My life – An Unforgettable Journey – By Prashanth L. Kamath
I’m Prashanth Kamath – I suffer from Cerebral Palsy since birth. At present, I’m working as a Content Writer in a CSR Project called “I Got Garbage” in Mindtree Ltd.
My life has been full of ups and downs – and it has been an unforgettable journey so far. I’d like to share some of the events / experiences I’ve had in my life and how I managed to get to where I am today.
My hope is – my story might inspire some people – which could help them to realize their true potential.
So, Let’s get Started…..
My early life:-
At the time of birth – I had sustained Brain Damage. Nobody could tell how long I would survive. Doctors said it could be a few days to a few months. An Astrologer was consulted – and he said that I wouldn’t live beyond 18 years. So, there was Hope…
But right from the very beginning – I was a very sick child. As soon as I was fed milk / food – within the next hour or so – I’d throw up. This continued for a better part of my entire childhood. Apart from this – I had very little control over my body (particularly my Neck). I couldn’t crawl, sit or stand. When I was 2 years old – I looked like a 3 month old infant. And when I was around six years – I looked like a two year old (who couldn’t talk, walk or think).
To keep it short – my infancy / early childhood was my darkest hour. Thankfully, I was fortunate enough not to have spent most of that time in Hospital (probably because all the Doctors had just given up on me – and decided it’d be better to keep me at home – until I died). I’m also lucky that I don’t remember anything much from that time.
All through this time, my parents (especially my dad) never lost faith in me. In his free time, my dad would attempt to teach me alphabets, numbers and other stuff. He would also tell me stories and sing songs. It was very difficult – because there was no way to tell for sure whether I was listening to whatever he was saying or not.
When I was about 6 years old, my father got transferred to Bangalore. Here my parents took me to couple of schools. For the most part – there were only some Physiotherapy sessions – nothing more. Then, after about two years – my parents heard about this new school that had started just a couple of months back.
This school was the Spastics Society of India (now the Spastics Society of Karnataka). This would prove to be a big break in my life…
Schooling at SSK:-
When I joined SSK – I was among the first batch of 6 children to be taken in there. The school was nothing more than a house that had been taken on rent. The teachers were ABSOLUTELY PHENOMENAL! We’d call them ‘Aunties’ – and rightfully so. As soon as we arrived at school – our Aunties would literally carry us to class. Their Dedication / Commitment was OUT OF THIS UNIVERSE. It’s almost impossible to find examples of such dedication and love – anywhere in the world.
I’d like to remember and recall a few names – Sunitha Aunty, Paul Aunty, Barker Aunty, Padma Aunty, Uma Aunty, Rabi Uncle, Sumithra Aunty, Dolly Aunty, Priya Aunty Geetha Aunty and Prema Aunty – just to name a few. I consider myself really lucky to be able get love, knowledge, support, warmth and understanding from all these wonderful people.
When I joined school – I couldn’t even sit up. Many of the children had to be tied to their chairs (including myself). Slowly, as the days, months and years went by – we learnt how to sit, how to crawl, how to eat, how to dress up, how to talk, how to walk and how to learn. We were being slowly transformed into Human Beings.
On every single day – we faced new challenges. But with the kind of support we got from our teachers – no challenge was too big. I was among the first batch of students to get formal Academic education. I was admitted directly to the 4th standard. From then on – I never looked back. 7th standard was probably the best time that I can recollect from my school days. We couldn’t be given Homework – because none of us could write. And there would be nobody at home who could write for us. And for our 7th standard – we had a Public Board Exam (back then). We also had a new class teacher – Dolly Aunty.
She almost had an unlimited level of energy. She almost singlehandedly taught us all 7 subjects. We were almost transfixed seeing her teach us almost all day long – without taking a break. And when we came to school the next day – a whole bunch of class work assignments would be waiting for us. We had to complete everything before classes for the day could begin. At the end of the year – the results pretty much spoke for themselves. I had Topped the entire district with a score of 91% (my highest score in any exam till date). All of us had passed with first class marks and our faces were on the newspapers. This was our Golden Moment. But our joy was short lived. Our Favorite Dolly Aunty was leaving us and going to Calcutta. I remember, I cried for 3 days straight. Back then, there was no facebook, no whatsapp, no mobile phone, no internet, nothing. So we just lost contact with her.
