Have you experienced the non-visual aesthetics of art and life? Now you can, since the concept of non-visual aesthetics has received recognition in the world’s first PhD completed by a blind student. 31-years-old, Urvi Jangam was born without a vision but she knew well how to convert the disability into a completely new concept of life. She has become the world’s only visually-impaired student to have completed a PhD from Mumbai University in German Studies. Besides, her PhD research is in an entirely new area of ‘non-visual aesthetics’, becoming a pioneer of the concept. Urvi wishes to develop the concept further and empower disability.

Key Takeaways:

  • Urvi Jangam is the first blind student in the world to complete her PhD in German Studies from the University of Mumbai.
  • Her research was titled, ‘Aesthetics of Non-visual’ that pioneered the idea of ‘Adrishya Rasa’ or the ‘non-visual aesthetics’.
  • Urvi never learned Braille or attended a blind school as it differentiated her from other students.
  • She completed her BA in English Literature and History. She pursued MA in German Studies in the University of Mumbai where she was rewarded her PhD also.
  • Urvi wishes to develop the concept of non-visual aesthetics further.

Urvi’s education: A relentless positivity about her impairment

When Urvi began her education, her father Sunil Jangam’s first impulse was to enrol her in a blind school. But, Urvi was a bright child, enough to deserve a regular school. Urvi scored 85% in class 10th examination and was the topper of Mumbai district in the disabled category. However, Urvi’s mother remembers that Urvi was not happy with her results. She further said to Hindustan Times, “She wanted admissions on the basis of merit in the open category, not under the disabled category. Her will to not be treated any different encourages people to forget her disability altogether.”

Urvi, who never considered her disability an obstacle in life, chose not to learn Braille as it made her different from other students. Rather, she relied upon technologies to continue her education in a regular school. Recounting her experience, Urvi said, “While on one hand, I would record whatever was taught in class, my mother would make audio recordings of all my textbooks and keep the cassettes ready for me to study. This went on till I cleared my Bachelors in Arts (BA) from Patkar Varde College.”

“It is easily assumed that visually-challenged people don’t understand beauty just because they can’t see something.  I realised I need to delve into scientific reasoning to break such stereotypes.”

Urvi’s interest in German and the concept of Adrishya Rasa

In addition to her Graduation in English Literature and History, Urvi developed an interest in German Language. At the age of 16, she started learning German in the Max Mueller Bhawan in Kala Ghoda and commuted every day from her residence at Goregaon to Kala Ghoda in train. Learning German was difficult for Urvi who relied on technologies for her studies. Her computer’s Optical Character Recognition understood English words but could not catch the German words properly. I had to first scan each and every page of a book, then convert it to a Word file, edit the words to avoid errors and then convert it on OCR. It has taken me six-nine hours on one book sometimes,” said Urvi.

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After her Graduation, Urvi completed her Masters in German Studies from the University of Mumbai where she has also been awarded the PhD in the same subject. The idea of non-visual perception of aesthetics struck her mind when she was in MU and was often asked by her German and Indian colleagues about how she perceived things aesthetically. In an interview with Hindustan Times about the research Urvi said, “It is easily assumed that visually-challenged people don’t understand beauty just because they can’t see something.  I realised I need to delve into scientific reasoning to break such stereotypes.”

Urvi completed her PhD in the concept of Non-visual Aesthetics under the mentorship of the professor in the Department of German in MU, Vibha Surana who supported Urvi in her research. Surana said, “Guiding a student unable to see was a daunting task and the department facilitated her studies. But it has been her own diligence and perseverance that drove the research,” She further said, “Aesthetics of the non-visual is a new concept and a sighted individual would not have done justice to the research. She was the best person to give a first-hand insight into it. The literature of visually impaired writers is almost neglected. She used the available resources and developed the concept of Adrishya Rasa.”

“She wanted admissions on the basis of merit in the open category, not under the disabled category. Her will to not be treated any different encourages people to forget her disability altogether.”

Adrishya Rasa or Non-visual Aesthetic Pleasure

Inspired by the philosophy of navrasa in Indian Classical Literature and Drama, Urvi pioneered the concept of Adhrishya Rasa or non-visual aesthetic pleasure.  Her PhD research paper in German Studies was titled as ‘Aesthetics of Non-visual’ that delved into the new idea of non-visual perception of aesthetics using the available travelogues, poetries and short stories by blind writers, another challenge it was to get those works of literature.  Through her research on Adrishya Rasa, Urvi discussed the optimum usage of the senses other than vision, to perceive life and its aesthetics. It is how a blind individual describes a landscape. He/She makes use of touch, smell, hearing complemented with his own imagination, and comes up with an entirely new perception of life.” In her research, she also differentiated between the vision of a person who is born blind and the other who turns blind in the course of life.

Indeed the Urvi’s perseverance and will to achieve her aim is inspiring. Her research and life have overturned the narrative of impairment, from a helpless disability to ability with a new perspective.

Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV

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