Law and behold, a blind lawyer!

Henna Achhpal

“I start my day at around six and spend time reading on my net book — for work or leisure — before getting ready for work. Breakfast is my most important meal of the day because I sometimes tend to miss my lunch due to work load. There’s no fixed time to reach work, it’s my own office! No two days are the same – on some I may have a client visiting me, on others I may be at court all day. I don’t like to go out on a work day but sometimes end up going for a movie with friends. I also enjoy theatre and travelling.” Sounds like the life of just another urban person? It is, the only bit we’d like to add here that 46-year-old Kanchan Pamnani is visually impaired.

Living with her mother in Malabar Hill, Mumbai, Kanchan was born with low vision which resulted in complete loss of vision over time. She has been visually impaired for over ten years but seems to take this with complete nonchalance, describing her day as if it’s a piece of cake to get through. “It isn’t,” she counters us, “but I didn’t study so much and work so hard to sit at home and cry just because I lost my eyesight.” We note her eloquence and safely guess that it helps her immensely in her profession.

Our search for fascination in this ‘simple’ life Kanchan claims to lead, brings us to her office in the Colaba area. It’s just the week day morning she’s told us about, and she’s making her way from the cab into the building. With a little help, she finds her way to the gate and then takes it on her own. Once in the lift, she tells the liftman, “Eighth floor.” The liftman shuts the door and starts counting, “1…2…3…” Once we reach the first floor, he says, “Here you are, eighth floor!” As she exits, she wishes him a good day and tells us, “It’s our daily joke!”

On her phone while walking toward her office, we can hear her saying, “I dialed your number by mistake but I’m glad to know that your number hasn’t changed in years!” As she catches up with the friend, she shuffles her keys for a few seconds and opens the door. Going around the disorderly room, typical of old law firms in Mumbai, she switches on the lights, air conditioner and settles in her chair ending the chat with a promise to call back soon. We are nearly astounded at this routine, imagining what this multi-tasking would be like blindfolded.

“The whole world takes care of me, you saw for yourself, as soon as I got out of the cab, two men on the street helped me, cabbies are usually friendly too.” But doesn’t it get difficult to trust people, we ask. “It’s simple,” she exclaims, “the world works on trust. You put your hand out there and someone will reach out to help you. If you’re going to constantly doubt and fear getting deceived, you won’t reach anywhere. You must trust the environment around you and have faith in God.”

We’re intrigued at her constant insistence that hers is a ‘simple’ story, and quiz her about the big bad world of law. Surely she doesn’t expect special treatment from her co-councils, judges and clients. “Law is the best profession; after all Lady Justice is blind — the court is one place where blindness is understood!” On a serious note, she adds, “As long as you’re ready and prepared with your work, no one can say anything to you.”

Kanchan wasn’t born blind, and her successful career despite the gradual loss of vision is a story of grit. “I was never able to see clearly. Even when I had low vision, I would just make out if you’re fair or dark, not tell your features. Losing vision wasn’t a sudden, overnight change that I had to adjust to.” She continues, “To me you’re a ghost.. just a voice coming at me! You could be sitting nude for all I care. I tell my colleagues that they can wear whatever they want, I wouldn’t know! Though the day we have to meet a client or go to court — they better come dressed formally.”

Much has been written about the ‘heroics’ of this blind advocate and solicitor at M/S Pamnani and Pamnani, but not many have described her wit and humour first hand. Also, it’s not like her determined multitasking doesn’t have its low points. “There are times when I feel down, when work is not done on time, when I lose a case or when a client is yelling, but I’m never low because of my inability to see. I sometimes get irritated because everything is slower. The speed that I had as a sighted person, it’s not the same anymore. Otherwise, the special softwares on my phone and computer help me tremendously. (Kanchan uses ‘Talks’ on her smart phone and ‘JAWS’ – Job Applications with Speech, on her PC besides audio books to read.) I try not to depend on anyone else as much as I can. If I wanted that, I would get married!”

(An initiative of Trinayani, a nonprofit NGO founded by Ritika Sahni, the THIS ABILITY articles celebrates the intriguing lives of persons with disabilities. Trinayani works towards Disability Awareness and Support, communicating through workshops/seminars, print, radio, films and other electronic media.  Visit www.trinayani.org or write to us at trinayani.contact@gmail.com)

The Articles in the Series “This-Ability” are copyrighted material of Trinayani.  This Blog is carrying the series on the request of Ritika Sahni, Founder Trinayani.  Any queries or request to publish these articles please contact Ritika Sahni. The owner of this Blog is not responsible for any copyright infringement

Nilesh Singit

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