By the time we were in Std X – we had a new set of teachers. Ours was the first batch of students (with Cerebral Palsy) to appear for the Std X board exams. For a brief period – there was some uncertainty as to whether we could appear for the exams or not. We were finally allowed to appear for the exams – along with Blind students. I managed to score around 68% in my Std X board exams. I was happy.
Later, in 2002 – our class teacher (Geetha Aunty) was conferred the Padma Shree Award at the hands of our Ex President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. It was a Proud moment for me. I’m proud of the fact that I was one of her students.
Then my father managed to get Transferred to Mumbai – where I’d get a chance to complete my graduation.
College Education – and Beyond:-
Once in Mumbai – I wanted to continue with my education. But it wasn’t going to be easy. For the first year and half – I managed to attend a couple of computer courses at the NJDC (Chembur). But then – it was proving to be very difficult – as there was no transportation facilities. I had to discontinue my education for the next three odd years.
It’s all thanks to my sister – that I was able to get admission to College. A bright and hard working student that she was – she had won a number of prizes from the college management. But when she received those prizes from her Principal – she started remembering my plight at home and broke down. And she used that opportunity to pitch for a College seat for me. Her request was considered – and I was promised a seat in SIES College of Commerce and Economics.
My father quickly sprung into action – and we were able to get a official quarters from Canara Bank – which was right behind the college building. It wouldn’t be wrong to say – this college was made for me – and I’m glad that I was able to use this opportunity to the fullest.
By the time I entered college – I had lost 5 years. But the wait was worth it. Quickly I had my own circle of friends. I’d like to remember a few of my friends – Ramesh, Rangaswamy, Hari, Murugan, Ebanizer, Kumaran, Abhimanyu, Lucy, Sudha – among many more. All of them were supportive and helpful.
A special mention about the college staff – all of them were very supportive. So much so that – I started feeling that college was an extension of my school (SSK) from Bangalore.
Back in school – I had taken Kannada as my second language. However in college I had to take Hindi. Hindi was totally new to me. In fact, in my first term exam of my 11th std. I had flunked in Hindi. This was the first time I had failed in an exam. I decided to take this up as a challenge. And I did succeed. In my 12th std. board exams – I stood first in Hindi in our college.
In my first year B.Com. – I managed to score 78% overall. It was almost a complete rout. I stood first in our college – and I had managed to win some 6 subject prizes out of 8. I’d keep up this track record until my B.Com. final year board exams. For my consistent and exceptional Academic Track Record – The Management of SIES College gave me the Best Student Award – this is something I’m very proud of. I’m sure – all my college professors are also equally proud of me for this.
I had come from a special school, gone into a normal college and made my mark there. I consider this to be one of my greatest achievements in my life so far.
I had completed my graduation (B.Com.) in the year 2000. I’d be getting my first job – a good 7 years after that. Before Joining Mindtree – well, I was looking for a job. I was sitting at home. But I was not sitting at home doing nothing. I was earning (Much more than what I do at present). How? Well, many people in Mindtree who have interacted with me – know the answer to that question.
Anyway, the point is – I wanted to work for a Company – where I could meet new people and interact with them. I had sent out my resume to almost every IT Company I knew at that time. And I had Received Replies from exactly 1 Company (Philips Medical Systems Pvt. Ltd.). But even this reply was more of a Consolation. Nothing was Concrete. I could join if I wanted to. But the distances involved were not helping us to arrive at a decision.
Career in Mindtree.
This year, in August – I completed 10 years in Mindtree. Ten years is quite a long time. I joined Mindtree on 9th Aug 2007. Just to put things into perspective – there was a time when I myself had doubts about whether I could work in an office environment for more than Ten hours. And even if I could – I believed that I couldn’t last for more than 10 days. Yet, somehow, someway – I’ve remained intact for this long…..
One day – I was asked to come for an Interview at Mindtree. I was very apprehensive / tense. But then, I had nothing to lose. Although I never really had a job – I was earning (sitting at home).
There’s a certain fearlessness that comes from being in such a position. While others have a constant fear of Losing their job (for some reason) – I don’t !
Anyway, the Interview went well, and after about another three months – I joined Mindtree. The first couple of months were tough. There was no fixed transportation facilities. We had to rely on Auto-rickshaws – which were very costly and highly unpredictable. In fact, for the first month or so – my mother accompanied me to office.
My First few weeks at work were rather cool – full of learning for the most part. But quickly I realized that it was difficult for me to handle large volumes of work. And that remains true even to this day.
I was initially part of the Genie Team (which was limited only to the people function back then). I have fond memories of my colleagues (especially Shaik Faizal) from those days.
