Every now and then, stories of grit and determination like these infuse a great sense of hope in us. But what makes this story really inspiring is that a sightless boy literally took fate by its horns and turned every disadvantage in his life into a success that many of us can only aspire, but never achieve. Born into a poor farmer family in Andhra Pradesh, Srikanth Bolla had to fight with the society for his survival.
While neighbours of the Bolla family asked them to get rid of the “blind curse”, the uneducated parents just followed their heart. They nurtured their child, and when Srikanth was a little older, his father asked him to lend a helping hand in the farms. But he soon realised that his boy was hopeless in the fields and sent him to study in the village school. “In my parent’s entrepreneurship model, I was a failure,” Srikanth wittily says.
Srikanth would walk 5 kms daily to reach his school, but only to be relegated to the last bench, to wallow in loneliness. He was a mere attendee, who was kept away from physical sports.
So Srikanth’s father sent him to special needs school in Hyderabad. Things started getting better there, but another major roadblock was coming up for him; the Board didn’t allow Srikanth to take up science although he cleared his 10th exams with more than 90% marks.
The determined teenager would not let a narrow-minded board dampen his spirit, and sued the board. Six months later, the board reluctantly let the boy have his way, with the warning that he was “taking a risk.”
Srikanth got all his textbooks converted into audio books with the help of special aids school teacher. Two years later the board had to swallow its words when the sightless bright boy topped his school with a stunning 98%. However his marks didn’t cut ice with any of the prestigious engineering institutes in India. Srikanth had applied for IIT, BITS Pilani and other engineering institutes, but he couldn’t get an admission ticket into any of the competitive exams.
The reason? “I got a letter saying ‘you are blind, hence you are not allowed to apply for competitive exams.’ If IIT did not want me, I did not want IIT either. How long can you fight?” Srikanth stated.
So he applied to schools in the US, and got calls from the top four – MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon. He chose MIT and went abroad with a scholarship, while simultaneously, making history; he was MIT’s first international blind student.
Srikanth preferred coming back to India unlike so many Indian engineers who dream of settling aboard for a fatter pay package. Back in India, he started a non-profit organization called Samanvai in Hyderabad, to educate students with multiple disabilities.
But it was not enough, for the educated lot now needed a vocation. In 2012, Srikanth set up Bollant Industries in a small, tin-roof shack in Hyderabad with just eight employees and three machines. The first investor, Ravi Mantha from Angel Investor, speaks how clear Srikanth was in his vision. Mantha was bowled over, for Srikanth talked only of business and no social issues, which such projects usually veers towards.
Bollant Industries produces eco-friendly and biodegradable products, while providing employment to differently-abled people. The company has 400 people working across five operating plants in Telangana and Karnataka. Bollant Industries is worth Rs 50 crore today; it was in the news last December, when it received an undisclosed amount of funding from Ratan Tata.
This is one big story of a sightless underdog who didn’t let anything mar his vision of making it big in a world, where society only judge you by stereotypical physical barometers. Like Srikanth says, “I was made blind by the perceptions of the people.”