“I Lost Sight to Gain Vision”: The Extraordinary Story of Naveen Lakkur

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How a gritty entrepreneur walked the path of success despite an unexpected setback

This is an amazing story of triumph of human will over a disability, one that was inflicted upon rather than born with.

John Milton, asks this clinching question in the peom On His Blindness,

“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask
.

And provides an answer himself.

 “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.” 

Without medical sophistication of today, Milton spent the rest of his life in blindness telling himself, “They also serve who only stand and wait,” which means that they also serve God who endure hardship. Milton composed Paradise Lost, considered a literary masterpiece, after he lost sight.

A Life-altering Change

It was August 1997. Naveen Lakkur was close to three years into his marriage, but his entrepreneurial venture hardly left him any time to spend with his wife. But an invitation from his friend’s in-laws to spend the long Independence Day weekend with him and his in-laws, made Naveen pack his bags and head to Chennai. Little did he know this trip will change his life forever. In Chennai, after visiting a temple, Naveen and his family went to MGM Dizzy World, a theme park. His love for water, made Naveen enter the splash pool at the theme park. As he slid into water, people who are already in the pool splashed water on his eyes. These are not light splashes but very harsh sprays of water.

A week later, when Naveen was watching Shah Rukh Khan starrer Pardes, he felt some shaking and flooding in front of his eyes. It was the night show. He closed his left eye and could see perfectly with his right eye. But when he did the same exercise with his left eye, he had the same shaking, flooding experience again. Next evening on consulting an ophthalmologist, Naveen got the first shock of his life, “One of your eyes has gone blind. You may not be able to see with it,” said the ophthalmologist. He also advised Naveen to consult a retina specialist.

The retina specialist had more bad news in store for Naveen. The retina was completely ruptured and the doctor tells him to get admitted the very next morning for a surgery. A true blue entrepreneur, Naveen was worried about the time he will have to stay away from work and convinces the surgeon to let him leave in three days instead of a week after surgery. The doctor tells Naveen that the seemingly innocuous splashing of water was like a stone hitting his eye and the reason for this problem.

Dr. Y.L. Rajashekar, the retina specialist who performed the surgery informed Naveen a 20% chance of getting some sight in the blind eye. But the worse was far from over, the doctor tells Naveen that it would be just a matter of time that he turns fully blind as the other eye had also developed a crack on the retina. A similar surgery is conducted on the other eye, and Naveen completely looses his vision with a bleak chance of getting some sight back. For the next three months Naveen is advised to sleep on his stomach as the retina may dislodge if he sleeps on his back. Naveen endures the ordeal, mostly confined to bed.

Lessons Learnt in Adversity

Without business or a job, Naveen begins to contemplate what can he do if he is not able to move around. “I could be a telephone operator,” he thinks to himself. At such time, when the future looks bleak, Rajesh Setty, an old friend writes to Naveen some words that give him fresh hope. “Problems come to heroes so that they can overcome it,” says Rajesh. These words inspire Naveen to get back on his feet. He tells his friends of his inability to see and inability to perform any task. Another friend Prakash Venkatesan suggests a list of 20 jobs he has in mind for Naveen. And suddenly for Naveen, who had lost all hope, things were starting to look up. But suddenly to add to his woes, 11 employees of his company C-Design Systems — his first entrepreneurial venture, hand over the office keys to him and resign en masse.

The situation forces him to sit up, and with the help of his wife’s and few friends, Naveen resumes office and doubles his business within six months. Here is a streak of human endeavour that refuses to give up and keeps the light burning when there is darkness all around. Fatalistic attitudes debilitate the mind already enduring physical pain. But a turn to positive thinking and achievement completely negates the pain.

