| Bijoy Garai receives the Thank You Baba-Ma award from Sushmita Bhadra. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
“It felt as though Abhirup was sitting beside me the whole time.” He was.
Abhirup Bhadra lost his battle against leukaemia on July 29, 2002. But on Saturday morning, his spirit was alive to inspire the 2,000 children, teachers and parents at The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence, where Sushmita Bhadra, his mother, took the stage to hand over the Abhirup Bhadra Thank You Baba-Ma award. Abhirup, who urged his parents time and again to attend the ceremony, must have been there by his Ma’s side.
Not an eye was dry as the spotlight at Science City turned on the parents and a moment’s applause was showered on all those “just doing the job of bringing up their children”.
Among them was Bijoy Garai, waiting in the audience and watching his son Bhondu receive the Tara Bhushan Mukherjee Memorial Scholarship for academic achievement. There was little emotion when Bijoy heard his name announced and was escorted on stage. When he walked towards Sushmita waiting with the Thank You Baba-Ma award, in thin kurta and greying dhoti, his chin was up, but out of no pride.
For Bijoy, “like every parent”, believes he has only done what was natural, what was expected as a dad. As did Sushmita and her husband Asit, who watched their son pass away “having given every one around him the strength to carry on”. Bijoy, who lost his wife when his son was just eight months old, gave up his farmer’s job to sell chhola so he could have more time for Bhondu and his three-year-old daughter. It wasn’t easy making ends meet, and he had no where to leave his son. So he made a shelf on his cart, where he would leave Bhondu. “Whenever he would cry, I would take him out and play with him. But he didn’t cry very often,” smiles the frail old man in his 60s.
Neither did Abhirup, who would have been 16 now. “He was always smiling,” says Sushmita, who didn’t know that her son was to be remembered with this award. “I don’t have words to express what I am feeling right now… Abhirup loved to study and he wanted to set up a scholarship like this himself.”
“Ami aar ki korlam'” is what a matter-of-fact Bijoy Garai had to say, after being handed the award. Life hasn’t allowed him the chance to have dreams for himself. At times, the odds would seem insurmountable. “I would ask Bhondu to give up his studies when things became too hard to take,” he relives. “But then he would do so well in the exams that I felt guilty for asking him to give it all up.”
Bhondu, a shy boy just a few months younger than Abhirup, topped every single exam he has appeared for since Class V. In the Madhyamik, he bagged 79 per cent. Nothing great, as far as Bhondu is concerned. “It’s okay,” he smiles. He could have enrolled in the science stream, but opted for arts because he cannot invest that many more years in studies. “I have to make it on my own as fast as possible.”
The single-minded Bhondu never strays from his books, waking up at 3.30 am to get down to work. First it was the headmaster of the local school who urged him not to give up. Now, he has joined Purulia Zilla School, and the district magistrate’s office is helping him out, along with his teachers. Bhondu plans to stay put in his village, with dreams of becoming a schoolteacher. Abhirup, one is sure, would approve.