The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bound to a wheelchair, the spirit soars

Soumya Bhattacharya is bitterly unhappy with his marks. A first division, with a letter in one subject, was less than he had expected in Madhyamik. It was also less than required for a berth in the physics department at BE College Model School. With his heart set on a career in space travel, this comes as a major blow.

Sixteen-year-old Soumya has not walked in years. He has been diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder — Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy — that affected the muscles and robbed him of the use of his legs at age 10. It is slowly, surely taking over the rest of his body as well.

Computer science is the additional subject this angry young man has had to settle for, having scored around 65 per cent. “Maybe when he grows a little older, he will understand that this is the best thing that could have happened to him,” smiles mother Srabani.

With the boy’s limited mobility, conducting physics practicals would be out of the question. Animation, on the other hand, she feels, is a promising option for the talented artist with an addiction for crafting paper models.

But Soumya’s main grouse is having to study political science. “Who wants to study politics in a country like ours'” he grumbles.

Last Monday, the Andul-based Bhattacharyas brought home a computer. Soumya has been learning to work at it, with school having started again. “I am playing games so far. I have had some problems controlling the mouse,” he confides.

Srabani, in her late 30s, lifts her son off the bed. She carries him to the next room, setting him down gingerly on a plastic chair. Turning on the new computer — this and putting in a CD are skills she has just learnt — she adjusts his bulky, immobile body, allowing him easy access to the keyboard and mouse.

Like any other child his age, Soumya is striving for success, working towards a dream. If he has learnt not to be satisfied with his lot, all credit goes to his parents. For this is a mother who has decided not to let an incurable, life-threatening condition interfere with her son’s progress through life.

He spent all of last year studying for his exams. He sat with the rest of his classmates and wrote the tests himself, carefully timing each question so he could finish each paper despite his sluggish movements. Once the tests were over, the family took off for a tour of south India, wheelchair in tow.

The Telegraph Education Foundation saluted Soumya’s parents’ undaunted spirit last year at the annual School Awards. This year, Soumya’s star performance is the only accolade Srabani and husband Parimal need to keep hope alive.

As for Soumya, he is now eagerly waiting for the next holidays so he can start work on his pet project: building a model aeroplane, and he is determined to make it fly.

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