Doors That Opened

There is a famous saying, “When He closes one door, He opens another.” Similarly Naveen gets another break he badly needs. Prakash Venkatesan, the friend who’d offered him 20 jobs earlier, now comes back to develop a software to manage his weighing bridge stock. With a business spread all over India, Prakash had been facing trouble to get inventory details or supply-demand data. As a result sometimes there were too many orders to cater to and sometimes there was a lot of dead stock, piling up without sales. Naveen sets the record straight with prospect management system software that will help Prakash get exact details of stock, supply and demand so that he is able to inject the much-needed dynamism into his business.

As year 2000 dawns, life seems bright for Naveen. But fresh eye problems snatches Naveen’s vision once again. He is unable to see and unable to read and diagnoses of new conditions are made. 14 surgeries are performed in three years to set the eye right. The recurring eye problem leaves Naveen depressed. He feels burdened by the recurring problem that doesn’t let him live.

While undergoing the trauma of losing and gaining sight, he is directed to Sri Sathya Sai Baba by his doctor and goes to Puttapurthi on a Dusshera day. Life takes a divine turn and he gets an indirect message that he will be able to see again. Constant engagement with the divine helps him ponder over life’s burning questions and find answers for them. Now a staunch believer, Naveen believes it was Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s blessings that helped him gain his sight.

A New Beginning

After much ups and downs, Naveen is today a changed man and has many people to thank including the Lord for helping him overcome the trials and tribulations of his life. Today Naveen’s eye sight is partially restored. He still does not have the periphery vision, which means he can only see what is there only in front of him and nothing that is on his side, top, or bottom—just the way horses have their blinders. He misses some handshakes or bangs himself in uncertain terrains. But that doesn’t stop him from doing things and getting things done. Now, Naveen has redefined himself, and in his own style, he says, “Naveen Lakkur is a person with limited sight but unlimited vision. That is who I am by divine grace.”

Naveen walks tall with over 14 of his ideas having been turned into successful businesses through his association in different capacities. He was recently invited to talk at chapter of Vistage Group (CEO’s forum) in the United States, where he was to deliver a lecture on serial entrepreneurship. But when he senses that the crowd is full of people who have built billion-dollar businesses and icons themselves, he changes his topic to “Problems Are Relative.” He slowly unravels to the stunned audience the freak accident that he landed himself in, his fight for sight after that, and his burning desire to see the world again. He tells them, “I lost my sight to gain vision—fourteen of which have become commercially viable businesses.”

Naveen is now cofounder and Member of the Board of Compassites, a high-end software and product development services company with its operations based out of Bangalore, Pune, Sydney, and Kent. He incubates new ideas and has been part of 24 incubations — one of the recent spin-offs is HomeConnect that helps you get services at your doorstep.

Naveen feels he was able to see much of his inner self rather than the exterior world that helped him soar to heights he wouldn’t have imagined. His is a story of tremendous human spirit that lifted an individual from the debris of despair to exuberant business success, of a life that would have gone haywire but stayed to make a difference to several more lives and an inspiring tale of unremitting mind and a saga of courage. There is one element that shines strongly in Naveen’s life — he kept the entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial streak alive and endured his disability to build more businesses.

Unforeseen are many in a business, but little do we know that our own physical self will limit us in one way or the other. It is with the kind of attitude that Naveen has displayed that we can get to the other side of life that is full of energy, positivity, and success.

Next Frontier

There is another addendum to Naveen’s life story. He recently turned author with his first book, The Inseparable Twins: Paired Principles to Inspire Young Minds, a business book describing paired thoughts as a parable. At the book launch function at Bangalore, many eminent people paid glowing tributes to Naveen’s ability to transform life from one of no vision (blank, empty spots) to a grand vision (of setting path for stellar business successes). The entire proceeds of the book would go to help social projects — like a seed that will grow into a tree to benefit a lot of people.

Among the entrepreneurial traits, Naveen embodies perseverance and grit, and looking at life positively despite an acquired disability that was testing Naveen’s ability even to work again. Of his second innings after this life-altering experience, he says, “I wouldn’t have achieved even a quarter of what I have achieved today if I had not met with that freak accident.” Rediscovering yourself is a part of entrepreneurial journey.

- Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy