People walking in single files with hands on each others shoulders is a common sight near Vangani Railway Station in the mornings. But the village is uncommon. It has a healthy colony of visually impaired people who are self-reliant.
Vangani,a village close to Badlapur,is home to a close-knit community that,like many others,came to Mumbai in search of a better life.
This group,however,is unique. Each of the 250-300 families has at least one visually challenged member.
The foundation of the largely unplanned colony was laid about 20 years ago and over the years it has gone from strength to strength with visually impaired people from different parts of the country settling in the village.
It started with a few of them settling here because of low rent and sympathetic villagers and through word of mouth the community grew to 500. We collect clothes and money for them and also provide free medical treatment. They even have Vangani ration cards, said Tai Patil,a doctor who has been living in the village for 25 years.
The community is self-reliant despite the handicap,with members selling knickknacks on local trains,working in factories and doing other jobs.
Kishore Ghadling and his group of 10 have formed an orchestra Guru Kripa Kala Manch.
I had interest in music since childhood. After class 10,I decided to take it up as a career. I picked up the basics in school and developed my skills listening to TV and radio, said the keyboard player.
His wife Nanda is a singer.
Percussionist Balasaheb Shinde is originally from Latur. There was nothing to do back home because my family works on farms and I cannot. Some relatives in Mumbai suggested I come here and try my luck. That was around 10 years ago, said the trained craft teacher.
Festivals bring bulk business for the orchestra. We do a lot of shows during Ganesh festival,Navratri and Diwali. Our Bollywood,lavani and devotional songs and mimicry get a great response with frequent encore demands. We get Rs 6,000-Rs 7,000 per performance, said Ghadling.
When not playing music,the group members sell locks,chains and other accessories on local trains. Many have found love and family,with a lot of marriages taking place within the community.
Ghadling met Nanda in a special school for the blind in Pune and fell in love. Theyve been married for 17 years and have a 10-year-old son Devendra,who has perfect vision.