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Hi, my name is George Abraham and welcome to Eyeway Conversations. My guests today are from Calcutta and Rajat and Geetika Dalmia. Hi, Rajat, hi Geetika, welcome!
Hi George bhai. And hi everybody.
Hi, it's really nice to be here.
Geetika and Rajat, you live in Kolkata, you have been living in Kolkata all your lives. So Durga Puja is what comes to mind first. So how do you guys, as a blind couple, how do you handle Durga Puja?
Most people who live in Kolkata would like to take time off and go for a vacation, but we are just the opposite. And we just stay in Kolkata during the puja hours, because we find this place really rocking. And what we do normally is maybe definitely in the evenings, we go pandal hopping ourselves with friends or relatives or whoever. And, like the certain pandals, even like, last year, there was one pandal, which was made specifically for the blind, with all tactiles on the walls and Braille, so that you could get a feel of the how the statues are made. So yeah, this is one of it, go pandal hopping. Second, we spend time with friends as everybody have the officers shot. So we spend time with our friends enjoying, and maybe of course, going out for dinners.
Then maybe family time. It's absolutely a relaxing, peaceful time at home. And, you know, it's like that.
You guys have been married for a while now. How many years?
17 years in July.
17 years in July. Okay. So the big question is, what was your marriage, a love marriage or an arranged marriage or just a marriage?
It was a love marriage which was arranged.
More love marriage than arranged.
It was a love marriage. I suffer from macular degeneration. So I was the only one in my family who had it. But thik hai, I did my normal school in college, it was a bit difficult. My school in college, I used a magnifying glass to read my books, the textbook then later on, I came to know about the screen magnifiers, which I used for my studying material. And then after my college, I wanted to do a travel and tourism course actually. I had no idea about the screen readers. So someone told me in Kolkata that you go and Rajat is really good at using JAWS very well. So you can just go and meet him once and take the screen reader from him. So I just came and I met him. I came home and I met him and that's how it started basically.
So it was a screen reading romance huh.
Yes, it was a screen reader romance.
then we kept on meeting each other for one and a half years.
All in the guise of teaching screen reading is it? *laughs*
It's just how to use JAWS basically.
it's all about jaws. *laughs*
So after one and a half years, so we got married.
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Geetika's eye condition was progressive, right?
And Rajat, what's the story behind your eyes?
Till class 12, my eyesight was absolutely normal. I did my schooling from one of the most reputed schools of Calcutta La Martiniere for Boys where I played every sport. Suddenly in when class 12, when I was just about to give my board exams just few months before that suddenly, my eyesight started started playing tricks with me. My eyeballs started shaking. So that started, then it deteriorate quite a bit till my exam six odd months. So with great difficulty I gave my exam somehow, class 12 boards. And then I lost my reading vision immediately. So I had joined college, but unfortunately, it was very difficult for me to carry on with my education. So I had left education that time and I joined my family business. But later on, of course, I did my graduation from correspondence with the Pondicheery University, correspondence course. I just wanted to just finish my graduation. So I did that later on BBA. So yeah, and this...after my class 12, first I my reading vision, then slowly, I started losing my mobility. And gradually, in another 10-15 years, I lost my complete vision. And now I'm just left with a bit of light perception.
Geetika, when you started losing your eyesight, and especially at the age of 18, what were your thoughts? Meaning, were you disappointed, angry with your situation, or you just decided to cope with it and deal with it?
Frankly, I came to know about this from a doctor in Bombay. And believe me, the doctor, he explained it to me so well, that I was full of positive energy, and I've met a lot of doctors. At times they demotivate you to go ahead in life. And I think the doctor really played an important role in my life, to tell me nicely and frankly that what it is. So I think I was all ready for it then. And you know, then I had that thing in mind. Okay, no, looking back, I'll do my best what I can.
And Rajat, in your case, the change was rather dramatic because till 12, it was all okay. And then suddenly, things started going out of hand. What was your response?
Well, God was kind since he gave me this issue, this problem, but along with that even gave me the strength. And actually, I had, I mean, it was just like, I just took it like a fish to water you know, nothing happened, in regard that I was never disappointed, never depressed. Like, I was very lucky in this regard. I just took it in my stride and just carried on basically, just to just play with the power which was given to me by God. That's all I can say.
When you got into doing business. First of all, what business was your family in and how did you actually get initiated into it?
So I went into my family business, just after my class 12. We went to a lighting industry that time we were working for Philips India, and we were making the manufacturers of lampshade covers. It was a family business. So I just carried on with that. And ever since, I've been carrying on, it's been 25 years, I'm still into that business.
Geetika, you run a fairly successful travel business, how did you start your business? And what is it that you offer in terms of services?
