further.
(In the special articles under the Parenting section, you can find a thought-provoking article by George Abraham, on whether the blind constitute a liability or a potential resource to any society, and especially Indian society.)