It was no surprise that Ife Alleyne was crowned the winner of the 2014 National Calypso Queen competition which took place on January 19 at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s.
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Visually-impaired, jobless dad, determined to achieve music degree
Visually-impaired musician Adrian Ragoonanan is refusing to let his disability distract him from his goal of achieving his degree in music.
Unable to get a job to pursue studies abroad, Ragoonanan has chucked aside his self-consciousness to become a street performer.
Over the past week, he has taken up residence outside Scotia Bank, High Street, San Fernando, to demonstrate his self-taught musical prowess on the guitar.
A shoe box, placed before him, is an open invitation for passers-by to show their appreciation with fistful of dollars. He also plays the violin, viola and piano.
In an interview, Ragoonanan said the money is to help maintain his two-year-old daughter as well as to fund his studies, if he is not granted a scholarship to do so.
His life has been one of struggle, but Ragoonanan is not fazed. At the age of three-months-old his biological parents separated and his father migrated to Canada. Ragoonanan was placed in the care of his aunt Carmen and uncle Teddy Seemungal who raised him as their own child. They have no children of their own.
Although he displayed vast intelligence, at age nine, his primary school teacher at Palmyra Hindu School realised he was not advancing academically and asked his caregivers to take him to have his eyes tested.
It was at this point his relatives realised he was born with an incurable condition known as macular degeneration.
In spite of this impediment, with the help of a friend who assisted him in reading, Ragoonanan wrote the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) passing for the Pleasantville Secondary School. However, as his sight deteriorated it became increasingly difficult and frustrating for him to keep up with the work.
His aunt sought and got a transfer for him to the Ste Madeleine Secondary School, where his primary school friend was attending.
However, the friend was in a higher form and was unable to assist Ragoonanan as he had done in primary school.
Frustrated by his inability to cope, Ragoonanan dropped out of secondary school.
“Life was really difficult for me and I could not accept my impairment.”
As a high school drop-out, Ragoonanan spent his days at home, as he sought employment and got rejected because of his disability.
At age 18 he found love, got married and fathered two children, a boy, now three and a girl, age two.
Sight and financial challenges soon put a wedge in the romance, resulting in separation of the couple. His wife left with their son and he was left with his daughter who was born premature.
A job at the Blind Welfare Association to earn milk money for his daughter was short-lived. He said he was fired from that job.
Attempts to find employment elsewhere turned out to be a harrowing experience.
“There were no jobs for me. I took my rejection and at night I prayed to God to help me so I will have a future.”
He became interested in playing instruments after viewing YouTube music videos.
“I started playing the guitar when I was around 18 or 19-years-old. I just decided to pick up the instrument and try. Music wasn’t really my passion, but due to my circumstances I had to turn to an alternative where I can make money. It has become what I love now,” said the well-spoken Ragoonanan.
“I am doing this because I have no choice. I need money, I have a daughter to take care of. I want to go somewhere in life. I don’t want to stay home and do nothing. I want to set an example for my daughter.”
He is taking classes with a Swedish music tutor and is pursing CXC subjects in music.
“I am at a grade eight with the guitar, a grade five with the violin and grade four with piano. Hopefully I will get a scholarship. I want to go to America where there are systems in place for people like myself.”
But, even on the streets he has hard time. “Some store owners do not even want me to stand in front their business to play my guitar. Schoolchildren sometimes try to steal my money. Some people don’t realise I am blind and they make insulting remarks.”
Despite this, he is optimistic about his future. “I firmly believe I am going to make it.”
Ragoonanan has the support of his aunt who is not ashamed by how he makes his money. “It has been very hard for him. When people see visually-impaired people they don’t know how to treat them,” Seemungal said.
She proudly recalled that at age 14, Ragoonanan went to Pakistan where he played a cricket match with the West Indies blind cricket team.
What is macular degeneration
According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation macular degeneration is an incurable eye disease that is the leading cause of vision loss for those aged 55 and older in the United States, affecting more than ten million Americans.
It results in a loss of vision in the centre of the visual field (the macula) because of damage to the retina. It occurs in "dry" and "wet" forms. It is a major cause of blindness and visual impairment in older adults -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macular_degeneration#Causes_and_risk_factors