So after my college, I actually always wanted to do something. And I was always very, like, one of my hobbies is mainly traveling also, I just love traveling. So I thought, you know, why not? You know, start with my own travel company. 2014 I passed out. 2015 I have started my own travel company. I did a travel and tourism course also. And in terms of the services which we offer, we book air tickets both domestic and international, hotel bookings both domestic and international services like renewing your passport, getting visas done for different countries, travel Insurance, booking the sightseeings, maybe car rentals or foreign exchange. Yeah, so all travel related, apart from the railway tickets in India, we don't do the railway tickets, but international, we do all the tickets the train tickets as well.
How did you actually develop your business, meaning how did the business started? How did you get your first client for instance?
First clients was a family or a friend. And then what happens is in our industry, it's basically, maybe the kind of service you provide. So maybe if a person is happy with your service, the way maybe you booked the ticket or booked a hotel and if they are hassle free, and you know, when you check in to the hotel, it's all done. I mean, it's all taken care of, it's all pre paid and maybe you know, you give your IDs, your check-in is very smooth. So automatically that client comes back to you, you know, because once you go for a business trip or a holiday, you want your travel to be as comfortable as it can be. Because when you travel, you don't want that this is not okay. Because then, you know, you basically waste some time. And when you go for a holiday, obviously you waste time, you waste your energy, and you waste your money, because every second is important when you're traveling, because you're paying for every second, actually. So it's basically the services. So I think, by maybe, in terms of the services, because it's absolutely a service industry, so I think people come to you, because of the service what we provide. And also, the rates have to be competitive definitely. So for the rates to be competitive, we have to, you know, obviously, we have different suppliers. So we try... because you know, what happens is, every hotel has maybe a different supplier, who gives you a better rate, or you know, maybe we have a tie up with some hotel, which gives us a better rate. So it's all about you know, exploring every day, actually, maybe today someone is good. Tomorrow, someone is good. So it's every day, a new thing for us. I mean, it's quite interesting, actually.
You know, in recent years, you know, a lot of work now gets done directly by the client, online, you know, you have a lot of these online platforms where you can do your travel planning and booking and so on. How has that impacted your business?
Oh, in fact, yes, online bookings are definitely happening. But there was a data what was that data?
Only 7% of people till date are using online for traveling purpose.
There was a data for online travel only 7% are using online, rest is all through agentss because booking through an agent basically, maybe you book a ticket on Makemytrip, for example. But what happens is maybe you're at ease in booking a ticket on online, but then you have to cancel the ticket and and wait for your refund to happen, at times you never get the refund back and at times, you have to chase for that refund to come. And when you're with us, it's like you cancel the ticket and you get your refund within 10 minutes. So that's the biggest advantage of bookings for travel agents and for our domestic travel, we as agents, we have a corporate fare also in which cancellation, normally the cancellation charges on these tickets, apart from Air India. So normally the cancellation charges is roughly about 3500 on every ticket but we have corporate fares for all airlines in which the cancellation charges just 1000 rupees till two tours prior your travel. So that's a big saving and even if you reschedule that tickets is just 250 rupees plus whatever be the difference in fact, so that's a huge advantage what you don't get online. Corporate fares are not online. You have a flexi fare, which is there online, but you don't have a corporate fare which is online.
You were mentioning that you guys invariably go out at least once a year on a holiday.
Yes. Holiday is like our passion. And once a year definitely minimum we go for a holiday. And like...
It's actually two holidays a year. One holiday we prefer going alone, just two for us. And one is with friends mostly. And one holiday maybe can can be a religious darshan holiday.
What interest us is like we are like, when we go to a beach, we like to sit by the beach. Maybe that's what interests us...
Do water sports like parasailing and the tube ride. In fact, we went to Mauritius and we did the undersea walk.
So all these kinds of sports interests us, water sports, water activities. Apart from these, jungle safaris interest us. We go to forests when we just feel like to, so go for safaris, like tiger sighting or now since the cheetahs are coming to India, like we are wild wildlife lovers absolutely. So that's our areas of interest. That's what we do when we go out. Like yes, maybe go on a beach vacation, beach destination or forest. That's what interests us more.
Or maybe even a hill station holiday is quite exciting. But normally we prefer hill station or holiday when we are with friends. Not alone because actually hill station you don't have too much to do and explore apart from just going to the maybe Mall Road and just so we prefer a hill station holiday when we are with friends.
We prefer some activity or a holiday where there's some activities then we plan to travel alone basically.
You mentioned that you are wildlife buffs, people who can see get excited by seeing the tigers crossing the road or something. What is your point of excitement?
