Swapnil Patil is a contemporary, hip-hop, and Bollywood dancer...and he is Visually-Impaired!
Swapnil Patil has been rendered visually-impaired by a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa (R.P.). Yet, he has not left that one thing that makes him feel alive – Dance! Today he has a promising future that lies ahead of him.
That Fuel Called Human Spirit
Despite his medical condition, he calls himself very lucky to have a loving family and some very good friends. What has given him the encouragement to continue dancing even after going partially blind is his upbringing. He recounts, “I was brought up in a family where just getting educated was not the whole and sole thing; one also needed to develop as a person. I was always encouraged by my parents to participate in co-curricular activities. I now realize that this thought has fueled my spirit”. He first dance at a school function where he played the role of Krishna. Soon people in the entire community started taking note of his dance.
One day, while playing cricket, he noticed that he was not able to focus on the fast motion of incoming ball. The diagnosis came soon after that. He had Retinitis Pigmentosa in which the eyesight diminishes gradually until all is gone. Swapnil recalls that back then there was not much awareness in people about this condition. Today, his central vision is just enough to make out the presence of light and blurred movements in front of him. The 10-20 degrees of his side vision is somewhat helpful to him in navigating his sides. But that’s just it. He says, “Retinitis Pigmentosa leads to tunnel vision. It’s like having a curtain with ‘n’ number of spots in front of your eyes all the time”.
Gathering Courage to Reinvent Life
Because this condition spreads and keeps affecting the eyes gradually, Swapnil had to leave many things behind which he earlier liked to do. Like cricket! He had always been a sportsman. So when he had to leave cricket because he could no longer see the cricket ball, he switched to football. Then there were some things for which he had to reinvent ways of doing them. He says, “After seeing my mother in a very emotional state because of my eyesight, I decided to adapt to my condition. I told myself that I won’t give up on the things that l like doing; I will rather develop alternate ways of doing them”. He started reading and studying under bright light from the lamp. As the condition worsened, he started stumbling while walking. It was engineering 3rd year when he lost his vision altogether.
Not one to lose hope, he gradually learnt how to navigate his way without sight. He would still sometimes bump into people and apologize. He says, "The problem is that the eyes of a person with R.P. appear normal to others. So people whom I bumped into had difficulty believing that I was partially blind". By now he had also lost the ability to read. So to tackle this, he started using a video magnifier device to read and study. To work on laptop, he started using high-contrast themes with black background and white font. Despite the problems, he topped his course (MBA-HR) and today works as a Business Development Manager.
Life in Dance
By a coincidence, Swapnil met the founder of DRZYA, Geeta Poduval. She told him how DRZYA was helping the differently-abled showcase their talent in front of the world. He hadn’t thought of taking up dancing as a serious vocation up until then. But what he heard and saw made him think about it. He was convinced by Geeta to make a video of his dance and put it up online. Within a week, he had more than thousand views. This gave him a new confidence and a new direction in life.
When it comes to dance, Swapnil says, “I like to experiment a lot. I do hip-hop and Bollywood. Contemporary is also something I love doing. Due to my eye condition, I had to leave some things behind. But dance is something I could never quit. When I dance, it makes me feel alive. It fills me up with this energy which gives me the confidence to express myself in an artistic way. When I dance, I become this new person who doesn’t have life’s worries; who doesn’t have Retinitis Pigmentosa. Every evening after 9 hours of job, I make it a point to practice. My choreographer is working very hard with me to get those steps just right. Because I aim at taking my talent to the national and international stage, I have to work very hard, and I am working very hard too. I sleep for only about 5-6 hours but in the morning I feel very fresh because this passion to do something great keeps simmering in me”.
After trying all kinds of treatments, including Ayurveda, he recently found out a promising new treatment, which is gene therapy. But its whopping cost of 5.5 crore has drawn some criticism from the patient community everywhere. Swapnil says, “I strongly believe that despite the high cost, one day, I will be able to raise this amount with the help of my day job and passion for dance. Until then, I am taking each day as it comes”.