By Jamuna Rangachari
Shrikant Bolla’s grit shows us that nothing can deter us from pursuing what we truly want, disabilities notwithstanding. And that this strength of spirit always draws support from the Universe, says Jamuna Rangachari
Twenty four years ago, when Srikant was born, neighbours in the village suggested that his parents smother him to death, since he was blind by birth. They felt he would be a burden on a family of poor farmers. Fortunately, his parents loved him too much to even consider the suggestion. Instead, they did all they could to better his lot, such as enrolling him in a school. Sadly, the nearest school in his village was five kilometres away, and he had to cover the distance mostly on foot which he did for two years. At that point, his father realised that the child was not learning anything since the school was not equipped to handle special children. He pulled him out of it and got Srikant admitted to a special needs school in Hyderabad.
The young boy thrived in the compassionate environment of his new school. He learnt to play chess and cricket and excelled in them. He topped his class, even embracing an opportunity to work with the late President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in the Lead India project. President Kalam did not forget him and mentioned him in one of his speeches: “When I was the President of India, on Aug 28, 2006, I met many students from Lead India 2020 movement. I asked all of them one question: “What do you want to become?” Out of many responses one visually challenged boy, Srikant, studying in IX class, got up and said, “I will become the first visually challenged President of India.”
In spite of his merit and hard work, Srikant’s struggles did not end. He cleared the Andhra Pradesh Class X state board exams with over 90 per cent marks, but the Board said he could only take Arts subjects after that. He sued the government and fought for six months. In the end, he got a government order that allowed him to study science subjects but at his own ‘risk’.
Srikanth did whatever he could to prove them wrong. He got all the textbooks converted to audio books, worked day and night to complete the course, and managed to secure 98 per cent in the XII Board exams. He then applied for IIT, BITS Pilani, and other top engineering colleges, but did not get a hall ticket as they did not wish to admit a blind student. He could have fought this too but decided to go somewhere better. Instead of fighting the system he thought of proving his merit.
Going to the top
He searched the Internet to find the best engineering programmes for someone like himself. He applied to schools in the US and got into the top four – MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon.
He went to MIT (with a scholarship) as the first international blind student in the school’s history. There were some issues there but he handled all of them pretty well, with the support and encouragement of all the people around him.
When he completed his graduation, he could have been employed anywhere but he wished to make a real difference to his life and that of others. He did not want others like him in India to suffer like he had.
He gave up many ‘golden’ opportunities in corporate America and came back to India with the aim of being the change he wanted to see. Bolla co-founded the Samanvai center for children with multiple disabilities, a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing various support services to disabled students aiming for a professional career.
He understood that apart from education, employment was something that would make a huge difference. He founded Bollant Industries, an organisation that employs uneducated and disabled employees to manufacture eco-friendly, disposable consumer packaging solutions, which is now worth Rs 50 crores. His mentor and guide through all these years, Swarna Latha, trains all the employees, thereby creating a strong community where they feel valued.
Angel investor Ravi Mantha, who met Srikanth about two years ago, was so impressed with his business acumen and vision for his company that he not only decided to mentor him but also invest in Srikanth’s company. “It was a small, tin-roof shack in an industrial area near Hyderabad. There were eight employees and three machines under the shed. I expected him to talk about how he wanted to make a social impact, but was surprised by the business clarity and technical knowhow in someone so young,” Ravi says.
Shrikant considers himself the luckiest man alive, not because he is now a millionaire, but because his uneducated parents, who earned Rs 20,000 a year, did not heed any of the ‘advice’ they received, and raised him with love and affection.
His mantra in life is, “Show compassion and make people rich. Include people in your life and remove loneliness, and lastly, do something good; it will come back to you.” This has indeed been epitomised by him in the entire journey of his life. Looking at his track record, perhaps we may even see him achieving the mission of being the first visually impaired President of India who shows us that vision (perspective) is more important than eyesight.
About the author : Jamuna Rangachari writes and manages the websites of Life Positive. She has authored three books for children, compiled and interpreted Teaching Stories-I and II for Life Positive. and published a book through Hay House