Then, After about two years – I had a chance to work on a literary project under Mr. Subroto Bagchi (one of the Co-founders of Mindtree). Result – I became the Proof Reader for Subroto’s book ‘The Professional’.
In the beginning, I had a limited friends circle in Mindtree. But I wanted to reach out, to be counted, I wanted my voice to be heard. So I started this practice of writing ‘Thank You’ emails. Typically, when I completed one year in Mindtree – I’d be sending out such an email to all the Top Bosses in Mindtree. It so happened that one such email that I had sent out – caught the Attention of Mr. Subroto Bagchi.
And then, one day – both myself and my mother were called in for a meeting with Mr. Bagchi. Somewhere deep inside – my mother was a bit apprehensive. But in reality, that meeting turned out to be much more positive and exhilarating than we could ever imagine. Mr. Bagchi was simple, down to earth and straightforward. He had quite a few words of Appreciation for me. We hadn’t even met before. So this Appreciation came as a bit of a shock to both myself and my mother.
Mr. Bagchi was quick to point out that I had a good grip over the English Language. He said, many Engineers in Mindtree (and other Companies) – can’t even write one or two sentences in English without committing mistakes. My mother added that I was not well read – because I had physical / practical difficulties in reading. Mr. Bagchi was really surprised and taken aback. How could a person who hasn’t read a single book in his life – manage to write so well? – he wondered…
Then he told us that he was planning to work on his Third book (The Professional). Then he offered me the opportunity to be his Proof Reader / Research Assistant for this project. I was Elated and I accepted the offer right away. A thought just crossed my mind – How could the Chairman of a Company choose me to be his Research Assistant? Even now – I find it difficult to answer that question.
Work on this Literary Project was really great. Most of the interactions between Mr. Bagchi and myself would happen over email. I had to maintain a version controlled repository of all the articles / chapters – that he would be sending me almost every 2 – 3 days. I had to read them, make corrections and send it back A seasoned writer that Mr. Bagchi was – I had very little work in terms of actually making corrections. Rather, this was more of a learning exercise, a refreshingly different kind of exposure to new Ideas / new Philosophies and new styles of working. The Version Control part of the job was a bit tricky at times – but very soon I came to grips with it. And I’d like to believe that I did a reasonably good job in this project. So much so – that Mr. Bagchi has written a couple of paragraphs about me in the Acknowledgment section of the book. Oh, Just for the record – ‘The Professional’ is most arguably the First book that I have read Completely in my life – and I have the privilege of reading this book – before anyone else in the world.
I still consider this to be one of the high points of my career in Mindtree.
Thereafter, I had an opportunity to work on at last a couple of Technical Projects (in the area of Assistive Technologies). These projects were quite interesting and I absolutely loved working on them. But due to some organizational turmoil and some other reasons – none of those projects were Released to the public. I Consider this phase to be a low point in my career so far.
In April 2013, work started on a new project called ‘I Got Garbage’ – a project led by Mr. Prashant Mehra. This project (and its leader) – was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I was extremely lucky to be given a place in this team – right from the beginning. The first few months of work on this project was ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE! I can never forget that period in my life!
I continue to work in Team IGG ever since. Today we have a Stellar Team of around 75 to 80 people working here. I’ve had the opportunity to work in a number of different roles over the past few years. Everything about this project is at a Stratospheric Level. If you extend your hands a little bit – you can touch the vacuum of Space! Undoubtedly, this is one of the best projects anywhere in the country – and I am really proud to be a part of it…
I’m pretty much the same person – that I was when I had first joined Mindtree. To be very frank – I’ve not changed much over the years. Probably, I’m the only person in the company – whose disability has some serious limitations on the work that they (I) do. Just to elaborate a bit on my limitations – I type just with my little finger (on my right hand) – which is painfully slow and frustrating, I need help in having my lunch or even a drink, and of course, I move around in a powered wheelchair.
I think Credit should go to Mindtree – for being so inclusive and disabled friendly. I don’t think I could have survived for so long – in any other company.
I’d like to mention one particular incident here…
When I joined Mindtree – in Aug 2007 – and up until about 2010 – we hadn’t been given Powered Wheelchairs. In my case, my movements were highly restricted. On a typical work day – I used to come to office at around 9am – and remain seated on my desk till the evening (5pm). Lunch used to be served on our office desk itself. It was tough. Moreover, when we needed to move into a meeting room or something – we had to take help from the Security / Support Staff (who are all so understanding / supportive / wonderful). Nevertheless, the feeling of independence / freedom was somewhat lacking.
