“I was 6 when the doctors declared that I was deaf– Amma burst into tears; I also had a lisp since birth. But I was a brave boy– I told her that I’d manage without hearing aids.
But in spite of being good at studies, I was rejected by schools citing poor communication. So, my parents insisted I wear hearing aids– with the aids, I could hear things better, but it made me an object of ridicule. My classmates would constantly tease me; after school, I’d cry.
I grew up to be a lonely kid and channeled all my frustration into studies and scored well in my boards. I wasn’t sure what to do next, but Appa put me in an engineering college and eventually, I started working at an IT firm.
But none of those achievements made me happy– meeting new people was still stressful, I couldn’t understand them properly unless they spoke slowly. I didn’t want anyone to sympathise with me, so I tried my best to fit in.
But a year later, the pressure of wanting to be as good as everyone else got to me; I almost had a breakdown. Appa suggested taking a trip to the hills to de-stress– on the way, I kept clicking photos. I’m not exaggerating but for the first time in years… I felt like myself.
After the trip, I was hooked to photography– it became my only relief to the maddening IT life. On weekends, I’d travel to nearby places. Soon, I bought a DSLR and started posting pictures on social media.
With time, I realised that photography was the right path for me. So, I quit my IT job and told my parents that I wanted to be a full-time photographer. Amma and Appa were worried– ‘Think twice before you take such a big decision’, they said. Even my friends said, ‘You’ll never make enough money.’
Still, I went with my gut. That itself was a victory to me; for the first time, I’d made a decision on my own. I started travelling extensively. 8 months in, I won a cash prize in a photo contest and 2 years later, I bagged the ‘Travel photographer of the year’ award– it was my turning point.
Soon after, I met a photographer who trained deaf children and was spell-bound. I could relate to the kids instantly– they were talented but didn’t have a platform that’d connect them to ‘normal’ people. I started learning sign language to teach them photography.
The following year, I founded a photography organization that trains both special and normal students. It was challenging– people made fun of my speech, clients would back out because they didn’t have the patience to talk to me. But I didn’t give up– I invested all my savings and formed a team to get the ball rolling.
2 years later, here I am, training more than 5000 upcoming photographers in Chennai… and it feels right.
I’m finally in a happy place now. Looking back, I now know that my fear of not fitting the definition of ‘normal’ was what was holding me back. But I’ve realized I’m unique in my own way; that’s what sets me apart… and that’s what makes me who I am.”
This is the story of Srivatsan Sankaran, a Chennai based travel photographer and blogger. This article is brought to you by Humans of Bombay