As I enter the otherwise nondescript office of a BPO in Rajajinagar, Srinivas G, the Admin Assistant, comes forward to enquire about the purpose of my visit.
It is difficult not to notice his missing forearms. The entrance is bustling with activity as more people walk in and out of the building, some in wheelchairs, others using crutches and canes.
This is the office of Vindhya E-Infomedia Private Limited, a Business Process Outsourcing organization, which mainly provides data management and voice processing services.
The company which works with several top IT and telecom companies in the country has 1500 employees with 60% of them being persons with disabilities or impairments.
The company’s co-founder and Managing Director Pavithra YS, a 31-year-old "first generation entrepreneur” was among the 100 women achievers to have been awarded by President Pranab Mukherjee in the Rashtrapati Bhavan last month.
Humble and hopeful beginnings
Flashback to a decade, and there was Pavithra, a young woman who had got married just after her graduation, mother to a six-month-old and eager to work. Her husband then told her that if she wanted to do something, "then do something big".
While they do not have persons with disabilities or impairment in their family, it was a chance encounter with one such person that gave Pavithra the idea for her debut entrepreneurial initiative. "There were so many such people who needed jobs. And we did not want it to be an NGO. It needed to be a profitable venture because it had to be sustainable," says Pavithra.
Together with her husband, who is now the CEO of Vindhya and another friend, they launched Vindhya, an organisation named after their older daughter in the hope that it would continue to grow just as the mountain range.
They were met with some skepticism. Since they were not an NGO, some questioned if they had any ulterior motive.
They hired their first two employees with the help of NGOs and state-run vocational training centres.
Hiring persons with disabilities
For Srinivas, who has been working in Vindhya for six years now, this is his second job. Hailing from Ramanagara in Karnataka, he used to work as a plumber when he got electrocuted and his forearms had to be amputated.
"For around 2 years, I did not do anything. I'd just stay at my home, not knowing what do next," he says.
"I asked them to give me anything to do," he says. He started working in the reception, typing with his upper arms, learnt basic Hindi and English and eventually moved on to office maintenance.
At present, people who are orthopedically challenged, have hearing or visual impairment or those with border cases of autism are employed by Vindhya.
"Apart from basic computer and language skills, attitude is a must," says Pavithra. "We provide training, but they should have a positive attitude about being able to do the job."
Sign language is the "official language" in the organisation and the entire staff, irrespective of impairment or not. Pavithra herself learnt it when she hired her first hearing impaired employee.
Disability does not affect work quality
One of the initial hurdles they faced was convincing clients who wondered if their work force would be productive enough.
Pavithra stresses that though a majority of her staff consists of people with disabilities, none of it comes in the way of delivering quality services. And there's no element of pity or "waiver", as she calls it, in the process.
Srinivas holds the door for a colleague
"We have our targets and we use quality standards. We have never lost a customer till date. If a client is skeptical, we ask them to give us a pilot project and if they like our work they can hand us other projects as well.
Pavithra feels that organisations are more open to working with people with disabilities now. "Today, even corporates look at them as potential employees."
Of lows and highs
Pavithra says there were days when they did not have money to pay salaries, but overcame it gradually.
"Around four years ago, there was a micro-finance recession, and we weren't getting any investment. It proved to be a good thing later because we were forced to diversify our services," she says.
But the personal tales of inspiration and positivity that have emerged from their success story outweighs all other aspects.
Take Ganesh K (23) from Malleswaram, who was five years old when polio struck him.
"When I came here two years ago, I was like an LKG student. Now I feel like I am a degree student. I have many friends here," he says.
Ganesh K (left) and Madhu (right)
Then there's Basavaraja (27), who too was affected with polio and who joined Vindhya six years ago as a fresher and is a team leader to a group of 48.
Vipin (27) and Shibu (30), both hearing impaired, have moved from Kerala to Bengaluru for the job. Both are freshers still learning tricks of the trade.
Thirty-five-year-old Madhu now sits next to Srinivas at the reception. A visually challenged individual, he handles the front office.
Awards and recognition
Pavithra's office is a spacious room filled a variety of her belongings- photographs of her two daughters and husband, of her with Shah Rukh Khan at an event, a sketch she was gifted by her employees on her birthday, a shelf dedicated only to awards to name a few.
Over the years, both Vindhya and Pavithra have won accolades aplenty including the NDTV Profit Leadership award 2012 and the Shell Helen Keller award.
"Earlier, awards meant recognition. Today, it means motivation," says Pavithra.
Hopes for a bigger, better, brighter future
Vindhya has plans to expand and become a 5,000 strong company by 2020. They also want to open a skill development centre in the future.
"My employees are today respected in their families; I don't care much about the society. They are getting married and starting their own families. We are planning to open a baby care centre. One has even bought a house recently."
How does this make her feel? "How can I explain?" she asks with pride in her eyes.
“I tell them, your disability can be seen, ours cannot be. You can work on your weakness better than we can,” she says.
As I leave the office premises, Srinivas waits till the car starts moving and waves before heading back to his work.