And then, one day (somewhere in early 2011 or so) – there was this corporate level Demo organized by Ostrich Mobility – a powered wheelchair maker based in Bangalore. Naturally, I was asked to be part of this Demo – along with 3 or 4 other people. The demo was good. After the demo – we all went back to work. I don’t know what the others did after that – but I distinctly remember what I did. I wrote an email addressed to the Top Management of Mindtree. I explained about our situation and requested them to consider purchasing Powered Wheelchairs for all physically challenged employees in Mindtree. I stated – This is something that could change our lives forever…
The ‘trick’ actually worked. Ashok Soota (the then Chairman of Mindtree) – took this intent to its logical conclusion. My powered wheelchair was one of the first chairs to be purchased by Mindtree (and I still use the same powered chair). Today, there are well over 8 such powered wheelchairs being used in Mindtree – and every new employee (with a physical disability) who joins Mindtree – gets a powered wheelchair right from day one. I believe that this has been my greatest contribution to Mindtree so far.
Couple of observations here…..
* Mindtree is probably the only company in India – to have gone this far – to ensure a better quality of life for its physically challenged employees. I don’t know if any other company has done this. I’d put Mindtree – right on Top of the list of Most Inclusive companies.
In many other Companies, Physically challenged employees are kept separate from the others. They have their own dedicated floor / work areas (where tools / assistive aids are provided to them). But in Mindtree, there is no such separation. As a result, the entire company has become more disabled friendly / inclusive. I think this is a Model – which other companies can follow.
* The understanding, support and help that we get from Mindtree’s Security / Support Staff – is just Unprecedented / unparalleled. I’d like to take a moment to Acknowledge and Thank each and every one of them. I owe my existence in Mindtree – to their efforts and love.
* If there is one thing that I’d like to be remembered for in Mindtree – it’s for being a ‘Change Agent’. A change agent is just an Instrument of Change. It should take nothing to its head. The credit for the Music being played – actually goes to the Player of this instrument – credit goes to Mindtree…
The Change Agent theme – just got to a whole new level – in my current role. At present I work as a Content Writer for a project called ‘University of Commons’ (UoC) – one of the many interesting projects under IGG. In this project – we try to envision an Idealistic Society of the Future. And then we’ll try to bring that Idealistic Society to life – using a combination of volunteering, other programs, events etc. All these endeavours are designed to create Change Agents – who will then change Society for the better…..
In Short – I think I have a much longer path to tread. I hope I get to be with IGX / Mindtree for a much longer time. I also believe that my life has been a truly Unforgettable Journey so far.
Hope this journey continues……
* stood 1’st in District in Std 7 Board Exam (with 91% overall)
* was among first batch of students to appear for Std X board exams (68%)
* in college – was among Top 5 in the class (all 5 years of college)
* stood 1’st in Maharashtra among disabled students in Std 12
* Won prizes in a number of Essay competitions / Quizzes
* won the Management Award for Best Student of the years
Work And Beyond:-
* was the Proof Reader for the book ‘The Professional’ by Subroto Bagchi – one of the Co-founders of Mindtree
* Won The State Award given by Govt of Karnataka for PwDs in 2010 (Republic day)
* Paticipated in a few Hackathons and won couple of prizes
* Paticipated in a few Tech Fests within Mindtree and won couple of prizes
* was featured in the India Inclusion Summit 2017
Solutions Worked on / Ideas Concieved
* wrote a whitepaper on Alternative Uses of Kinect Game Controller
* wrote a whitepaper on Sub-Vocal Speech and its possible Applications
* worked on few projects in the area of Assistive Technologies
* was part of a team that has built a Social Inclusion Platform (Platform Commons)
* Has developed an Android App (OKK) and few Alexa Skills
* was responsible for Mindtree’s decision to provide Powered Wheelchairs to all PwDs
* have a closely knit network of PwDs within Mindtree
* External Advocacy depends on Available Opportunities (such as IIS / Congress for PwDs)
* more Advocacy options to be explored in future…
Coping with COVID-19
-> This year has been really bad on all fronts for everybody
-> i’m basically enhancing my skill sets / knowledge – it will help in future
-> avoiding going out / protecting health to the extent possible
-> avoiding unnecessary tensions / fights in home – preserving mental peace / happiness
-> most important – Hope for a Better Tomorrow / Never say Die…