Obviously, we cannot see doesn't mean that we can't feel it. Just the imagination basically because if we can't see then one would say why we go into a forest if you can't see. But if you just can't see you just can't sit back at home and say like, we can't see, we won't go here. We won't go there. So that is that. For us, you know, that is not the answer to life. Basically, we just feel like this, as we narrated at the tigers crossing the road. We just feel it and we just ... you know, that's what gives the feeling and the excitement.
Yeah. And I think you also feel the sense of thrill which people around you are kind of expressing?
Absolutely, that's what.
Hundred percent because when you go for a jungle safaris, basically to hours of that hunting and then you sight so that excitement is there even, you know, maybe your jeep driver, he'll keep on explaining you that we are going here, this that, we're not finding a tiger, we're not finding this that and you know, it's just the excitement, it builds up. And when you sight a tiger or maybe when you see or maybe a kale or something. So it's really exciting.
I also believe when I was trying to set up this conversation. You know, it was one of Thursday and you said no Friday, Saturday, Sunday are times that you don't really entertain conversation.
We are both party animals and we love going out on weekends.
We love going out and we love outside food apart from home food. We are absolute big foodies.
So we go out with friends, generally. And we go to maybe sometimes maybe to club, there's a lot of clubbing culture in Calcutta, fortunately. So clubs is going away relaxing, you can just hang around with your friends...
Maybe go for a swim and have dinner and come.
And then we go to pubs and lounges also.
There are a few clubs also in Calcutta, where you have karaoke night. So you know, maybe just for the fun sake, just go the live orchestra. And you can sing along.
Are there games and things that you play while you're on these parties or?
At times we play like Braille embossed cards, so maybe when we are at home with family or friends so we play the game is which we used to play in childhood called the *inaudible*. A bit of poker. You know, just at home with friends and family. The playing card games what we used to play during childhood, all that we play with friends. I think, Uno again, you play a lot.
Most of our friends are excited. So usually, when we play a game, it's a bit easier.
No, even Uno card game, when we play the play... there's a card game which again, comes into a Braille embossed format. We've got it from the US so that game also we play a lot. I mean, it's very interesting. And earlier, we used to play a lot of board games also actually battleship and Ludo and snakes and ladders, but now, I think we are over it.
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I also believe you guys are into music meaning you love music. So tell us a bit about it.
Music is a part of our lives. And I've been into music since my childhood very much. I play the guitar. I've learned to playing the guitar. I've learned playing the flute and I play the keyboard as well. And of course I am bathroom singer. So yeah, these are the bit of these are things I do in about music.
And I play the keyboard and I'm not too much into singing. I just bully him when he sings.
Flute is actually a lovely instrument to hear. It's very difficult to play I guess, but to listen to is beautiful, there's a romance to that instrument. And are you guys also into movies and reading and all that or?
Absolutely, we are movie freaks. Before the COVID, we used to watch every good movie which used to be released.
So we used to go to the theater and watch watch movies.
Some friends or relatives, whoever used to assist us would explain to us whatever is going on in the screen. And obviously the audio so we could make out from the audio what is going on. So yes, we were basically are what ...after COVID, somehow it hasn't picked up as well the watching movies in the theater.
Now maybe we are watching movies on the OTT platforms.
And as far as reading books is concerned, yes, both of us are fond of reading books, but not that much that we read every day.
We don't have lots of time actually because maybe just on a Sunday, or maybe like during puja holidays, actually maybe you get then you get a lot of time where you can maybe read a lot because you know we have our own timings of work basically from morning 10 till 7 we are busy with work so and then you know, it's like we even have to manage home because you know, we stay with with Rajat's parents, and so taking care of home, a lot of home responsibilities, family, social life, family obligations. And so that's the reason then we get a bit occupied and we hardly find time to read books.
And I'm a big time a cricket freak. I'm big time into cricket. So in fact, I used to play cricket in my school days when I had the vision. Somehow I didn't get the opportunity to play a blind blind cricket for some reason. But now also, I love watching it. I've been watching it since my school days, I used to get up at four o'clock in the morning when India used to tour New Zealand or Australia. That was my passion and still is for cricket. I watch it and follow all the scores.
So even when he's at work also and if there's a cricket match, he will keep on checking the score on his mobile phone and this and that. And it's always like, abhi disturb nehi karo, I'm watching cricket and this and that We plan in advance and maybe he told you Friday, Saturday, Sunday if you're busy. So if there's a good cricket match, which is you know, scheduled on that day. So he'll tell me in advance that we're not going out anywhere. We'll be at home, I have my match. So it's like that, he's crazy about cricket.
You haven't really thought of adding to your family. Is that because of possible genetic reasons or you just felt that...
No, it's just an individual choice. We thought we could be each other's daddy.
Right. And keep the keep the romance going lifelong.
Great. So it was wonderful chatting with the two of you and and wish you both the best as you build your life together.
Thank you so much.
Thank you so much.
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