Meet Urvi Jangam, the first blind person to hold a Ph.D in German Studies and the brain behind the new alternative concept of aesthetic perception

Urvi Jangam, the first blind person in the world to have completed her Doctoral Degree in German Studies, is also the brain behind the new independent concept of aesthetic perception called ‘Adrishya Rasa’, the ability to perceive aesthetics without the visual sense, by using the other five senses.

30th Sep 2019
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As a storyteller, I have the good fortune of meeting many inspiring people and listening to their stories first-hand. This time, I bring you the inspiring story of Urvi Jangam, the first blind person in the world to have completed her Doctoral Degree in German Studies and the brain behind the new independent concept of aesthetic perception called ‘Adrishya Rasa’, the ability to perceive aesthetics without the visual sense, by using the other five senses.

In her study of aesthetics, as a science of perception, for her thesis, Urvi delved into the possibility of conceptualising aesthetics without the sense of vision. Her paper, titled ‘Aesthetics of the Non-Visual,’ was hailed by experts as a rare, first-of-its-kind research on the blind, of the blind, for the blind (and the sighted), by a blind. Her research analyses the literary works of blind writers to understand the elements of aesthetic perception by the visually impaired.

Urvi Jangam

Left to Right: YourStory Founder & CEO Shradha Sharma and Urvi Jangam, the first person in the world to hold a Doctorate in German Studies

According to Western analysis, the conceptualisation of aesthetics can only be complete with visual sense. This differs from the Indian aesthetics of Rasa, which identifies the sense of taste as a primary sense. But Urvi’s thesis study showed that even the latter analysis does not hold true, thus calling for the need for a new concept to be built atop the existing Rasa framework, and consequently, the conceptualisation of the ‘Adrishya Rasa’.

“Adrishya rasa or the aesthetic pleasure of the non-visual is not a mere outcome of the lack of visual sense, or a compensation of remaining four senses. The lack of visual sensory perception may actually mean a different potential deriving from the optimum utilisation of the four senses, namely hearing, touch, smell, and taste coupled with unparalleled imagination and empathy,” Urvi explains.

For many like Urvi, who turned blind as a premature baby while in the incubator, aesthetic perception is cultivated very early on in childhood. Urvi, who completed her schooling in the Integrated Education Program of National Association for the Blind, India, believes that her parent's decision to educate her in a regular school has contributed significantly to her all-round development.

No challenge too big

For Urvi, who swears by her passion for languages, completing her Ph.D. in German Studies and becoming an experienced Language Specialist was no easy feat.

But 31-year-old Urvi tells me she has grown accustomed to encountering challenges all her life and facing them head-on to prove many a naysayer wrong. 

And this is exactly what she did when she was told she should opt for regional languages like Marathi, instead of taking up German Studies, on her first day of college.

“I'm used to facing challenges in my life, right from my school days. I’m used to people saying, 'Hey, you won't be able to do this. Stay out of that,' and so on. So I have always been insistent that yes, I will be able to do this and I will achieve my goals, and that's the case with German too, where… I took that as a challenge because I knew my potential, and here I am today,” Urvi says.

Urvi completed her M.A. in German Studies at the University of Mumbai and received the DAAD Ph.D Scholarship for research at the University of Göttingen. She credits her mentor, guide, and professor Dr Vibha Surana for providing her the support, guidance, and encouragement to complete her thesis paper. Urvi also adds that her German teacher at Max Meuller Bhavan helped fuel her motivation to pursue her love for the German language, one that started at the age of 16. 

“I fell in love with the German language, although English is my first love. I was pretty determined to learn the German language and I had an excellent teacher at Max Mueller Bhavan and... she was the one who actively motivated me and gave me that interest and passion for the language, and that's what got me going early on,” Urvi adds.

Currently a Ph.D. Research Scholar at the Department of German Studies, University of Mumbai, Urvi has never let her lack of vision be an impediment in her life. She strongly believes that the power of senses, other than the visual sense, is underestimated, and as a result, so is the ability of a blind person to observe the world, particularly while travelling.

Seeing beauty in everything

Urvi’s face lights up when she tells me that she is fascinated with people and enjoys observing them and listening to their conversations, be it in trains or simply around her in public places.

“I observe people and it’s simply fascinating, where there are so many stories that unfurl around you. I cannot perceive them literally, but you can perceive them with your other senses which are active. You have the rest of the senses which could be utilised,” she says.

Looking ahead, Urvi dreams of pursuing her passion for languages even further by travelling to Japan, the US, Africa, and Denmark.

In particular, Urvi’s overriding dream is to establish and further her aesthetic concept of Adrishya Rasa, by conducting workshops and seminars so that this concept reaches the masses, and is no longer restricted to just the academia.

And yet, aside from her work, Urvi displayed a sense of clarity and optimism that is at once commendable and enviable in someone who has known adversity but still sees beauty in all the little things and everyday moments of her life.

“I think what one really needs to understand is that you need to live life live every moment, right from your first cup of coffee in the morning… you need to just smell it and hear the birds chirping. You need to appreciate those tiny things and live every moment, only then life is worth it.”

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