Divyanshu Ganatra can’t forget that morning. About two decades ago, when he stirred from his sleep, he realized he had lost his sight.
Two years before that morning, a doctor had informed Ganatra that his eyes were gradually degenerating because of glaucoma, and there was no cure for it. It didn’t mean much then, for Ganatra could see just fine. But now, the warning had come true.
“I was in total denial until then. Of course, I had experienced a gradual deterioration of my eyesight over time, but a major part of my vision simply disappeared overnight,” Ganatra, 42, says.
While growing up in Pune, Ganatra enjoyed being in the midst of nature. From cycling to swimming and wandering the Sahyadri hills, he was always in awe of his surroundings. “I wanted to climb mountains and paint. That’s what I saw myself doing. But I was now a blind teenager and for the next few months I went through a range of emotions, from anger to depression,” he recalls.
It took a massive effort on his part to gradually crawl out of his state of mind. He soon set his mind on learning computers and his first job was in the field of communications and Web technology. While programming machines, he started reading about the human brain. The fascination was enough to quit a successful career and return to college to study mental health.
After a degree in psychology and cognitive neuroscience and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Fergusson College in Pune, he worked with a corporate company. The job didn’t last long. Ganatra found the work unchallenging, but it gave him a taste of his first love again. “During that stint, I think most people remember me for leading treks for the employees. I know the Sahyadris like the back of my hand. It made me realize that it was something I still loved,” he says.
So, in 2006, he set up Yellow Brick Road, which works in the field of positive psychology and behavioural facilitation. “I work with corporates and individuals. It’s what puts bread on the table,” he says.
The road ahead What truly invigorated him during that time was his maiden paragliding flight that he had pulled off in Kamshet. It pushed him to realize a lifelong dream. In 2014, he founded Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF).
“Ever since I can remember, I wanted to fly. It’s spiritual; you’re in the moment. It’s like you live a million years in that one single moment, just insanely beautiful,” he says. “I thought play was a great way to get the two communities—people with and without disabilities—to engage and establish a connect, and shatter all stereotypes associated with disabilities in the process.”
Since ABBF’s inception, Ganatra has worked towards introducing the differently abled to outdoor activities such as cycling, running, trekking, paragliding and scuba diving. One of the most arduous bike rides that he’s taken on is from Manali to Khardung La, a distance of over 500km. He’s also hiked to the Everest base camp and was part of a team that included three blind climbers, which climbed Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, last year. Over the past five years, ABBF has reached out to around 5,900 differently abled outdoor enthusiasts through their activities. “The world lacks empathy on the whole. The work I do through ABBF is simply an extension of psychology—to get people to look at things with a different mindset,” he says.
Ganatra makes most of his money through Yellow Brick Road. ABBF runs mostly on donations and fundraising, which has been a constant challenge.
“Sport in our country gets the least funding, disability far lesser. There’s no mention of it in the corporate social responsibility of companies either. As a result, we’ve had to work with individual donations so far,” he says.
In the years ahead, Ganatra wants to focus on the 80 per cent of the differently abled populations who have never stepped out of their house and make them explore all the things that have changed his life. “If you look back a hundred years or so, it was not normal for daughters to be sent to school. Today, it’s absolutely fine. What changed was people’s beliefs, which doesn’t happen in a flash. I want to continue working towards the inclusion of the disabled in the mainstream in the time to come,” he adds.