The Tree of Knowledge

Wednesdays end up being memorable, as far as I’m concerned. Out of all the seven days in the week, the fruitful meetings always take place, I find, on W-Day. Perhaps this is because I’m currently governed by Budhan, Great and Bountiful Lord of Numbers and Words. But I had the chance to take a look at the Vidya Vrikshah.

The Tree of Knowledge is in some ways a cliché; it is used oftentimes to describe events and enterprises that don’t really deserve such a warm epithet. Or perhaps it’s just the wishful thinking of people who run said enterprises, hoping that it will someday prove to be exactly what the name says. Whatever. The Vidya Vrikshah I visited turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It’s a small apartment, really, ensconced within one of the numerous multi-storeyed buildings right next to the MGR-Janaki College. Easy to miss, unless you’re looking for it. I’ve whizzed past this road so many times (heck, everyday, as a matter of fact), without knowing the dedicated team that was working inside one of those little clusters.

You find endless articles about the plight of the blind; you see them walking along busy roads, braving traffic, tap-tapping with their sticks. You feel sorry for them, wondering about their travails even in doing ordinary jobs, things that people with sight take for granted. The people of VV genuinely spend a good deal of their time making things better.

Originally a project started by retired IAS Officer Krishnaswamy, the project was developed in conjunction with a Dr Kalyana Krishnan, who is still part of the Computer Science Department in the IIT. He developed a software that can transliterate from Sanskrit t any Indian language, and even vice versa (as long as the conjunctions are the same – (words like ‘th’, for instance. It would be difficult for Thamizh.) They were involved with bringing out Sanskrit texts like the Vedas ad Upanishads into English and other Indian languages, and had just inserted audio into the software, when the same thought struck them simultaneously: why not develop something for the blind, something that would make them also, understand the nuances of computer skills, and put them in the running, along with the general populace?

Which is what a team headed by Vijaya Ramakrishnan is doing, right now. They’re actively involved in bringing the visually impaired up to par, acquainting them with the modern world of computers. So far, they’ve distributed around 400 computers, along with the software to school and colleges, not to mention actually training teachers in how to use the software.

“They’re set back as it is,” she says, dark eyes gleaming. “It’s up to us to make sure they don’t feel the effects of their disability anymore than they’re forced to.”


She showed me a few implements, part of the Universal Braille Kit, which is produced by the Worth Trust, and distributed even in the USA. “Over there, they connect it with key-chains,” she says. “It has three sliding plastic surfaces that have Braille characters inscribed on them. And young children, who haven’t developed much tactile powers yet, find it easy to start learning Braille with objects like these. It makes it easier for them to sense the characters on paper, as they grow up.”

Later, they graduate to bigger blocks, and geometry kits that have Braille characters engraved on them.


“The biggest loss blind children face when they’re growing up is the lack of stories,” she said. I agreed strongly. How many of them have the luxury of just picking up a book at a bookstore because they felt like it? “So we’re printing a short, simple story in Braille characters, and we send it around to 30 schools each month.”

“All over the state?” I asked.

“Yes. It’s the least we can do. We’ve been doing this for three years. Right now, we have a couple of volunteers who do it in Marathi. It’s so difficult to produce – each magazine costs around Rs. 50 – but we’re doing the best we can.”

As we speak, a couple of people (one of them is Sheila, a friend I’ve known as a Marathi resource person), came in, taking print-outs of a file in Hindi. Long arguments about font problems and floppies ensued. After which the grinning pair, mission successfully accomplished went off to get it transformed into a Braille document.

I complimented Ms Vijaya on the fine work they were doing.

“Wish us luck,” she said, as she showed me out. “We need pots of it.”

So they do.

If you’d like to contact them, they’re here:

Vidya Vrikshah
Centre For Disability Research, Development and Training
Address : 1/6. Ram’s Swathi Towers,
2, Durgabai Deshmukh Road,
Chennai – 600 028
Tele : 044 – 55283870
Email :
Website :

Comments are closed.

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.