Music lights up lives of the blind

Baluji Shrivastav, who became blind from an eye infection at the age of eight, formed the Inner Vision Orchestra with 13 other blind musicians.

Baluji Shrivastav, who became blind from an eye infection at the age of eight, formed the Inner Vision Orchestra with 13 other blind musicians.

Everyone, that is, except her strict Muslim parents, who warned her that if they caught her singing in public – forbidden for women – they would douse her with petrol and set her alight.

“It is very difficult to be born a girl,” she said, “and it is disastrous to be born a girl and blind.” Khosroujerdy’s parents considered their blind daughter to be a punishment from God. They beat her and forced her into a marriage with a man who already had two wives, although the four of them did not all live in the same house.
“It was a very unhappy situation,” she said. “Whenever I was depressed, I would sing to myself, but it was impossible to imagine I could sing in public.”

This month Khosroujerdy, who came to Britain five years ago, is performing as part of the Inner Vision Orchestra, the brainchild of Baluji Shrivastav, an Indian sitar player who has recruited 13 fellow blind musicians to play music that ranges from gospel and soul to traditional Indian ragas and classical compositions. Their venues include Dans Le Noir, a restaurant in London where diners eat in darkness and are served by blind waiters, including Takashi Kikuchi, who also plays viola in the orchestra.

During a lunchtime rehearsal at Dans Le Noir, which took place in the pitch-dark, Shrivastav said he became blind aged eight after an eye infection was treated wrongly.

No resentment
“We lived in a village,” he said, “and my teenage mother did not realise that when she removed the bandages from my face the dirt she threw away was what remained of my eyes.” A neighbour said she could help, but her home remedy burned his optic nerves, leaving him blind.

Yet Shrivastav bears no resentment towards his neighbour. When they recently met again, he touched her feet out of respect.

“It is because of my blindness that I am where I am,” he said. “If I wasn’t blind I would be in India working as a clerk. Blindness led me to discover the sitar and it led me to music.”

Though based in Britain, the Inner Vision members hail from India, Iran, Japan, Nigeria and Lebanon. At the rehearsal at Dans Le Noir they launched into a song called Love Is Blind, sung by Victoria Orunwari, a classically trained singer from Nigeria.

“Love is blind, you just have to touch,” she sang. “You don’t have to be afraid of the dark, just reach out for me.”

Singing is my light
Orunwari became blind at the age of six after doctors detached both retinas during a routine cataract operation. For the first week, Orunwari did not realise she was blind. Her visual memory was strong and when she walked into a wall she assumed the wall had moved.

“For me, singing is my light,” she said. “The love I had for colour has been transferred to music. When I sing it is like someone has turned on the light. When I sing to people, they are not thinking that I’m blind. I am just this voice that they can hear.”

The Inner Vision Orchestra was established to give its members the opportunity to be respected as musicians and boost the confidence of those who have never performed in front of an audience.

Peggy Scott (88) had not played music in public since primary school. She was a painter until she lost her sight in a car crash, leaving her bitter and angry. Playing finger cymbals with the orchestra, she said, has taken her anger away.

Khosroujerdy has also been profoundly changed. She said when she began singing she was introverted and dressed in a demure headscarf, but at recent shows she has worn flowers in her hair. “I love being on stage,” she said. “Now I can make decisions about what I wear and there is no one controlling me.” – © Guardian News & Media 2012 

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