|Azhar Khan, who juggles odd jobs and studies, in the one room that he shares with nine family members; (right) Munni Agarwal receives a courage award on behalf of son Ravi, a leukaemia patient who scored 91.25 in ISC. Pictures: Bishwarup Dutta and Anindya Shankar Ray
Two teenagers, one fighting penury and the other leukaemia, both driven by a rare courage to beat the odds.
Ravi Agarwal was detected with leukaemia weeks before his ISC exams, but he wrote all his papers on medication and scored... 91.25 per cent!
Md Azhar Khan shares a 12x8ft room with nine other family members, does odd jobs to sustain his education and yet scored a 78 per cent in ICSE. Now a Class XII student at St. Joseph’s College, Bowbazar, he juggles studies with work but never complains.
The twin tales of toil and triumph were saluted at The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence 2013 on Saturday at the Science City auditorium.
Both Ravi and Azhar received The Surrendra Paul Memorial Award for Courage, at the Awards presented by Peerless Developers in association with Parle and powered by Adamas International School.
While Ravi’s mother Munni Agarwal collected her son’s certificate — he was undergoing chemotherapy in Chembur — a smiling Azhar strode on to the stage to receive some recognition for his fighting spirit.
A spirit exemplified by 18-year-old Ravi. “He started running a temperature when tests were conducted and doctors said he had blood cancer,” recalled mother Munni Agarwal, a widow, at their modest apartment in Liluah.
But there was no stopping the commerce student of Sunrise English Medium School who reached school riding pillion on his friend’s bicycle and wrote all his ISC papers.
“I felt weak. Even during the 20 minutes ride to school I would cling to the cycle fearing that I would fall off,” he told Metro from Chembur.
Ravi was taken to Delhi after his exams and underwent chemotherapy, before shifting to Mumbai last week.
The family is desperately pooling funds for his treatment, with his friends pitching in big time. “We managed to collect Rs 2 lakh from school and from neighbours,” said Amit Pandey, a friend.
“The doctors in Mumbai have said he may require a bone marrow transplant which would cost Rs 16-17 lakh,” said his mother. “I don’t know how... the small shop that I took over after his father’s death is shut now that I am accompanying him for his treatment.”
After a chemotherapy session in Mumbai, Ravi told Metro: “I need a part-time job. I need the money to sustain my treatment.”
Azhar, a fellow braveheart in uniform, needs the money to sustain his family and his studies in a tiny room in a dingy Colootola lane in north Calcutta. Where a cot mounted on bricks has pots and pans and Azhar’s commerce books stashed below.
For the past two years, Azhar has worked with a catering team at weddings and parties for Rs 130 per day. “Sometimes I earn Rs 1,500 in a month, sometimes Rs 1,000 and sometimes nothing…”
The 19-year-old started working in Class VII when he was “old enough to realise” that he needed to “help the family financially”.
He started out as a lightman assisting video photographers at weddings, earning Rs 100 per day. Later he worked in a computer hardware shop in central Calcutta.
Azhar’s earnings now take care of expenses for his books and those of his sister, a student of Loreto Day School, Bowbazar. Their father works in a tailoring shop in Burrabazar and barely earns Rs 2,500 a month.
Though he said “I will manage... I have always managed” to juggle work and studies, things do get tough at times. “If there is a test the next day, my friends are busy studying but I have to go to work. I return home after midnight and then sit down to study.... I always do the best I can,” said the teen who loves playing football and cricket.
And that has seen him graduate from a corporation school to one affiliated to the National Institute of Open Schooling and then to St. Joseph’s Bowbazar. “My teachers said I should switch to a tougher board and shifted me to my present school.... They have faith in me.”