The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Books in back seat, toil for family

Krishnagar, July 13: Headmaster Dilip Banerjee was taken aback when two months ago, Tapan Haldar, a brilliant student of his school, went up to him to say he would no longer attend classes.

Poverty forced 10-year-old Tapan, a resident of Nabadwip in Nadia, to take the most difficult decision of his life. The Class IV student of Nabadwip Jatiya Vidyalaya took to pedalling a rickshaw to support his family comprising his ailing father and 16-year-old sister.

'I could not believe my ears. Tapan always ranked between the first and tenth in class. I was very hurt the day Tapan told me he would not be able to come to school any more. When I asked him what he would do, he told me he would have to operate a rickshaw to support his family,' said Banerjee.

One day Banerjee found Tapan waiting with his rickshaw outside the school. 'As soon as I came out of the school, Tapan came rushing to me and urged me to board his rickshaw to go home. I had to hang my head in shame to see one of our brightest students dropping out of school and pulling a rickshaw for a living,' said the headmaster.

Tapan's mother died of tuberculosis six years ago. His father Bichitro, a weaver, suffered a heart attack six months ago, that has left his right side paralysed. Bichitro used to earn about Rs 3,500 a month by weaving saris and gamchhas.

Tapan leaves home early in the morning with the rickshaw he has taken on lease from another rickshaw operator, Samir Haldar. Pedalling away till night, he takes home about Rs 60 a day after paying Rs 10 to Haldar.

Tapan now has three goals in life ' arrange treatment for his father, support his family and find a groom for his elder sister.

'For me, the foremost task is to organise treatment for my father. Then I will have to find a groom for didi. I would love to carry on with my studies but not at the cost of my earning. I simply can't afford to give up my present profession,' said Tapan, his voice choking with emotion.

To continue with his education, Tapan said, would mean he would have to beg after school hours, which is the last thing he would do. He will also not let his sister, Mousumi, go out to earn.

Haldar, who leased out his rickshaw to Tapan, was initially reluctant. 'But Tapan insisted. He knew I had two rickshaws, so he pressed me for one. When I refused, tears rolled down his cheeks. I finally had to give in,' he said.

Haldar tried to get Tapan some assistance from the Nabadwip municipality but the authorities pleaded helplessness.

'How can we do that' There is no fund available for us to provide money to any particular family. If we help one family then there will be others who will demand assistance. We can only help the boy in our personal capacity,' said Tushar Bhattacharjee, vice-chairman of Nabadwip municipality.

Tapan, however, will not wait for people to help him. 'Very soon I will buy a new rickshaw and work harder towards becoming self-reliant,' he said.

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