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Our heroes of hope

Be it getting dressed in the morning, cycling to school or doing his homework, Jagannath Sarkar takes his own sweet time. But then, it’s a wonder that he does them at all. The youngster has no limbs. He moves around in a broken tricycle, uses his knees to hold objects and write exams.

Still, Jagannath managed to pass Madhyamik from Sreepalli Priyanath High School with a second division and then appear for his Higher Secondary from Haripada Institution, three km from home in Chalki village in Gopalnagar, North 24-Parganas.

“A neighbourhood didimoni taught me to use my knees to write when I was about six or seven years old. I want to be a teacher in the school where I study now,” said the young man, supported by his mother who does odd jobs in various homes to school Jagannath and convince him that he “is no different from the others”.

On Saturday, at the final round of The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence 2006, Jagannath shared the Science City stage with many others like him — bravehearts with a never-say-die spirit.

Some, like Jagannath, were given The Surrendra Paul Memorial Award for Courage, by a braveheart of a different kind, Kapil Dev. Others, young and old, were felicitated with various categories of awards.

But they were all tales of triumph over adversity, something the man giving away the Courage Awards had symbolised on the cricket pitch.

“God gives us everything and we don’t realise it. It is people like you who give us hope, if we follow you we can make the world much more beautiful,” said the special guest, who then brought the house down with a candid admission. “I never scored even 40 per cent. And here are youngsters who have got 80 per cent, 90 per cent, 100 per cent after facing so many difficulties in life. I am jealous of you somewhere within, but at the same time I am also very proud of you,” said the champion cricketer, flashing his trademark smile.

The theme of the 10th edition of the School Awards was offbeat — Calcutta Police, a force now into its 150th year was thanked for keeping us all safe. After host Barry O’Brien, now an MLA, traced the journey of The Telegraph School Awards from when it all began in a “little room of Jamir Lane”, police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee traced the challenges faced by the Calcutta police from “the Sepoy Mutiny to global terrorism”.

Mukherjee chose the occasion to not only urge people to participate more in police-led programmes but also announce a school soccer tournament from November, for which help from The Telegraph Education Foundation and all schools present would be sought.

At a function saluting courage, the spotlight swiftly shifted from men in uniform to the “VIPs in school uniform”, their guardians and their gurus.

Symbolising courage in the classroom were the likes of Biswajit Basak. The Bongaon High School student, who lost his father to cancer the day his HS results were declared and who is battling serious financial constraints to study on, realised that at least in the auditorium on Saturday, there were many more like him. “Now when I look around I don’t feel alone,” said Biswajit.

No one symbolised courage as an educator more than Sudhangshu Shekhar Sarkar, the MA in geography from Calcutta University, who chose to be the headmaster of Rajat Jubilee High School and bring about a silent revolution in a nondescript corner of the Sunderbans.

Braving the lack of basic amenities like power and roads on the one hand and the threat of crocodiles and tigers on the other, Sarkar set about building his school and the lives of hundreds around him.

Now, his 1,100 students use a brick-lined jetty built by them on their way to school, instead of trudging through ankle-deep slush. The villagers have electricity, drinking water and toilets; they grow cash crops, work in brick kilns and live with a certain dignity.

When inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, all that the humble mastermoshai who retired this year had to say was: “I am glad that you have honoured me and given dignity to my school. I only wish that more help reaches the other schools in the remote corners of the Sunderbans.”

From the villages of Sunderbans to the heart of Calcutta — Shiela Evelyn Broughton of the Julien Day Charitable and Educational Trust, a teacher who also took on the role of parent for abandoned babies, was conferred with the Dr Mrs Neil O’Brien Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award.

Courageous teachers were matched by selfless parents who stand by their children through it all. Just a few, in Barry’s words, were called on stage to receive the Abhirup Bhadra Thank You Ma-Baba awards.

Those like Ayub Khan and Farheen Khan, fish-sellers in Beckbagan market who have just adopted their second girl child. “We had adopted Karma Bhutiya when she was four and did not try to change her religion. We just wanted to help her grow into an individual with a lot of self-respect. Now that she has completed her Class XII we have adopted another girl and named her Ayesha Khan. She is six months old and now the three of us will live for her,” Ayub told Metro. After receiving the award on Saturday he shared his motto in life with the packed auditorium: “Aap khush to hum khush.”

Spreading happiness and hope is indeed what the event is all about. Chief guest Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, after handing over The Telegraph School of the Year Award to La Martiniere for Girls, summed it up: “We are now somewhat different from what we were when we came into this hall.”

A little more humble and humane, perhaps.

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