The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Iti on her way, Shobhan waits

Calcutta, July 12: A shy, bespectacled boy from the city’s southern suburbs is in the situation Iti Baidya found herself in a few days ago — before help poured in from countless benefactors.

For the second year running, Shobhan Pal, of Gocharan near Baruipur in South 24-Parganas, may have to forego a chance to study medicine or engineering because his family cannot afford it.

Last year, he fought his way through thousands of competitors in the Joint Entrance Examination to seats in both engineering and medical colleges, but did not attend counselling. This year, too, he has booked himself a seat in a top-ranking engineering college — he did not take the medical entrance test — but is not sure that if he will be able to progress further.

The reason he did not queue up for counselling last year might again force him to do a repeat.

Born a few months before his father, Subhas Chandra Pal, lost his job (the private firm folded up) in 1984, Shobhan, like Iti, is finding that merit is a fake passport. It might have bought him a ticket to a less bleak future had he been born — like his brother, Nilangshu, who is pursuing a diploma course in printing — two years earlier than he was.

“My brother got into the course because tuition fees were only Rs 50 two years ago,” Shobhan explained, appearing confident that he could take care of the “marks cut-off factor”.

“He, too, would have faced my predicament had he tried to enter an engineering or a medical college now when expenses are much higher,” he added. It is tough going for Nilangshu as well, who has been able to buy only “two or three books” and goes to the college library for the rest.

Shobhan got a JEE engineering rank (1,754) last year that would have ensured a seat in Jadavpur University’s printing technology department. His rank in the medical section (963) would most probably have seen him through to a city-based medical college as well because of the recent trend of more JEE-crackers opting for engineering.

“I found few backers, forcing me to opt out,” rued Shobhan, who enrolled for a degree course in mathematics in Garia’s St Andrew’s College as it was “a lot cheaper”.

His mother, Bharati, now does tailoring jobs to make ends meet. She has also undertaken a literacy-campaign programme for children on behalf of the state government but has not been paid a single paisa till date.

“My father has not recovered from the shock of seeing his employers pack up and leave,” Shobhan added, explaining the family economics.

This year, Shobhan has improved his JEE engineering rank to 687. “That qualifies me for a place in mechanical engineering in colleges in or close to the city,” he said. “My parents are trying to get things to fall into place. But Shobhan has seen them trying, and failing, once before.

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