Rajen Nair, a Mumbai-based freelance lensman, in his mid-50s, is a teacher to students with hearing disabilities and who are battling cancer. In the last 13 years, he has mentored over 3,000 students. Nair is no ordinary teacher.
Personalities like Nair are rare, inspirational. Why do I say so? Because he had the courage to follow his passion after battling the toughest times in his life. Due to a medical condition, Nair became partially deaf 20 years ago. He further lost the ability to hear in the left ear completely and eventually lost 70 percent of hearing in the right ear. However, emerging victorious of his own battles, Nair pursued his passion, and today he is imbibing the same spirit in young kids.
“I was diagnosed with Atherosclerosis by an ENT specialist. I was told a stapedectomy operation would be needed to prevent permanent loss of hearing. However, even after the operation, I lost the ability to hear in my left ear completely and eventually the loss of 70 per cent hearing in the right ear,” Nair recalls. He further mentions his later diagnosis of tinnitus which meant avoiding loud sounds. But the invincible spirit of Nair overcame the disability and a tough period of depression.
Pinch of Passion: The Humble Beginnings
The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and curfews have scratched open the vulnerabilities of humans and left many miserable. However, Nair found a medium of extending his passion and his own life experience into a noble cause and that’s how the ‘Cancer Art Project’ and ‘Enabled Photography’ was envisioned.
You must be thinking about what the two aforementioned projects actually are? Let me deconstruct the details of the two outstanding initiatives which culminate passion and creativity.
Rajen Nair extended his love for photography to children with disabilities or children who are battling cancer and are being treated, by teaching them the art of ‘seizing the moment.’
He encouraged the students to take up photography in Covid times and imparted interest to take up the creativity skill. He runs two social media accounts, ‘Enabled Photography’ and ‘Cancer Art Project’ — which he launched in the early weeks of April 2020 — to continue experimenting with the art even in restricted conditions.
“My students were my inspiration, it was their passion to learn and grow during the pressing time. It was their urge to keep learning during lockdown that I happen to start the social media accounts,” Nair reaffirmed.
“Photography is art and creativity, it needs peace of mind and eye to details, and that’s what I re-emphasised to the kids, instead of the overexposure to news and social media.”
However, Nair’s journey as a mentor didn’t start today, he for long has been a teacher and a mentor to his students. He took up teaching in 2009 when he started training students with hearing disabilities in schools such as Sanskardham School (a school for the hearing-impaired in Goregaon). Later he began teaching cancer patients in the paediatric wards of the Tata Memorial Hospital in Parel and St Jude’s Child Care Centre.
Looking through the Lens
What happens when training meets passion? You will get your answers by scrolling down Enabled Photography and CancerArtProject Twitter accounts. The photos clicked by the young deaf and cancer battling students spew of life and hope. It captures the serenity of s surroundings, breaking the monotony of the regular moments. It takes you to regular places and compels you to revisit them with different sets of eyes. The photos provide you with the joys of blue sky but also leave you wanting to sit under pink, orange skies.
Nair students are not limited to the boundaries of state or country, he has students not only from Mumbai but various parts of India and even neighbouring Nepal. The common thing is such diversity of students is passion for photography.
“Initially, since they couldn’t go out, I told them to use their creativity and paint or simply click things they see through their windows. They also click pictures when they are inside their building compound or at the vegetable market. Doing all this has kept them busy and even made them happy and now they keep asking me: “When will you post my photo online?” Nair says, according to the Mid-day report.
“All these photographs have been shot from the phone camera and are really good. I try to post at least one photograph a day on both accounts. At least 20 to 30 of them send me photos regularly and that is encouraging. Now, I even have a backlog of photos sent by my students from all over.” Stories such as Rajen Nair must be seen from a lens of small steps towards big change. Such stories set the tone of the undying spirit of humans and inspire thousands consciously or subconsciously and stay with them for a very long time.