Visually impaired Sudhakara Kurup has been running a stationery shop in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district for the past 46 years. He manages it without anyone’s help — from opening and organising the store to interacting with customers and keeping track of finances, the 69-year-old does everything on his own.
“At the age of 14, I realised I was gradually losing my vision. Regardless, I do everything that people with vision do,” Sudhakara tells The Better India. He adds, “When I was still studying, there was a period where I started noticing that my surroundings seemed a bit blurry every morning I woke up. I began facing difficulty in seeing objects from a distance. By the time I turned 21, I’d lost my vision completely, due to glaucoma.” He adds that he feels privileged to have been educated till Class IX.
At the age of 21, Sudhakara was hospitalised for almost three months in a Thiruvananthapuram hospital for his eye treatment. However, the doctor told his family that even if a transplant was done, he would not be able to see anymore.
The initial shock and confusion over how he would lead a normal life grew into an understanding that he had to adapt to a life without vision. “I decided that I didn’t want to be a disappointment to my family members,” he says. Slowly, with their help, Sudhakar began adjusting to his new life.
“We can’t plan everything out in life, and can’t avoid unexpected challenges. These force us to step out of our comfort zones. If I had hidden away from this challenge, I would have missed the opportunity to learn and grow,” he says.
Eager to start earning to support his family, he reached out to friends and extended family members to inquire about employment opportunities for the visually impaired. “Math was my favourite subject in school, and I used to tell my parents, as a kid, that when I grow up, I will own and manage a shop. Keeping this in mind, my father helped me open a two-room shop near our home when I was 22 years old,” he says.
With a few annas he received from his father, Sudhakara began his venture, which he now continues independently. He hails an auto to take himself to the market, where he sources goods from a friend’s store. He makes sure to arrange the products on the shelves on his own, because if someone else were to do it, Sudhakara would not understand where these products are kept. “I have been placing the products in the same places for the last 46 years. Even though I can’t see through my eyes, my inner mind sees and recalls everything,” he says. He adds that the only time he faced a problem was during demonetisation in 2016. It took him about a week to learn the length and width of the new notes.
Vallikodu villagers call Sudhakara kochettan, which means younger brother in Malayalam. “The villagers are helpful. If I take long to get the products from the shelves, they remain patient. They say I can take my own time to give them the product, or the balance amount,” he says.
He says his legs are his navigator. “I generally don’t use slippers, and this helps me navigate through places easily. I calculate the number of steps from one place to another in my mind — for example, there are 80 steps between my shop and my houses,” he says, adding that even within his store, he can move with ease, because he’s aware of exactly where everything is placed. He also makes sure others who enter his store don’t move around things without his permission.
He doesn’t use a stick to walk. “I have seen my village, and know my area clearly. I am comfortable with walking without a stick, and till date, have not fallen anywhere,” he says.
Sudhakara often sleeps in his store, because he believes that if he is available all the time, villagers can fulfil their requirements at any time of need. “I go home to bring water to the store, bathe, wash my clothes, and eat,” he says. In a sense, kochettan’s store operates 24 hours a day.
He adds, “I live with my brother, his wife and their two children. Whatever profit I earn, I use it to buy new products, and the rest goes to my family. The amount is not too large, but I do what I can,” he says.
Sudhakara says he does not wish to be a burden on anyone. “I know everyone at home loves me, but I make sure I do everything on my own, without causing them any disturbances. My wish is to work in my store till my last breath,” he says.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)