The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A salute to brilliance and bravery
-Hauling himself to school, head held high

On his haunches, a man laboriously hobbles three kilometres, through the rain, mud and shine, to the broken doors of a school little better than a shed.

A head held high helped Manoj Ghosh see far into the future. A future in which he would be headmaster. A future in which the Barasat school would be home to 300 students. A future in which his efforts would see a mud track transform into a paved road so he could ride his handcycle to work.

And ride he did, every day for 31 years, on his hand-powered wheels since the 1980s or, before he could afford that, on his feeble feet. “Ghori” as his neighbours know him, would make his difficult way to Chandanpur Primary School, always on time.

It was largely due to Ghosh’s efforts that the government school flourished. A tile roof was done away with in favour of brick-and-cement. A bathroom was put in. A verandah constructed. Ghosh, who lost the use of his legs at age 12 to meningitis, became headmaster in 1990. His classroom, from the day he joined in 1972 till he retired last December, was to become the soft place for hundreds of students, and their children after them, to fall, to rest their load – as did mastermoshai himself – and learn their way to a brighter destiny.

Some measure success with success. For others, toil and sweat is money in the bank. “When I lost my legs, people told my parents they were paying the price for past sins. A sort of stubbornness crept into me at that time. I knew I would make something of my life,” says an ever-smiling Ghosh in his neat three-room Barasat home.

The young man from Jessore, who raised four brothers and sisters from his earnings as a tutor since he was in Class VII, did not foresee the shower of adulation that was to pour in from all corners once word of his three-decade-long crusade spread. He couldn’t – and wouldn’t – work for the kudos. On Saturday, at The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence, the Dr Mrs N.B. O’Brien Lifetime Achievement Award was fine, but it was the modest job that his son Manas was promised with The Telegraph in Schools that truly brought cheer into his life.

For Ghosh, there was never any option besides teaching. “The love one gets from a child is incomparable,” he muses. When he started out as a private tutor, Ghosh thought he could make a career of it. But he was advised to take up a government position for “the security”. Ghosh took the advice. “As soon as private tuition was banned, I stopped my classes,” he reminisces. This left his family without a source of income. “Now it is difficult, but we manage from a cash award I received last year,” he confesses.

The school, up to Class IV, too, is in a state of advanced disrepair. Water seeps through the balcony leaving dangerous puddles of mud at the children’s feet. The outhouse is broken. There are no lights and fans. There aren’t enough teachers.

He now passes the hours working with a number of organisations. “But I miss my school, and my students,” sighs Ghosh. By all accounts, they miss him far more.

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