Sk Mohammad Habibuz Zaman is in kindergarten, section B, of St Thomas' Girls School. What he likes best about going to school is 'all the girls'. He loves to play, and is confident of winning the Shooting Star race at his school's annual sports day on December 2.
| Sonia Gandhi with Courage awardee Habibuz
But for the second time in his little life, he won't be allowed to run the race, because five-year-old Habibuz was born with deformed legs. He has already had several operations, and the last time he had one, he was upset with the doctors for not doing anything to the other leg. It's painful to walk, but he's already practising for the race, he says, with a cheeky grin and a determined nod.
The toddler was one of 10 who received certificates of honour for The Surrendra Paul Memorial Award for Courage at The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence on Saturday, from chief guest Sonia Gandhi.
Here's what Habibuz plans to do next: 'I am going to buy a big car.' Career plan: 'race-car driver'.
The eighth edition of the school awards, at Science City auditorium, hit the highway to hope as extraordinary tales of ordinary people ' children, parents and teachers ' came tumbling out.
Take the courage awards. Joining Habibuz were the likes of Mounik Sarkar from St Augustine's Day School, Ripon Street. Mounik is allergic to almost everything ' eggs, milk, rice, vegetables and fish. He can't go near dust, fume or fibre. But he has not missed a single day of school in six years and is a real all-rounder.
Annesha Dey of Lee Memorial Mission is physically challenged in many ways. But she insists on going to school and doing all the things that everybody else does, from walking to the rickshaw stand to climbing the stairs before and after assembly.
Bavesh Jajoo is wheelchair-bound. That hasn't slowed down the student from Birla High School. His favourite pastime is wheelchair cricket, and he is also good in studies. Bavesh urges his brother to do the few things he can't.
| Gopal Chandra Patra, inducted into the Hall of Fame
Weekly sessions of dialysis and a damaged kidney are hard to handle for anyone. But Prasenjit Paine, a computer student of Jogesh Chandra College and a former student of GD Birla Centre for Education, has not allowed renal failure to destroy his dream of being an engineer.
Six-year-old Alfreda Hall of Frank Anthony Public School was diagnosed with leukaemia two years ago. She loves talking and going to school, and misses her friends when she's absent for long periods for treatment. To make up for it, tiny Alfreda has formed the band of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with her friends. They play pranks and also talk about her bone marrow treatment. 'I love my Papa the best. I also love math, because it's very easy,' she grins. The medication and doctors are no trouble really, Alfreda announces, shaking her head vigorously.
Anik Sarkar and Shreya Shah are fighting cancer. They go to school regularly, try their best to lead normal lives and do everything that others can, as far as possible. Muzzafir Alam has no fingers or toes, but the only things he can't do are tie his shoelaces and his school tie.
And then there is Subhram Chakraborty of Don Bosco, Liluah. He has multiple tumours in his spine and his brain. The doctors have given up, saying that at some point, the Class XI student could be paralysed by the disease. But he soldiers on, setting an example to all those around him.
From never-say-die students to parents who just refuse to give up when it comes to gifting their children education. Mithu Das has been a cobbler for as far back as he can remember, having come to Calcutta with his father, also a cobbler.
| Cobbler Mithu Das with his sons
Every morning, he sets out from home in Chanditola, to catch the 7.15 or 7.30 train to Calcutta from Gobra station, a 15-minute walk from his humble home. For decades, his work address has been 88A, Vivekananda Road, at the crossing of Bidhan Sarani. He sits there, on the pavement, charging Rs 4 for a polish and a little more to repair shoes. He gets home by about 9.30 every night and checks on his sons' day in school.
Mithu Das never went to school, something he regrets. But it only strengthened his resolve to make sure that his children would get an education, no matter what. In that, he has been successful. It was for this achievement that Das was given The Abhirup Bhadra Thank You Ma-Baba Award on Saturday morning.
Older son Lokenath passed Madhyamik last year with 612 (77 per cent), while Laljit did so with 575 (72 per cent). Both are now in Class XI, in Garalgacha High School.
'Sometimes I earn Rs 20 a day, sometimes Rs 100 if I am lucky. Nothing is definite. Business is not as good as it used to be. There are not many customers any more. But I never went to school, so I wanted my sons to get an education. I have never made them sit here and work with me. I don't want that for them. I will continue to be a cobbler for as long as possible,' Das asserts.
But further education for this cobbler's sons is not possible without help. 'Medical or engineering I can't afford, I can't even put them through college without financial support. But they should be able to get decent jobs' dreams Das.
And finally to those who ' as Barry O'Brien, secretary of The Telegraph Education Foundation put it ' 'make us the way we are'.
Gopal Chandra Patra is dying. The 53-year-old is in the last stages of gall bladder cancer, which has spread to the rest of his body. He can barely sit up and it's an effort to speak. But his biggest regret is that he hasn't been able to rid the area around his school of the ills of alcohol. The headmaster of Baikunthapur Primary School, in West Midnapore, has been at the school for over 30 years, touching and transforming lives.
He began life as a labourer, and approached the district inspector of the school for a job in 1974. His mission is to make not just the lives of the students meaningful, but to also make a difference to society. The primary school has since received recognition, from Pratichi Trust to the President.
On Saturday, he was inducted into The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence 2004 Hall of Fame, brought all the way in an ambulance and taken on stage in a wheelchair.
Of his Rs 8,000 monthly salary, half goes to Patra's school with three tin-roofed classrooms. But if varied activities, a model library and science laboratory make the education effort, the health camps, the successful treatment of nine children with heart problems and the struggle against all odds make the man. 'I have tried to do what I can. My worry now is who will continue the work,' wonders Patra.