Subbu wastes no time and gets right into the facts. “My full name is M Anantha Sai Subramanyam”, he says. His voice is firm, confident, and articulate. You can already sense the respect he commands at work.
Registered as legally blind, the last time he had normal eyesight was when he was a toddler. His vision has been declining since he was four years old, when he realised he couldn’t see a pencil he dropped next to his school bench.
Today Subbu is the heart of Shahi’s phone network. All front desk calls are picked up and transferred by him. He memorises every relevant number and organises people’s requests meticulously. He’s been working with the company for more than two decades. “Back when we had walkie-talkies, the GM would call me the Voice of Shahi” he says, the pride is thick in his voice.
Before he was the ‘Voice of Shahi’, Subbu battled with declining vision and the insecurity of losing his independence. Despite that, he completed his BA at National College in Bangalore and first got a taste of independence at the National Association for the Blind (NAB). Their training helped him negotiate the process of commuting alone. “I could finally cross the roads alone, and do everything independently.”
One day the placement officer at the NAB told Subbu that there was an opening at Shahi factory in Bommanahalli. He received 15 days of training, which stretched to 3 months. “It was hard at first”, he admits. But after the first few months of learning how to operate their system he soon became the uncontested communication leader at Shahi.
Subbu takes time out to show us his ‘talking phone’, which is programd to read out incoming phone numbers, verbalise text messages, and give him virtually any information a smartphone can via voice. “My mother hates my phone, she tells me to switch it off after work, but I don’t listen.”
He’s long been an unabashed advocate of tools for people with disabilities. As a regular viewer of the television show Cell Guru, he once wrote to them about his needs and what he’d like to see in a phone. The show was so impressed they came to Shahi for a full interview and captured a day in the life of Subbu on film.
she tells me to switch it off after work,
but I don’t listen.
Subbu has faced the loss of his family members and his eyesight with an unstoppable energy and courage. “If I could tell my younger self something it would be not to worry so much, there will always be people to support you.”
He’s always known his family has worried about him because of his visual impairment and never wanted to feel like a burden. “Today I can confidently tell my mother that, even if she is not there one day, I will be fine. I can give her that confidence.”